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Robotic Procedures in Food Manufacturing

Posted December 23, 2018

Almost every manufacturing sector has adopted robotic applications in their production line to enhance productivity and consistency. But the food manufacturing industry is yet to utilize robotic technology fully. Many factors hinder the progress of automated food processing procedures.

One of such factors is the lack of technical know-how that can both envision and implement automated solutions in the food industry. Another challenge, of course, is the varying nature of food products in shapes and sizes, almost every food, has its unique shape and size. Hence, much work is put into developing robots conversant with the complex nature of different foods.

Manufacturing beer. Image credit: RJA1988 via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Manufacturing beer. Image credit: RJA1988 via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

However, there is enormous potential for the application of robotics and automation in food manufacturing. Currently, the robotic application has been implemented in some food manufacturing procedures. Robotic engineers are beginning to provide solutions to these technical challenges.

Robotic Automation in Food Manufacture

The increase in demand for fast delivery of food products has forced the industry to embrace automation and robotic applications. Robots are used for food manufacturing in processes such as picking and packaging. In the robotic application for picking, robots employ gripping technology to pick objects from trays or cartons. The use of robots for these operations has helped to increase performance, maximize efficiency and reduce order cycle times.

Also, the use of manufacturing robots in food handling has reduced to the barest minimum the chances of error and contamination. Robots are integrated into the production line to meet up with the new standards, lifestyles, regulations and flexible packaging needs. With these developments, food manufacturing companies are experiencing lower costs, the greater output of products and higher returns on investment (ROI).

Chocolate factory. Image credit: cegoh via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Chocolate factory. Image credit: cegoh via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

The successful integration of robots in food manufacturing leads to the demand for faster machines that can be used further up the production line. This demand was met by the introduction of Universal robots to provide rapid pick and place operations on different food products. The Universal robots are built for fast operation about 100-120 picks in sixty seconds with lightweight payloads. These robots have greatly excelled in processing food products.

Robots are also used for palletizing in the food industry. Palletizing robots are built to meet the industry’s need for high product distribution. They are configured to handle cases, layers, rows or patterns. The application of robots in palletizing enhances throughput and efficiency.  Palletizing robots help in loading and unloading cartons, pallets and packages faster and at a lower cost. They are used to packed food products for transfer and shipment.

Robots are useful in distribution and supply chain operations because they can work in harsh environments that are not conducive for humans. They perform well in repetitive operations. The ease of cleaning robots also ensures that hygienic requirements are met.

An automated packing line. Image credit: Hakim Fobia / USDA

An automated packing line. Image credit: Hakim Fobia / USDA

Vision sensors in 3D are now incorporated in robots for checking color, thickness or any inconsistency in food products. Robots can be used to form food, cut, slice, and grind food products. They can be used for capping, filling, sterilizing, packaging, high-speed picking and placing, and many other applications in the food industry.

What does the future hold for automation in the food industry?

The bias against automation in the food industry has been long defeated, and food manufacturing procedures will mostly remain the same with slight changes. Though, manual operations cannot be eradicated entirely in food manufacturing, as some markets and products cannot be automated. But there will be a collaboration between manual labor and robots.

The manufacturers of robots have a vital part to play in the automation of the food industry. They are to provide robotic technologies that will ensure the industry continues to meet the demand for quality, available and affordable food products.

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