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Are robots changing the present food industry?

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Posted February 26, 2019

The food industry is in a continuous change; therefore, it is no surprise that robots are intensively used. Lately a new trend is arising, the robotic food manufacturing. Studies show that by 2022 the food automation industry will reach $2.5 billion.

Robots are nowadays used in numerous processes, from food packaging, to food safety and food sanitation. Robots can complete jobs, human workers find dangerous and ergonomically difficult. The food industry had to adopt robots for countless reasons, but the main one is that they improve their effectiveness. The food companies that refuse to meet this trend are expected to experience great financial loses.

Partially automated line in a vegetable-producing company. Image credit: Lance Cheung, USDA (Public Domain)

Partially automated line in a vegetable-producing company. Image credit: Lance Cheung, USDA (Public Domain)

But when comparing the food industry with the other domains on the market, they registered a slow process of adoption of robotics. However, lately the robots are present on all the stages of the supply chain, and even in the kitchen.

Here is how robotics is changing the food industry in the present.

Robots are used in agriculture

The journey of food starts not in the warehouse and factories, but in the agricultural fields. It all begins with the supplies we are cropping. Nowadays robots are used to plant, sort and harvest seedlings. Because human workers are ineffective when it comes to efficiently supervise the crops, they were replaced with drones that can cover and monitor large areas.

In the non-plant agricultural sector, robots are used to improve the processes in poultry, beef and dairy factories. They are used to feed and milk the cows, to collect and sort the eggs of the chicken, and to perform cleaning.

Agricultural drone. Image credit: viya0414 | Free image via Pixabay (Pixabay licence)

Agricultural drone. Image credit: viya0414 | Free image via Pixabay (Pixabay licence)

Robots are used in primary food processing

Butchery and robots

Lately, robotics is used in the butchery field, even if it is quite difficult to program a robot to cut animal carcasses, because they are all unique. A human worker has the needed skills to cut the animal carcases according to the position of the meat and bones. Therefore, the usage of robots is limited during this process, because some tasks are easier to automate than others are. For example, robots can be used to debone the legs of chicken in the meat processing industry, but it is quite complex to automate beef butchery.

However, robots are required in the beef meat processing industry, because many processes are dangerous for human health. For these actions, companies have started to use robots to improve the safety levels.

Automated cutting and slicing

During this process, robots are essential, because they have the capability to slice products in uniform shapes. The majority of cutting and slicing processes are easy to automate. For example, automated processing is very effective in the vegetable processing industry, because it brings them to an even shape. Also, the fish cutting industry is extensively using robots to cut and remove the bones from the raw products.

But, when it comes to the complex cutting and slicing processes, the human workforce is highly reliable, and many companies prefer to maintain their traditional activities. For example, robots cannot be used to pick and place fruits and vegetables, because they differ in form and size and only a human worker is able to handle them properly. However, it is important to note that there are made efforts to create robots that can handle delicate foods, therefore, automatic processes will soon also cover this sector.

Robots are used in secondary food processing

Robots organise products

Companies are using high-speed robots to move products during different production stages. They are highly effective because all the products have the same shape and size, and robots can easily handle uniform products.

Robots are used for decorating products

This task is quite impressing, considering that the robots are able to do a creative task. For this process, it is used a robotic arm that acts like a 3D printer to create models on cakes. The decorations look perfect, and multiple products can be decorated identically. Cake cutting can also be done with the help of robots, because they can cut the products into complex shapes. The companies specialised in decorating products are constantly checking the latest updates brought to industrial robots for sale.

Robots are used in the pizza making process

When it comes to pizza, people appreciate its quality if people make it, because the pizza was originally a handmade product. Nowadays, many pizza producers are worried that their clients will not appreciate the pizza, if they will start using robots and they will automate the making process. But, the robots have evolved recently, and they can be programmed to add a human touch to the products they are making. Robots are used together with human workers, because they make the process more efficient. They spread the tomato sauce, the ingredients, and manipulate the pizza during the pre-baking stage.

Robots are used for improving food safety

Robots are used to clean and decontaminate the food production areas, companies are using. Statistics show that around 50 million Americans are hospitalised every year because of food poisoning. Around 3 000 people die yearly because of foodborne illnesses. Robots are used to reduce the risk of contamination, because these cases can cost food companies millions. It is essential every piece of machinery to be properly cleaned in order contamination to be avoided. The latest models do not feature any loose wires; therefore, they can be thoroughly washed out regularly.

Factory automation with industrial robots for palletizing food products like bread and toast at a bakery in Germany. Image credit: KUKA Roboter GmbH, Bachmann (Public Domain via Wikimedia)

Factory automation with industrial robots for palletizing food products like bread and toast at a bakery in Germany. Image credit: KUKA Roboter GmbH, Bachmann (Public Domain via Wikimedia)

Robots are used to pack products

Around 50% of the robots present in the food industry are used to pack and palletize products. They not only that perform the tasks more effectively than humans do it, but they also are able to complete tasks that are too difficult for humans. They can load and unload pallets, packages and cartons, in environments too dangerous for people. The companies from the food industry consider that these pieces of machinery are useful because they help them save time and costs. They are also able to meet high-end requirements, because many clients require perfection, and only a robot can achieve it.

Using robots in the food sector not only that protects human workers from being injured, but it also increases the overall output.

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