Robots to Revolutionize Food Processing Industries



How Robots Are Proving Resourceful In Food And Beverage Processing Industry

A few years ago, we were apprehensive about switching to automation, but now robots have made us realize their importance across all industrial verticals. All it cost was a deathly pandemic of coronavirus. The role of robots has increased boomed during the pandemic. Starting from spraying disinfectants to delivering food orders, the applications of robots are now widespread. Even in the food and beverage processing sector, while employees were forced to follow lockdown and social distancing mandates, it was robots who kept the industries running. Today, robots are an integral part of this industry. According to a study by the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, nine out of 10 food processing and packaging companies are using robots to improve food safety, decrease worker injuries, and increase efficiency.

This transformation was long pending since food and beverage companies are already lagging in terms of digital up-gradation and productivity. One of the main challenges includes meeting the sterility and food safety requirements. At such low levels of commitment, and being a significant economic contributor, the use of Robotics in this sector is need of the hour and be a part of the vision for the future factory, and the move to Food Manufacturing 4.0.

While food processing generally comprises up of preparing, cooking, sorting, packaging, and palletizing processes, industries can use robots for a number of these activities. The robots are commonly used in the dispensing, handling delicate items (Soft Robotics Inc.), feed placement, cutting, packaging or casing of food, pick-and-placing products into containers (ABB IRB-660, IRB-360), and sorting. Through vision-system robots, food items are sorted by color, shape, or size. In packaging, where speed, consistency, or high levels of repetition are concerned, food robots always beat humans in terms of efficiency. For example, when CMC Food, an egg producer in Fanwood, New Jersey, replaced human egg handlers with two robots, the company’s speed and efficiency increased to managing more than 100,000 eggs per hour.

In the seafood processing industry, too, robots have numerous potential. Robots also have another interesting application in the food processing industry: clean-in-place (CIP). It is a set of processes that are followed for cleaning equipment surfaces such as process pipes and devices without disassembly. Typical food and beverage applications cleaned using an automated CIP system are product transfer lines, processing tanks, homogenizers, mixers, blenders, and fillers. It is important to note that the same robots which are used for the manufacturing process can also be converted to CIP robots. The main advantage of CIP robots is that they are faster, less labor-intensive, pose less of chemical exposure risk, and can be used repeatedly.

The benefits of using robots in food processing are attractive. Robots in food production reduce waste and increase overall yield because actions like cutting require high consistency. It is estimated that robots can help manufacturers enjoy roughly a 3 percent yield improvement in situations where precise cuts make the difference between contaminated meat and sellable product. Besides, they minimize the instances of food contamination by human error and enhance qualitative output too. This can translate in cost savings, due to lesser wastage. Also, cost savings are achieved by replacing a human workforce in high-frequency tasks or the ones humans consider non-ergonomic; high task repetition or tasks that require forceful exertion. They can even work in conditions that are deemed too hostile for humans like cold storage units, freezers, or cleaning tools or food items that have chemical exposure risks too.

Furthermore, since manual handling of food items and raw produce can have a higher rate of error and chance of contamination, material handling robots are used to adhere to the new standards, regulations, lifestyles, and flexible packaging needs. Apart from that, robots can now even be used to decorate cakes with icing (Deco-Bot from Unifiller), make pizzas without any human intervention. The key players among food-handling robots are also leaders in other industrial robotics sectors, like KUKA Robotics, Motoman Robotics, Staubli Group, DENSO Robotics, FANUC Robotics America Inc., and ABB. As per a research report, the global food robotics market size was valued at US$ 1,172.9 million in 2016 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 13.1 percent over the forecast period of 2018 to 2025.