Robotics in food manufacturing

Robotics in food manufacturing is becoming increasingly popular across the sector.

The value of the global food automation industry is expected to rise to $2.5 billion by 2022 as an increasing number of manufacturers introduce robotics to their processing systems.

Up until recently, robotic use had been limited in the handling of raw foods including vegetables and fruit because of the nature of their uneven and varied shapes and sizes. However, recent developments in sensing and soft gripping have made it possible for robots to handle many raw foods.

Secondary processing involves handling products that have already undergone primary processing, for example picking and placing. This has been in use for some time, however advances in technology have seen even greater strides being made. Ocado recently shared details of their sorting warehouse which can see a 50 item order sorted in less than 5 minutes.

Changes in food manufacturing resource

Staffing shortages in the UK food industry have been an issue for some time, compounded by issues around leaving the EU. With up to 50 percent of factory workers from the EU, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) now estimates that the UK will need an additional 140,000 minimum wage for British Food and Drink workers by 2024 to fill this gap.

Food robotics do therefore provide an opportunity for the sector. Alongside increased productivity and reduced labour costs, food robotics do provide an opportunity when it comes to filling staffing shortages – especially in replacing monotonous roles notoriously hard to fill.

However, alongside the positives, there are a number of considerations with an increasing reliance on robotics:

  • Contamination – hygiene remains a challenge in food factories. Although robotics do offer an opportunity to reduce contamination by human error or poor hygiene, it does mean it is essential that every piece of machinery must be thoroughly cleaned to avoid contamination.
  • Downtime – The increasing reliance on technology means the right processes and backup systems need to be in place from the start. Machinery maintenance contracts like those offered by FESS Group can help reduce the possibility of outages or breakages
  • Cost – Although the costs are reducing, the initial outlay for robotic technology is expensive. Hiring machinery in food manufacturing can be a great way of testing new processes before paying for the outlay of expensive equipment.

The future of robotics in food manufacturing

With 94% of food packaging operators are using robotics already according to a survey by the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, this is a trend that has become the norm.

The role of robotics in the food industry is going beyond the warehouse and factories with Cobots, or collaborative robots, which are designed to assist human workers with repetitive manual tasks are becoming increasingly popular. Robots were seen on the streets of Northampton as part of the Co-op’s expanded use of autonomous home delivery in partnership with Starship Technologies.

The increasingly essential role of machinery and technology within the sector further compounds the need for organisations to ensure they have the correct skills and support in place.

If you are looking to review your machinery and processes, get in touch with FESS. As engineering experts in the sector, we have the relationships, experience, and insight to help develop your robotic provision.

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