Robotics in Food Industry - Automation Advancements

June 17, 2023
David Sunnyside

Food manufacturers have a strong interest in automating their processes. According to the RIA, robot orders to the food and consumer goods industry increased 56% in 2021 over 2019.

Many of these robotics applications include dispensing, picking, cutting, packaging or casing foods. This helps ensure compliance with strict regulations on handling, reduces costs and allows for faster production.

1. Robotic Picking

In many food production facilities, manual picking can be an inefficient process. Human workers are prone to getting tired, cutting corners and making mistakes. Fortunately, utilizing an AMR, AS/RS or pick-and-place robot for picking allows for greater productivity and efficiency by removing the human element from repetitive, monotonous tasks like meat cutting and produce sorting.

Additionally, unlike humans, robots don’t get tired or slow down. This means that they can pick inventory at a much faster rate and often with far higher accuracy rates than humans. As a result, they can help increase capacity and enable operations to quickly respond to consumer demand. They can also redeploy workers to other, more value-adding, tasks within the facility. This leads to improved employee morale and overall operational success.

2. Robotic Packaging

The food industry faces pressure to produce and deliver high quality foods at competitive prices. Industrial robots help them achieve this by improving productivity, lowering cycle times and maintaining food safety.

Many food processing tasks are too hazardous for humans, which creates a perfect opportunity for automation with robots. These include dispensing, cutting, packaging or casing food, labeling and palletizing.

One example is Widmer Brothers Brewing, which used robotics to replace human workers doing the repetitive task of depalletizing beer bottles. They saw a reduction in worker injuries and an increase in efficiency.

Food manufacturers also use robots to package individual food items for delivery. For instance, Sedano’s supermarket uses robots to fill online orders at a rate of 60 items per minute. This enables them to respond quickly to market forces and manage their store inventory efficiently.

3. Robotic Inspection

The food manufacturing industry is embracing robots to make line operations faster and more efficient, manage germs, provide traceability for end-to-end health, and lower production costs. In 2019, orders for robotic systems jumped by 56% from 2018, according to the Robotic Industries Association (RIA).

A food robot can scan and inspect items without touching them, reducing the risk of contamination. In less than a second, the system gleans a myriad of data from an item, including its internal makeup, ripeness, degree of spoilage, and more. This information can prevent materials waste and costly food recalls.

Food grade robots are hygienic and meet stringent safety regulations. They’re sanitized with food-grade lubricant and are sealed to prevent moisture and bacteria from entering. This also makes it easier to repurpose the systems as laws and industry standards change.

4. Robotic Dispensing

The food industry has a pressing need to meet the rising global demand for food. Robotic technology can help fulfill these demands and reduce waste by optimizing processes and ensuring consistency.

The newest food robotic technologies offer increased flexibility and enable food manufacturers to react quickly to new developments in the market without breaking their bank account. Food processing robots can help with a variety of tasks such as cutting baked goods, stacking and wrapping packages or dispensing individual food items.

Many companies use robots for distributing foods in order to prevent contamination that can lead to foodborne illnesses. By limiting human contact, these automated systems are improving food safety and increasing productivity. Using food robots also reduces the amount of time staff spend on monotonous and repetitive tasks, making them more available for other essential functions.

5. Robotic Assembly

With a growing global population and higher delivery demands, food manufacturers need to operate at faster speeds and improve quality while staying within budget. Robotics help to meet these needs and maximize profitability by streamlining operations.

Many tasks are too cumbersome or dangerous for humans, such as cutting and slicing meat. Collaborative robots with a variety of cutting devices can handle the task more efficiently.

Another application of robotic automation is food packaging. A pick-and-place robot can place individual packages into a box, while another robot stacks the boxes onto a pallet for shipping.

The food industry is a good candidate for robots, since the initial investment in robotics is much less than the cost of paying employees. These investments can pay off over time with increased productivity and better quality products for consumers.

David Sunnyside
Co-founder of Urban Splatter • Digital Marketer • Engineer • Meditator
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