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How is Robotics Taking Care of the Food Processing Sector's Automation Challenges?

Food and Beverages | Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Understanding the precise substances being handled, as well as safety and quick sanitization capabilities, is critical for an effective automated ingredient handling system.

FREMONT, CA: The global food processing business is a multibillion industry that is subject to shifting consumer preferences, which influences production and consumption patterns, causing manufacturers to evolve their products continuously.

Automation and robotics have infiltrated an extensive range of industries around the world, including the food industry. However, due to many characteristics such as huge volumes, changeable size, shape, and delicate nature of objects, food processing has proven to be one of the most challenging sectors to automate. Furthermore, due to higher costs of goods and labor, production expenses have risen, and there are fewer chances to boost product prices due to rivalry in the retail and foodservice sectors. Automation and robotics can help raise production volumes in a short amount of time while reducing waste in mass-produced commodities.

Hurdles to Food Processing Industry Automation

The food processing sector has multiple problems that restrict the adoption of automation and robotics at different phases of the conversion process. Food manufacturers frequently work with a wide range of raw materials. Mixing ingredients, which is historically done by hand handling and weighing, is a key aspect of primary food preparation.

Another crucial consideration is the intellectual property connected with a particular item and cooking secrets known only to a select few. Businesses are hesitant to share sensitive information with a digital system, prone to failures and data theft.

Washing is a critical requirement for food-handling technologies. Sanitization of any surface that comes into touch with food is required by law, and this is commonly done with caustic chemicals. Robots deployed in the food sector must be built to meet these specifications, which can be costly for the firms developing them. As a result, both capital and operating expenses are considerable.

What Role Does Robotics Play in Overcoming These Obstacles?

High-precision robotics, machine learning, and computer vision systems are becoming more popular as inventive and flexible ways to improve ingredient handling processes. For example, one electronic manufacturing firm has developed an effective ingredient handling system that involves smart containers where individual ingredients are decanted and stored. The robot takes the contents out of the container and weighs them in a robotic blender according to the recipe entered into the system. With a weighing precision of +/- 0.1 grams, the system can store 500+ ingredients. These containers include a built-in cleaning mechanism and can hold many recipes. Furthermore, the owner can program the recipes, ensuring total confidentiality and intellectual property protection.

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