Opportunities and Challenges for Robotics in Food Processing

The robotic industry around the world is expanding at a rapid pace. It is predicted that the annual global spending on robotics may touch the figure of $135 billion by the end of 2019. Electronics and automotive are two industries that have been most proactive about making use of robots for a more efficient manufacturing and operating process. Though robots have not had much of a role to play so far in food pressing, the market value of robotics in the industry is expected to reach $2.5 billion by 2022.

Benefits and Challenges at a Glance:

Large scale application of robotics in food processing can certainly provide attractive returns because consistent results can be achieved more quickly by robots compared to human workers. Unlike human workers, the robots are less or not at all susceptible to safety and health issues. Therefore, robots are much more suitable for working in extreme operating conditions such as freezing temperatures. In case of manufacturing processes that are repetitive in nature, robots can be used to produce higher yields and reduce the cost of production.  Moreover, robots do not require any training or breaks.

One of the primary constraints in integration of robotics in food processing stems from the fact that there are no standard dimensions of the raw materials in this industry. As a result, programming the same into the robot is not possible. For example, robots can easily attach an automobile door to a vehicle because the door dimensions are constant for any particular vehicle. However, the case is not the same while peeling an apple because each apple has different dimensions.

The food processing industry can be divided into primary processing and secondary processing. The former involves extraction or transformation of raw materials into food commodities. On the other hand, the later involves turning these food commodities into edible products. In spite of the lack of uniformity that we discussed earlier, there is a growing trend of integrating robots into both primary and secondary food processing.

Primary Food Processing:

In this step, animal and plant products are extracted into commodities that are either sold or sent for secondary processing. Some robots require a default set of dimensions to be programmed. These robots are not considered to be suitable for this job.

Chicken leg deboning is one process where robots have been integrated successfully. In general, chicken legs don’t have large variations in dimensions. As a result, many companies have come up with assembly-line systems capable of breaking down chicken leg pieces into different parts.  Unlike human workers, some of these robots are efficient enough to debone one hundred chicken leg pieces per minute. These machines are extensively used these days in poultries all over the world.

On the other hand, because of the varied shape and size of beef carcasses, robots are not yet capable of handling beef butchery processes on their own. A Brazilian meat processing company has recently invested in building different robots capable of breaking down a beef carcass by working together. In this system, 3D models are created for each beef carcass by a robot. These models are used as reference points while cutting different segments. This process also makes use of robots for sorting and packaging of the cuts.

Secondary Food Processing:

In this process, the raw materials are more consistent in terms of their dimensions because they have gone through primary processing. This is why it is much easier to automate these processes. Many of the secondary processes demand high attention to details, something that robots can deliver with great success.

Cake decoration is a good example of this. The dimensions of all mass produced cakes are the same. Therefore, it is very easy to program robots to put icing on cakes maintaining the desired configurations.  The use of robots can also be beneficial for pizza-making.  Performing frequent rotations within the oven is a critical requirement for this process. This operation is extremely dangerous for human workers, particularly when the production volume is high.  A US-based start-up has recently started developing robots that can be involved in processes such as in-oven rotating and dough-mixing.

One of the challenges in involving robot workers in secondary processing is to ensure that the human workers are able to cope up with their speed.

If you have any other questions related to your food or meat processing industry, Lumix is here to provide you quality and high-value service. Be it process automation, preventative maintenance, ingredient sourcing, or after sales care, please contact us today to find the best solution.