The implementation of robotics in food and beverage facilities yields various benefits that can lead to a higher throughput and a decrease in expenditure beyond labor savings. Robotic machinery can help to alleviate warehouse workers from challenging tasks. Understanding the key trends and benefits of robotics can help potential customers decide if robotics are right for their needs.
According to industry experts, the robotics market in the food industry is steadily growing. One of the most recent causes for this growth is due to the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 (FSMA).
FSMA’s influence on robotics
The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, which focuses on preventing food contamination, has had a noticeable impact on the robotics industry. In a manual operation, there is a higher chance of data errors in relation to tracking tainted products. Companies that utilize robotics systems in their facilities are better equipped at tracing potentially contaminated perishable items and preventing further contamination.
“There’s a lot more attention being paid to food safety,” confirms Dick Motley, senior account manager, national distribution sales of Fanuc Robotics, Rochester Hills, Michigan. “You can get very accurate production counts out of a robot and understand exactly what it handled.”
Since robotic automation knows where all of the products are at all times, it also enables a company to more quickly and easily quarantine contaminated products.
“If a particular case of product is tainted you have to trace it back to its origin,” says Bill Torrens, director of sales and marketing at RMT Robotics of Grimsby, Ontario, Canada. “Not only in the building facility, but the original manufacturing machine that perhaps tainted the food.”
A number of benefits
Robotic automation offers a number of benefits to the food and beverage industry. One of the biggest is the ability to produce a higher throughput velocity. Since robots never tire, they are able to manufacture at a faster and more accurate rate in comparison to manual labor. Robots also handle products more precisely, which can lessen product loss due to damage.
Another advantage is a reduction in labor costs, although according to Torrens, there may be some confusion on this point.
“What’s really happening is a proliferation of SKUs,” he says. “The change in SKU proliferation has facilitated a change in the warehouse and now the warehouse has to adapt to this.”
This explosion in SKUs can cause much congestion along with a decrease in throughput in a facility. In order to address the congestion issue, the tireless nature of robots alleviates the problem and can help a company easily adapt to an increase in SKUs. When aided by robotic machinery, the effective management of growing SKUs actually allows companies to offer a higher variety of products, which ultimately results in an increase in customer satisfaction and other benefits.
Furthermore, the ability for a robot to switch between handling products is another benefit in robotic automation. Robots are also built to operate in various harsh environments, such as extreme cold. With the assistance of the robot, warehouse workers are no longer subjected to extreme environments in the workplace and are therefore much safer.
There are various types of robotics systems, such as robots that pick individual products or robots that palletize products. The robotics industry offers more than just palletizing and picking robots in the food industry.
“There are applications where the robots are performing cutting operations on different meat products,” says Fanuc’s Motley. A robotic cutter can provide consistent productivity, decrease workplace injuries while also reducing food contamination. Furthermore, robotic cutters are more efficient in minimizing waste in comparison to manual cutting.