As the food industry continues to grow, so does the need for automation. Food is the most important and basic resource for human life. It provides us with nourishment, satisfies our need for taste, and is also a source of income.
Robotics technology is a helpful tool in manufacturing food products to avoid repetitive tasks performed on the assembly line by human workers who may experience fatigue or injury. In addition, robotics technology can work continuously without breaks or rest periods to produce goods that are in high demand during peak seasons (i.e., more produce at Thanksgiving).
At this time, companies have already begun automating many segments of the food processing industry through robotics technology while continuing to explore new opportunities involving other areas such as packaging and distribution systems. Companies are able to process foods faster, produce more quality products, and reduce the amount of human labor needed to manufacture food products.
What is Automation in the Food Industry
Automation is a term used in the manufacturing industry to refer to various techniques for increasing production efficiency and reducing labor costs. In the food industry, the automation of some tasks can help improve quality, and consistency and reduce the cost of goods. Automation is also used in packaging and labeling technologies to increase productivity and reduce labor needs.
Robotics technologies are used in approximately 33% of worldwide food processing operations and all food packaging processes.
How is Automation Affecting the Food Industry
In 2016, the food automation market was worth USD 8.22 billion.
No longer are machines limited to factory floors. Newer automated systems are being used in the production and distribution of food products. Some of these technologies are changing the face of self-serve restaurants.
Automated systems, such as those used to dispense prepared foods such as hamburgers or french fries, or to prepare beverages, are available at many self-service locations. A growing number of restaurants are offering customers the option of ordering from automated menus and paying by electronic card (eCard).
Automated Systems in Restaurants
Automated systems are useful in the processing of food products, especially when the processes performed by human workers require repetitive tasks that may be hazardous or dangerous (i.e., cutting, slicing, and packaging).
According to the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, 94% of food packaging activities are already using robotics. As for food processing, approximately a third of companies are using robotics.
This can eliminate the need for excessive manual labor and reduce the chances of repetitive strain injury to workers. In addition, robotic systems can be programmed to perform a task over and over again without fatigue or injury occurring. Over time, they will become more sophisticated through improved software and hardware technologies.
Restaurant automation is growing more popular among patrons because it reduces labor costs and benefits companies by providing more consistent offerings of high-quality items at quick intervals.
Automated systems can process foods more quickly, make more uniform products and reduce the needed time to clean the facility. In addition, automated systems are useful for manufacturers to help avoid repetitive tasks performed on the assembly line by human workers who may experience fatigue or injury.
The customer is billed by using a unique eCard that is swiped at the point-of-sale (POS) when purchasing food or beverage items from an automated system and presented for payment on a receipt.
Restaurant owners and operators report increased customer traffic, an increase in sales, and a reduction in labor costs. The POS systems are designed to accept multiple payment methods, including credit cards, eCards, debit cards, and cash. Automated systems can also help restaurateurs provide better service by increasing their efficiency across the board.
Automated Systems in Manufacturing
Food is one of the most important resources for human life. Manufacturing is the process of producing an item from raw materials that can be used to fulfill a service or satisfy a need in order to address a customer demand, need or use.
The food industry houses many automated systems designed to assist in food production and distribution. Automation is a technological process that involves the use of electronics and software to control machinery in order to carry out a task with minimal human involvement.
Automated systems can also help restaurateurs provide better service by increasing their efficiency across the board. For example, an automated system may automatically mix and store various ingredients for food preparation. What is needed to increase the number of businesses that use automation?
Some suggest reducing price points on new technology in order for them to become more affordable for small businesses. They also suggest developing education programs on how to integrate new technology and produce the necessary technical documents required for introducing automation.
Other application areas in the food industry include packaging and distribution equipment, robotics used in product inspection and testing, as well as robotic arms for use in hair weaving.
Robotics is being applied to the production of ice cream, frozen desserts, and confectionery products by using robotic arms to propel pallets with products across a production line. In addition, robots used in the packaging of various food products can pay for themselves within six months due to time saved through automation.
Automated Systems in Agriculture
Agriculture is the process of growing plants and animals for food and other products such as fibers or skins that can be used to provide clothing or fabric for affordable price points. The food industry houses many automated systems designed to assist in food production and distribution to eliminate tedious, dangerous, or hazardous tasks as well as reduce costs.
As agricultural robots become a permanent feature on many farms, the industry is predicted to reach $20.6 billion by 2025, and given the rate of expansion, it wouldn’t be shocking if it surpassed this figure.
However, the use of robotics in agriculture is limited due to the high costs involved in its implementation. Another obstacle is the requirement for timely data access during crop development.
In some countries, climatic conditions make it difficult to transport data. Where frequent updates are required, such as to support strategic planning and decision-making by farmers, the access cost can be prohibitively expensive or simply unavailable. However, robotic technology may provide a solution that will bring together both on-farm sensors and satellite data.
Robotic Technology in Agriculture
Robotic technology in agriculture is being applied to the spraying of crops with herbicides and pesticides, eliminating the need for humans to be present on farms. This can improve sustainability and reduce labor costs as well as eliminate human injuries due to machinery malfunction or poor operator training. In addition, robotic technology may also help improve crop productivity due to better control of weeds, pests or diseases.
Other automated food production systems include chillers for storing and dispensing ice cream or frozen desserts; conveyor belts to transport boxes of ice cream through a production line for filling; yogurt makers that produce a greater volume of the product; confectionery equipment that produces candies to a uniform mold size requiring less labor for decorating each piece; and hoists used for moving pallets of products from overhead storage to the production line.
Other application areas of interest include packaging and distribution equipment, robotics used in product inspection and testing, as well as robotic arms for use in hair weaving. The knowledge economy is correlated with the creation of job opportunities that require higher levels of education, which in turn provides a barrier to entrepreneurship for many who are less educated.
Technology has disrupted the traditional labor market by reducing the need for physical labor through automation. However, technology does have a high cost to society. Workers may be forced out of their jobs or laid off during periods when no new or better jobs are available. The demand for skills often exceeds the supply.
Benefits of Automation in the Food Industry
Orders of robotic systems by food and consumer goods industries increased by 56% in 2020, according to the Robotic Industries Association and the Association for Advancing Automation.
There are a number of benefits that can be realized through the use of automation in the food industry.
1. Overcoming Shortages and Improving Food Security
Automation can help provide an affordable supply of food to those who require it without having high costs. Through technological improvements, many mechanical tasks are being performed automatically to improve food safety, quality and consistency. For example, industrial robots are used to manufacture products such as canned goods or bake bread with less human labor and risk factors than conventional methods could provide.
2. Reducing Spoilage
Technology can help reduce losses due to spoilage in the manufacturing process. In many industries, such as food and beverage industries, several stages of production involve manual handling and labor. Automation can help maintain quality in the process from filling to packaging through reduced labor costs.
3. Reducing Energy Costs
Automation can help reduce energy costs in producing food. For example, meat can be produced more efficiently by using automation to produce small cuts of meat for kebabs and burgers that require less labor for preparation.
4. Controlling Theft
Technology can help control the loss through theft of products due to lack of accountability. For example, digital printing technology is used to produce labels with barcodes on product containers that are linked with a digital database so that product theft can be more easily detected by the manufacturer or distributor.
5. Improving Productivity
Technology can help improve labor productivity in the food industry. Automation can be used to reduce costs, such as by reducing the need for labor in the production line. Automation can also help increase the quality and consistency of products so that they meet consumer expectations, which increases sales and profitability.
6. Reducing Injuries
Robotics can help reduce the risk of injury in a given application. For example, industrial robots are used in factories to work alongside humans to inspect components or assemble parts, reducing the risk of injury due to poor ergonomics of manual handling or assembly tasks. Robots may also be used to inspect food product containers for contamination or other issues that would otherwise require human inspection.
7. Reducing Error
Technology can help reduce the number of errors in the manufacturing process and product packaging. For example, digital printing technologies are used to produce labels for cans with the product and nutritional information in a format that is legible and consistent to improve the consumer experience. Robotic arms are used to fill containers without human error, which can be a result of poor ergonomics or stress due to repetitive manual tasks.
The major benefits of automated systems include their ability to work 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, with less likelihood of operator fatigue or error. Automated systems are also less susceptible to theft than physical products since only digital data would be at risk.
What are the Economic Implications of Automation in the Food Industry
The automation of the food industry has economic implications. Theoretically, greater productivity leads to lower prices and increased choice of goods or services. The effect is theoretically the opposite for low-productivity economies in which higher labor costs translate into higher prices and fewer goods produced
Automation also has an effect on employment issues. If a job is automated, it will be lost to automation if no new jobs are created by that automation that requires more human labor such as quality assurance/inspection or maintenance of the prior job’s automation. The new jobs that are created must contain tasks that humans can perform better than computers in order for this transition to be economically beneficial for all parties involved.
The ideal outcome of automation in the food industry is that there is no need for a reduction in human labor. However, this will not always be the case. Automation can act as a barrier to entrepreneurship for those who are not highly educated unless new jobs are created and the new jobs contain tasks that humans can perform better than computers in order for this transition to be economically beneficial.
Automation has long been used by companies competing in the food industry to improve their production efficiency and competitiveness. For example, industrial robots have been used to manufacture products such as canned goods or bread with less human labor and risk factors than conventional methods could provide.
What are the Ethical Considerations of Automation in the Food Industry
Ethical issues regarding automation in the food industry involve safety, health and quality.
The most important issue is the ability of robots to work safely alongside people without causing accidents that result in injury. Robots with hydraulic arms able to grip and lift materials can be more dangerous than simple hand-held electronic devices. Insufficient protection for humans when working at near contact height with a robot can also pose a risk to workers from falling objects or other hazards.
Another ethical consideration is how robots should be programmed to ensure that they are not dangerous but still consistent with human safety. For example, it may be necessary to program a robot not to crush an infant to death but still allow it to perform other tasks that might harm an adult.
A final ethical consideration is the impact of automation on employment, such as job loss due to replacement by robots or automation. For example, the use of industrial robots in factories has resulted in the loss of jobs in the manufacturing industry in western countries where they are used mostly for repetitive assembly or handling tasks.
Future of Food Industry with Automation
Automation in the food industry has the potential to change the way that food production is done. A long-term goal of many companies is to be able to create complete meals or products with only one machine.
According to Facts and Factors, the worldwide food automation industry is expected to develop at a CAGR of 7% from a starting value of USD 12 billion in 2020 to an anticipated value of USD 28 billion by 2026.
For example, a company could use a 3D printer to produce a pizza or hamburger in 1 hour compared with 5 hours for human labor. The use of industrial robots can minimize errors that are made by humans due to poor ergonomics, stress, fatigue, and repetition. Robotics can help reduce the risk of injury among workers and lead to greater productivity by reducing costs due to less labor required from humans.