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Robots In Logistics Are Improving the Food Processing Industry

robots in logistics

The food processing industry impacts the way we eat and the level of access we enjoy to the products we love. Below, we’ll take a closer look at how forward-thinking companies depend on robots in logistics to facilitate needs in the food processing sector. Plus, we’ll include bonus content on how the technologies could benefit merchants and consumers during the holiday season.

Advanced Technologies Bring Groceries Swiftly to Customers’ Doorsteps

We live in an increasingly fast-paced world where Amazon customers in some cities can order something and receive it only a couple of hours later. As a result, people are increasingly adopting home grocery delivery. Think of how convenient it would be to get foods delivered during the holiday season and have more time to cook recipes, instead of dealing with traffic, crowds and other inconveniences.

Ocado is a U.K.-based grocery retailer boasting warehouse facilities reportedly more automated than Amazon’s. Although humans are part of the operational flow within the warehouse, robots in logistics do most of the difficult tasks, including replenishing the shelves with products.

This high-tech system is extremely efficient. Case in point? At one of the Ocado facilities near London, foods go from warehouse shelves to delivery trucks in fewer than 10 minutes.

Using Robots in Logistics to Reduce Shelf Life Problems

Statistics indicate unsold goods represent a $15 billion problem for the food industry. A study carried out in conjunction with that data evaluated nearly 50 strategies for improving that issue. It concluded enhanced shelf life management and better methods for dealing with discontinued items were some of the top matters on which to focus.

Walmart recently started depending on robots in logistics to get rid of outdated foods on its shelves, as well as target similar inventory-related concerns such as price discrepancies and excessive amounts of particular products. The robots have tower-like components that scan the shelves, record details and then act accordingly. This new technology should be especially helpful as the retail giant handles seasonal items ranging from eggnog to candy canes.

During the holidays, numerous retailers — including Walmart — stock foods and beverages that are only sold for a limited amount of time. The demand for these products is short, but intense, and some of the items may have small sell-by windows. The robots could be useful assistants in the constant quest to ensure the products customers see are in-date and maximally tasty.

Before products reach retailers, manufacturers could combine the advantages of new shelf-life-extending packaging materials and use robots in logistics to put them on the foods. In that theoretical scenario, companies would benefit from robotics that get perishables to the marketplace faster, plus packages that keep the foodstuffs inside containers from spoiling so quickly.

How Robotics Play a Part in Food Processing

Robotics help bring automation to industrial food processing in many ways for the sake of both food safety and worker safety.

Some robots keep foodstuffs flowing by preventing material flow blockages. Timed blasts of air in huge containers like grain silos stop logistics bottlenecks, minimize human interventions and even work as pest control.  Vision enables robotics also help when it comes to handling certain foods. For example, vision guidance allows machines to work with foods like pizza. Machines know how much sauce to dispense, but can see where to spread the sauce with this new feature.  With the increase in new technologies, robots will continue to bring flexibility to food processing workers.

Worker safety is also a top priority in food manufacturing. Automated robotics equipment is more resilient than a typical person, reducing the risk of muscle strains and similar ailments due to tiredness. They also have the added benefit of increased efficiency allowing the plants meet production quotas easier. Additionally, Advancements in artificial intelligence will continue to emphasize safety through improved automation while keeping the workflow maximally efficient. The combination of these benefits means that robots are here to stay.

Developing Food Industry Robots That Work Along With Humans

Many news stories have warned how robots are already taking jobs away from humans, and that the trend will only intensify. As is clear from the examples in the previous section, robots can help humans, not make them unemployed.

In fact, a four-year, multinational project is exploring ways to safely use robots in the food industry to supplement what humans do, rather than replace their tasks. Researchers involved in the project wanted to focus on using robotic technology with fresh foods due to an awareness of several associated challenges such as shelf life limitations and the need to rapidly respond to changes in the marketplace.

The forklift-style robots will automatically adjust to changing demands in the workplace, sense the presence of humans around them and be fully scalable. The last advantage allows for adding or removing robots at any time without disrupting the workflow.

It’s easy to understand, then, why such a perk would be so beneficial during a time such as the holiday season, when customer demand is at its peak and people make special foods ranging from Christmas cookies to cranberry salad. Manufacturers or retailers could simply increase the number of robots in use until the hustle and bustle die down and then return to a normal operating level as a new year begins.

Outside of the project mentioned above, other human-helping robots, or “cobots,” are relieving warehouse workers of monotonous tasks common to the food-processing sector. The cobots do their jobs without errors and aren’t dangerous to their human colleagues because the machines have sensors that make them stop operating or move more slowly when people are near. Many of them also have sophisticated vision systems that equip them to do tasks without bumping into people or products.

We’ve just looked at several case studies where robots help things move smoothly in the fast-paced world of food processing. Emerging technologies, as well as those consistently used within the sector, lead to efficient results during the holiday season and beyond.

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Megan Ray Nichols
Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance science writer interested in engineering, technology, and other science disciplines. She is a regular contributor to Manufacturing Transformation and American Machinist. Megan is also the editor of Schooled By Science. Subscribe to her blog to stay up to date on scientific news and follow her on Twitter.
Megan Ray Nichols
  • Robotic food manufacturing is a rising trend in the food industry.

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