Guest Column | March 23, 2015

Man Vs. Machine: How Robotics Is Tackling Some Of The Food Industry's Biggest Headaches

Laura Studwell, Food, Beverage, and Packaging Industry Marketing Manager at Omron

By Laura Studwell, Food, Beverage, and Packaging Industry Marketing Manager at Omron & Dan Dibbern, Robotics Product Manager at Omron

The falling costs and growing sophistication of robots have renewed debates among economists and food-industry experts over what the processing and packaging landscape will look like in the next decade. The pace and scale of robotic encroachment into human skills is a relatively new development in the food industry. The food industry is just beginning to gain key insights into how effectively robotics solve pain points at each stage of production — from processing to palletizing.

The FDA often documents the processing stage, where raw material inputs enter the production stream, as the point of contamination in cases associated with a recall. The reality is that workers are subjected to external environmental factors which can be transferred during direct contact with inputs. Robots do not carry pathogens — they do not have skin, hair, fingernails, or bodily fluids such as perspiration, saliva, and blood — that can cause foodborne illnesses. Harsh wash-down, high-pressure cleanings set at regular intervals, and after each recipe shift, can minimize, if not eliminate, contamination.

Advances in pick and place robot technology are transforming down-stream operations, such as primary packaging. Vision systems guide robots to pick products using pre-programmed identifiers and place them into a desired location, such as a piece of candy into a plastic tray. A robot performs repetitive tasks with precision and speed and does it without the risk of picking and placing an incorrectly packaged or labeled product. Because of this, companies have peace of mind that contaminated products will not enter the market.

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