Five best practices for using robotics in food processing

Robotics are being used increasingly in the food and beverage processing industry. Here are five things to consider when using robotics in your food manufacturing facility.


Robotics are being used increasingly in the food and beverage processing industry. Here are five things to consider when using robotics in your food manufacturing facility. Courtesy: StellarFood and beverage processors are increasingly turning towards robotics for the technology’s slew of benefits including reduced costs, upped throughput and increased food and worker safety.

While robotics does boast various benefits to food manufacturing, it’s important to follow some best practices during your own implementation.

Here are five things to consider when using robotics in your food manufacturing facility:

1. Ensure your robots have the appropriate grippers: When handling different products, you will need to make sure that you have the appropriate grippers for your product. For example, meats can be greasy and slippery, whereas cookies are rigid and more susceptible to crumbling, and paper sacks of flour or sugar can be dusty.

2. Be mindful of cross-contamination: From a hygienic viewpoint, it is critical to make sure that there isn’t any cross-contamination if there are multiple types of products running on the same robotic cells. If you have one cookie product with nuts and another cookie that doesn’t contain nuts, you need to make sure that you are able to properly clean the grippers between products.

3. Use robots in pairs for pick-in-place robotic systems: That way, if one goes down for maintenance or for some other reason, the line doesn’t need to be shut down.  Another reason is if your line speeds require running one robot at 100 percent capacity, with two systems you will only run the equipment at 50 percent, increasing your robots’ life and reducing required maintenance.

4. Think of the ROI when determining the need for robotic case packing or secondary packing applications: There are a lot of times where the line speed isn’t sufficient to justify a robotic packaging application. It may be more cost effective to have a manual or mechanical packing operation. Every operation is unique and must be considered individually when determining which method is more effective.

Usually, if you are only running one product, it may be more efficient to explore a mechanical operation. This way, you can set up the equipment and let the machine run the product. In most instances, a mechanical operation will be cheaper than robotics.

If you are running multiple products, consider using a robotic system. Often times you can program it to identify different products or packages, which would allow for very few machine adjustments between runs. If you have a wide variety of stock keeping units (SKUs), robotics may be the better option.

5. Have a safety-first approach for robots handling large materials: A processor should look at a number of different things when determining the specifications for large material-handling robots.

The first should be safety. Are there any other laborers nearby who could be hurt if the robot were to mishandle one of the heavy bags? What is the likelihood of this happening? You would have to determine the injury rate of the current operation against the likelihood of the proposed robotic operation.

When specifying a robot to handle heavy bags of dry products or other materials, include a safety factor. For example, if the maximum weight to be handled by the robot is 60 pounds, you should specify a robot designed to handle at least 1.5 times that weight. Just like a human, you don’t want a machine operating at its maximum effort any more than it needs to.

- Brian Roffers is a packaging engineer at Stellar. This article originally appeared on Stellar Food for Thought blog. Stellar is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Joy Chang, digital project manager, CFE Media,

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
Doubling down on digital manufacturing; Data driving predictive maintenance; Electric motors and generators; Rewarding operational improvement
2017 Lubrication Guide; Software tools; Microgrids and energy strategies; Use robots effectively
Prescriptive maintenance; Hannover Messe 2017 recap; Reduce welding errors
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Research team developing Tesla coil designs; Implementing wireless process sensing
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; Paralleling switchgear generator systems
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
Featured articles highlight technologies that enable the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies to get data more easily to the user.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me