Benefits of using robots in food processing and manufacturing applications

Recent technological advances are allowing robots to be useful in food processing and manufacturing applications.

By Robotic Industries Association (RIA) April 19, 2019

Industrial and collaborative robots in the food industry are increasingly being deployed in primary processing and secondary processing applications. Robotic automation has pervaded an incredibly diverse range of industries all over the globe – the food processing industry is one of the final frontiers of robotic automation.

Both industrial and collaborative robots can be used throughout the entire food supply chain. Historically though, food processing has been the most difficult to automate. But recent technological advances are overcoming these obstacles.

The processing of food at high volumes has traditionally posed many problems for robots. First, the shape and size of food items are often highly variable, posing a challenge when a robot tries to grasp an item. Many food items are also delicate, with strict requirements for quality, making them even harder to grasp.

One of the most important advances in robotic technology for food processing has been the introduction of more advanced grippers. Today there are soft grippers that can quickly but gently handle sensitive food products such as fruits and vegetables. Other types of grippers, such as vacuum grippers, have also shown promise in handling delicate or irregularly shaped items. Many advanced grippers are also paired with robust robotic vision technology to guide the robotic arm, allowing it to compensate for variations in product shape. This creates greater accuracy and consistency in processing applications.

Robotic automation applications in food processing

In primary and secondary food processing, robotic automation can be effectively deployed in many different ways. Some common and emerging applications include:

  • Pick-and-place for fruits and vegetables
  • Robotic cutting and slicing for seafood or beef
  • Robotic dispensing for cake decorating
  • Robotic cleaning to maintain safe working environments
  • Vision-guided sorting robots for produce

There are many other ways in which robots for food processing may be used. Some robots, for example, can now even be used to make pizzas without any human intervention. But the few mentioned above are the most common in industrial settings.

Food processing has long been an elusive industry for robotic technology. The challenges inherent in food products had prevented widespread adoption of robotic technology. Today, however, the most recent technological advances have led to a rising use of robotics in food processing. This is likely to ramp up in the near future as manufacturers compete to be the most productive on a global scale.

This article originally appeared on the Robotics Online Blog. Robotic Industries Association (RIA) is a part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), a CFE Media content partner.

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