Stronger, Faster… Better How Robots in Food & Beverage Help More Than Just Efficiency and Productivity

F&B remains at the heart of why specific countries and regions prosper and continue to dominate based on their ability to cultivate, process, and ultimately market food products worldwide. This also works in reverse, with impacts on major suppliers of food around the world likely to affect neighbouring countries and key trading partners.

More than the economic impact of food production, the social and environmental impact that food production cannot be understated as we move towards almost 8 billion people worldwide. Simply ramping up production isn’t going to help get food, especially good quality food, to those that need it most. That’s why industrial robotics, especially the ones focused on food production, can change the tide and provide a good impact on food not just based on the effectiveness of its cultivation and processing, but also on its ability to better the surrounding environment and social landscape for the better.

How Robots Work in Food & Beverage

The concepts of robotics in food & beverage are not a new phenomenon by any means. Ever since the start of the industrial revolution (which we are now in the third stage of), machinery has been used to better develop food from all stages in the value chain.

Combine harvesters are used extensively in crop management, as well as drones that can better give you insight into the growth of your produce at a faster and more accurate rate of delivery. At the processing level, delta-type pick-and-place robots are often used for their fast and accurate processing capabilities, as well as the sanitary aspect that allows them to handle food in a regulated and ultimately safe way.

Robotics can even be used in the management and distribution of the final end product in food & beverage. Sorting and storage remain key factors in ensuring that food and beverages manufactured and processed are properly stored to the utmost quality, and robotics can manage this “end-of-line” packaging and palletize it in a more efficient and streamlined manner.

Top 5 Positive Impacts of Robots in F&B Manufacturing

As we mentioned earlier, the impact of robotics on the direct material aspects of a business is definitely one of the strongest reasons why robotics today is being used so extensively. Yet the benefits of robotics in manufacturing food and beverage go beyond what might be intuitively understood.

The importance of radically changing how we develop, process, and ultimately fulfill the world’s need for food is due for an overhaul. Many negative impacts of traditional food and beverage manufacturing, from climate change, loss of biodiversity, and even soil quality degradation, are leading the world towards a spiral of doom if not properly curbed.

Robots in these industry spaces have the potential of transforming the impact of these industries to not only minimize the damage to our planet and communities but turn them into truly sustainable operations that run for the better.

Better Packaging

One of the largest impacts on food and beverage (and arguably most of the industries today) is their reliance on wasteful packaging. Often as consumers, you’re only aware of the final “end-of-line” packaging that comes with your finished food or beverage product. But within any production chain lies different steps and processes that require additional packaging, and therefore additional waste.

Much of the packaging needed in these processes is due to the myriad of literal hands that the food is likely to move across. With dozens of steps between actual raw inputs and the finished goods, food and beverage products will likely go through different layers of packaging before reaching a consumable stage.

Robots can cut this down by working in completely sanitary environments away from human interaction. This cuts down the need for additional packaging steps and even allows for more efficient production lines from raw input to finished product.

Better Workplace Experience

In line with the importance of cutting down packaging waste, robots also produce cleaner and more precise production methods that can improve food quality as well as better the working environment for the actual people working on the same floor.

Cobots, or collaborative robots, are often used in food and beverage industries for their ability to assist workers in processing and managing the different inputs that come into the factory floor. For example, the Danish Crown, a food company focused on beef and pork processing, is utilizing robots to manage the heavy lifting of literally moving the food across different areas of production. Instead of replacing people, the Danish Crown is looking towards robots to better the experience their workers have by enabling “jobs that can take care of an entire working life without being worn down”.

Less Food Waste

Because of the consistent nature of robotics, less food is wasted in the production process which is usually due to the complexity of different food types that enter a production space. Robotics today can better identify the kinds of food that are needed, how they should be processed, and what to do with them after that process.

In traditional systems, you run the risk of food waste at the slightest of human errors. Better-developed robotics can mitigate this through automation, better hardware, and smart imaging that can better reduce the chance of waste and get more food to those that need it.

Improved Distribution

Interestingly enough, with this past COVID-19 pandemic, it was the supply chain of actually getting food and beverage from stakeholder to stakeholder that was most severely impacted by lockdowns and demand spikes.

In response to this, newer and more advanced robotics have been developed to manage the parallel processes that come with food and beverage manufacturing. These range from automated guided vehicles, floor cleaners, and even smart robotic assistants in groceries that allowed for cleaner access to food without the risk of contamination. This allowed shoppers to feel safer in environments that were once quarantined due to the risk of infection during the pandemic.

Innovative Direct-to-Consumer Fulfilment

Robotics doesn’t just have to be cornered off into the areas that consumers don’t see, and in fact, is now present in different areas where consumers are likely to encounter them. A restaurant in Boston known as Sweetgreen (formerly known as Spyce has even introduced robotic cooks that allow for easier and more efficient access to food without the need to deal with the often high overhead that comes with restaurant businesses.

This allows the restaurant to transfer the savings over to the consumer as well, with Spyce offering their different food specialties at less than $10 each.

Key Takeaways

Food and beverages can be a difficult industry to manage, let alone operate sustainably. With robots entering the space, you’re likely much more capable of providing not just a more efficient production system, but one that is able to mitigate the negative impacts of F&B manufacturing. These positive internalities range from better packaging, improved workplaces, less food waste, better distribution, and even innovative consumer experiences.

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Published on 

Feb 10, 2023


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