Robotics in the Food and Beverage Industry

Written By: Tom Ahlborn

As government regulations become more stringent, retailer demands continue to increase, and competition intensifies, the need for robots has never been more imperative for success in the food and beverage industry.

Food and Beverage Robots

Click to View Larger Version — Graphic produced by Tom Ahlborn, marketing specialist at Bastian Solutions

Robots Help Prevent Food Contamination

With the implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011, increased focus has been placed on preventing contamination in the U.S. food supply. Modern robots feature improved sanitary designs making them ideal for work in this clean environment. Smooth surfaces that are not susceptible to the corrosive effect of cleaning chemicals, and tight seals that lock out contaminants are just a couple of the safety-minded design features.

SCARA (Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm) robots are typically used for food processing. Their low cost, small footprint, and high throughput rates make them attractive to manufacturers looking to increase their efficiency. According to PMMI, 48% of dairy processors indicate a need for processing equipment improvements. Look for increased numbers of robots to be implemented in food processing as manufacturers seek to eliminate contamination from human contact with food products.

Picking and Packing Robots

As robots do not suffer fatigue from performing repetitive tasks, they are also an ideal solution for primary packaging tasks such as bottle handling, bin picking, and tray loading. The main driver behind the growing implementation of robots for primary packaging is the increasing demand for more varied packaging, pack counts and retail-ready packaging.

Food packaging dominates global retail volumes with nearly 2 trillion units annually, and beverage packaging ranks 2nd with just over 1 trillion units. By 2018, food and beverage manufacturers plan to increase their use of robots on the primary packaging line to 22% (from 9% in 2013) and 8% (from 5% in 2013) respectively. This is due to the increased productivity, flexibility and efficiency that robots can provide on the primary packaging line.

Food packing robot

Robots in High Demand for Secondary Packaging

The greatest growth in food and beverage robotics, however, is expected to continue in the secondary stage of the packaging line. In 2015, the beverage packaging industry is expected to grow to $26.3 billion in North America alone. From case packing to bundling and bagging, there are a variety of tasks a robot can perform in this area.

Beverage manufacturers plan to increase usage of robots in secondary packaging lines to 22% by 2018, more than doubling the usage from 2013. Food manufacturers are also expected to more than double their usage. These delta-style robots feature proven end of arm tools ranging from vacuum grippers to clamps that are integrated with sensors so a robot knows if it is safely gripping a product.

Robotic Palletizing Systems

After packaging, robots are then used to make products ready for transport. According to a 2014 PMMI report, 2 out of 3 manufacturing locations either have palletizing robots installed, plan to install more, or plan to add them into their palletizing operations in the future. A wide variety of end of arm tools are capable of handling anywhere from single products to full rows, and even entire layers of product depending on customer needs. The use of palletizing robots brings increased end-of-line efficiency as well as improved flexibility and cost savings.

Food palletizing robots

As cost continues to drop and capabilities continue to increase, industrial robots will be a key driver as manufacturers look to remain competitive in the food and beverage industry going forward. Click the image below to view key stats on robots for the food and beverage industry.

After graduating with a degree in Management and Marketing from Purdue University, Tom joined Bastian Robotics in 2011. As Senior Marketing Specialist, Tom manages all aspects of Robotics marketing including content development, digital marketing, and video production.

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