Automation in the food and beverage industry is creating opportunities and expanding possibilities. In Japan, artificial intelligence (AI) created to automate the process of differentiating between types of pastries is now used to detect cancerous cells, showing just how advanced technology in the food industry has become.With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the demand for robotic systems by consumer goods and food manufacturers increased by 56% during 2020, according to information from the Robotic Industries Association and Association for Advancing Automation. But what does that look like in real terms? We’ve picked out five emerging trends in the food and beverage industry that show how effective automation and robotics can be — and why they’re here to stay.
1. AI Could Help Reduce Energy Costs for Food Manufacturers
The food and beverage industry is hypercompetitive right now, so cutting costs and reducing the impact on the environment are both crucial ways to stay ahead. AI helps a number of industries streamline processes, but in the food industry, AI has also reduced energy consumption and even the waste of raw materials.
One example of this is an American ingredient manufacturer that used AI to automate the process for optimizing energy usage, accurately forecasting requirements, and allowing the company to reduce the gas consumption of its on-site boilers. This reduced the company’s costs and its carbon footprint, which had positive ramifications for its brand reputation too.
2. AI Can Also Help Achieve Consistency and Quality
Another reason AI is a successful mainstay of the food and beverage industry is that it can accomplish tedious tasks that before had to be performed manually. An example of this is a food plant that relied on a thorough drying process for making some of its products.
Previously, staff had to periodically check the moisture levels to avoid waste. Now the company uses AI to predict moisture levels. Because of this information, the company can now automate the adjustment of temperature and pressure. The discrepancies in moisture levels have decreased, reducing waste and improving the efficiency of the food plant.
3. Robots for Accurate and Safe Food Packing
New packing robotics systems do more than simply move a robotic arm with a gripper on the end. Full systems — which unfold boxes, put them together, carefully pack them with ingredients or food items, weigh them, and then complete the packaging process — now take up less space than ever. This reduces overhead for food packaging companies or lets them do more with the space they already have available.
Other systems include intelligent robots that fill and seal packages so accurately that there is virtually zero waste. Some of these machines can fill around 300 packages every minute, making them an irreplaceable part of the manufacturing team. Investment in industrial automation like this will only increase as time goes on, particularly when speed combines with accuracy, safety, and reduced costs and waste.
4. Robotics and Aluminum Food Packaging
The environmental impact of plastic packaging has become more clear over the last few years. It’s with the significant progress that many robotic food packaging systems can now work with aluminum as an alternative. Aluminum is food safe and can transform into just about any shape imaginable. It is also completely recyclable.
Aluminum’s versatility means that as robotics systems become more advanced, it is still a great option for extremely hot or cold food or beverage offerings, as it withstands temperature extremes and remains rigid in a range of environments.
Another material you may see more often on the automated packing conveyor is fiber pulp packaging. This reconstituted cardboard and paper blend can meld into a range of food packaging solutions, and it’s both recyclable and compostable.
5. Automation for Employee Safety
During the Coronavirus pandemic, safety within food processing plants has been a serious concern all over the world. With one plant in California experiencing 153 positive cases, any innovation that reduces the risk for employees has to be a welcome change. Allowing automated systems to take on some tasks — such as cleaning or peeling vegetables, or sorting and filling containers — lets employees remain socially distant from each other and work more safely.
Innovations in this field include more accurate camera-based sorting technologies, with AI and algorithms essentially replacing the human eye. AI can also help increase the efficiency of food storage, saving space and energy by automating processes within food warehouses.
Demand within the food industry has shifted in 2020 and 2021. As many restaurants sadly closed due to the pandemic, the demand for food from grocery stores and other food suppliers has increased. Now, automation in the food and beverage industry is at an all-time high and only expected to grow. Industrial automation will surely provide many more solutions to keep the food and beverage industry safe and efficient, and the customers happy.
For more information on innovative operational solutions for the food and beverage industry, get in touch with ICA Engineering and find out how we can support your critical outcomes.
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