The global population has quadrupled during the last century, and this has increased the demand for food worldwide. It’s expected that this rise in food demand will escalate further from anywhere between 59% to 98% over the next thirty years.
Many food manufacturing industries have started using robotic interventions to revolutionize how they had been operating earlier to meet this growing demand for food.
In food manufacturing, robots are used to carry out both primary and secondary applications. Primary applications being the processes that convert raw materials into commodities, and secondary applications are advanced treatments such as fermentation and packaging that increase a product’s shelf life.
Some primary and secondary applications that robots can handle efficiently in food manufacturing are:
1. Picking and Placing
Picking and placing ripe fruits and vegetables is a primary application in the food industry. It’s a job that requires delicacy, and shrewdness and therefore, the agricultural sector has always hired humans to carry out the task. But with the recent developments in the robotic industry, such as vision systems and artificial intelligence, robots can correctly identify ripe foods and pick them up without causing any damage.
The world’s first raspberry-picking robot set to work 11 months ago using its 3D camera and sensors. Researchers estimate that with advancements in machine learning, picking and placing robots will be able to collect up to 25,000 soft fruits like raspberries in a day compared to the 15,000 bits that a human can pick daily.
2. Packaging and palletizing
Food packaging involves placing and wrapping edible items such as fruits, vegetables, and processed foods. Some food items such as bread and cookies are easier to handle due to their uniform size that requires the same grasp. Still, raw fruits and vegetables that may have complex forms and different sizes are more complicated to maneuver.
3. Food decorating
The robotic arm is used in the confectionery industry to carry out functions such as piping icing and hand-drawn decorations onto a cake.
The precise and consistent application of a robotic arm is also used to sprinkle toppings onto a pizza and in garnishing other sweet and savory items such as doughnuts and burritos. Robots such as Burritob0t and ABB brainchild Vincenzo are used by confectionaries and food manufacturers worldwide to make their production more efficient and streamlined.
The food and beverage industry is one of the busiest production industries in the world, generating an average annual revenue of US$90 billion worldwide. By handling sorting, palletizing, and packaging, robots have provided a mechanism to make the processes used in this industry, more efficient and consistent.