COVID 19 pandemic has persuaded the food processors to find out the safe and hygienic ways to process food. This is necessary so as to ensure the safety and quality of the food. Prior to the COVID, 19 world industries used to focus on increasing production as well as productivity. But the COVID 19 pandemic has made it mandatory to improve the hygiene practices and find out alternatives that improve and ensures the quality. One such alternative for the same can be robots and automated machines for food processing. These will be able to perform the task that humans used to do before the COVID-19 outbreak. Hence, robots are seen as the future of food processing.
Shift in Perception Towards Robotics and Automation
This pandemic has changed the perception of robotics and automation. The earlier industry used to think of using robots or automation just as to increase productivity. But now it’s completely a different scenario. The importance is more about increasing safety and hygienic conditions rather than just increasing productivity.
“While COVID is the greatest single catalyst for change in the industry in a generation, the global lockdown hasn’t started any new trends on its own,” says ABB’s Joe Chudy, vice president, and general manager.
“It has accelerated existing trends, such as reshoring/near-shoring to improve supply chain resilience, having production lines that are more flexible and better able to cope with significant changes in demand or processing without human contact.” he further added.
Food Industry: Major Challenges Faced due to COVID-19
COVID 19 has posed many major challenges for various industries including the Food Industry. These include the disruption of the supply chain, fluctuating demand due to the changing sentiments of the market, and unusual weather conditions due to the early onset of monsoon. All such factors have created a huge fluctuation in the demand for the product. All this creates uncertainties at the production stage as well.
Another major challenge is associated with manpower in the COVID-19 impacted world. Social distancing has made several processes very inefficient. Social distancing guidelines have disrupted the inspection, processing, and packaging procedures which have led to inefficiency.
Adding to this, manufacturers wish to decrease human intervention in manufacturing processes. This is because customers are now more careful about purchasing anything. This is mainly due to the fear of being infected by COVID-19. Due to the same, the sales of several products have also decreased.
Robots as the Future for Food Processing
“In these cases, we’re seeing interest in using small and/or collaborative robot arms in place of human workers to help maintain distancing requirements. Food and beverage processors are most interested in our Soft Gripper and in our vacuum grippers. These can find many uses in packaging and palletizing operations.”
Sick people cannot work and ensuring the health of each individual is a major task for the processors. “We have seen a steady increase in the need for robotics to replace manual handling,” says Naomi Holdvogt, director, marketing, ProMach robotics.
“We have noticed the effects that COVID-19 is having on the way food and beverage processors look at manufacturing,” says Cory Knight, an automation engineer for Festo’s food and beverage segment. “We’ve seen increased attention in several applications where manual labor is prevalent.”
Robots are getting better day by day and proving its place due to the following reasons
- Specialize robots for every repetitive task improving efficiency
- Hygienic designs (For the robots to operate in food industries, it has to meet strict design requirements along with proper cleaning procedures)
- Improved processing and vision capabilities
- Minimal human intervention reducing the chances of contamination.
- Artificial Intelligence and machine learning
- Can reduce labor cost and work long hours
Further Applications of Robots in Food Processing
Surely, there is a substantial increase in demand among the food processors for robots and automation. These can find use in processing to packaging and even in the warehouse. However, these are not the only applications. Even the kitchens can also have robots as chefs in the future.
It’s very clear how the use of robots and automation can help the industries tackle this situation and navigate a way out of these challenges. The use of robots can ensure hygiene and safety along with an increase in terms of efficiency. Further, these can help in terms of adaptability to fluctuating demand, and long hours of working.
Read more: Robochef- Robotic Kitchen
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Pursuing B.Tech. Food Technology and Management(22) from NIFTEM. Business world enthusiast.