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What could a robot do for you?

08 April 2019

Historically robotics have been deployed downstream in applications such as packing and palletising. However, as robot technology advances and consumer demands grow, manufacturers need to consider implementing automated processes further upstream within their operations. 

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Food manufacturers need to be looking at robotics and automation as a way to increase efficiencies, maintain a sustainable level of productivity and remain competitive in an ever more complex and diverse market.

Today, food and beverage companies are competing on the basis that they are able to distribute a desirable, quality product, better than their competitors. Quickly reconfigurable automated processes provide both flexibility and efficiency and can offer huge benefits. But where can these automated solutions be implemented and how do manufacturers identify where they can add value to an existing operation? Robot supplier Kuka offers some advice:

• Cost savings can be achieved by replacing a human workforce in high-frequency tasks, or for tasks considered to be non-ergonomic; high task repetition or tasks that require forceful exertion.
RSI (repetitive strain injury) accounts for almost 5 million lost working days a year. Robots however can work without becoming injured and can adapt easily to changing product cycles. Automation eliminates errors and reduces variability in output. Humans, as we know, are prone to making mistakes. We tire, become distracted or lose focus. New packaging designs, ever shorter product cycles and an increasing diversity of variants mean that attention to detail is critical. By adopting automation, manufacturers can achieve cost savings via reduced downtime through sickness and/or injury.

• Improved quality output can be achieved through the implementation of automated robotics to eliminate costly product recalls.
Manual applications within food handling have a higher risk of contamination compared to automated processes. Robotics within food processing and production processes, are increasingly being implemented on production lines in order that new standards can be met and regulations adhered to. 

• Robots are able to operate in conditions deemed too dangerous for humans. 
Working in extremely cold conditions is inconvenient and uncomfortable. Cold fingers under bulky gloves make even simple tasks difficult. Arctic robots, however, are designed to operate at temperatures of down to -30°C. Such extreme working conditions dictate that humans are not able to remain for long periods of time, having to take regular breaks. Automated robots, however, can continue to work without temperature fluctuations or loss of quality.

• An automated production line provides significant efficiencies that can translate into cost- savings that can be passed on to the customer.
Reduction in both schedule and cost is an attractive USP to potential customers. By implementing automated processes the highest possible throughput can be achieved minus the increased spend. The more attractive the service offering is to customers, the better positioned manufacturers are in retaining their competitive advantage. Also consider that automated processes provide a reduction in waste. 

• Implementing automated, robotic processes can achieve a rapid return on investment.
Automation requires a significant investment of capital, that is clear and businesses will need to change the way in which they operate. Though consider the alternatives. Our competitors automate and provide a more cost effective alternative to our customers, gaining that competitive advantage and market share. However, robotic automation is a long term strategy. Cost savings are achieved over time as the benefits from improved efficiencies, production throughput, safety and quality add up. 

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