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When efficiency is key

06 June 2022

Process optimisation lends itself to efficient production methods that are integral within today’s food and beverage manufacturing sector, says Kuka. 

Events of the past two years continue to put strain on supply chains. Increased demand, coupled with labour shortages means that food manufacturers are now having to evaluate the benefits attributed to robotics sooner, as a tactical survival move, rather than a strategic incentive, to ensure operational longevity. Social distancing measures mean that where once operators stood shoulder to shoulder along a production line, alternative means of task execution are having to be sourced. In many cases, the introduction of robotics.

First and foremost, however, manufacturers must identify where automated solutions can best add value, rather than automating for the sake of automating. Process-focused improvements aimed at improving efficiency in areas that might once have been heavily reliant upon manual handling is just one area that can benefit. Consider picking and packing within a food processing/packaging facility where once operators worked alongside one another. Replacing these time consuming and often low-value tasks with robotics enables operators to be positioned within other areas of the business, where their skills can be better applied, delivering value back into the process chain. 

Not only can robots execute the tasks of several people, thanks to their ability to operate continuously, but they can also work within a reduced footprint. Robots can be floor mounted, wall-mounted, ceiling-mounted or on a track, expanding upon the application deliverables. Often it is the case in the past that smaller manufacturers may dismiss robot process automation because they don’t think they have the space, when in reality, they need less space than operators.

Making efficient use of existing facilities is key. The F&B sector is fast-moving and consumer trends change regularly so having the ability to keep pace is essential. 

The UK has been using robot automation at a lesser rate than its global competitors, yet the UK F&B industry is highly varied, offering a huge amount of potential for the technology. The depletion of skilled labour pools is making it more difficult for manufacturers to source, train and retain new staff. As such, a focus on upskilling existing labour is key. Those operators that might be involved in non-ergonomic, repetitive tasks, or low value, high volume tasks, can be retrained as robot programmers. 

The robotic tools that are available, are as diverse as the applications in which they are to be utilised – measuring, weighing, picking & placing, packing & palletising, the handling of hot or cold ingredients, operation within very hot or very cold environments, high volume repetitive tasks, tasks that require a consistent level of accuracy, handling heavy items or a diverse range of items.

Optimising a manufacturing facility footprint and operational efficiencies can provide immediate and long-lasting benefits by maximising throughput and reducing operating costs. 

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