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Robotics and automation in the dairy industry

27 March 2023

Robot process automation is delivering several advantages across industry. Most notably cost savings and productivity gains, as manufacturers strive to establish competitive advantage. Such returns are being achieved en masse, in what we consider ‘conventional’ manufacturing scenarios. Though as the benefits of automation and robotics come to the fore, their use, within industries away from the conventional, is increasing.

Upstream production processes and manufacturers that produce ‘raw’ products for delivery into supply chains are being met with several significant challenges, such as depleting low-cost labour pools and increases in product demand. Add to that mix the need to address considerations such as product quality, throughput and consistency of task execution…

As a result, business owners are now having to factor automation into their process chains with robots becoming more commonplace.

But how are niche industries now incorporating robotics into their operations; how are novel technologies, such as robots now becoming necessary. More importantly, how do business owners determine whether a specific process is suited to RPA?

There are currently 12,000 active dairy farmers producing almost 15 billion litres of milk each year in the UK alone 
( into producing cheeses, yoghurt, cream, butter and milk for your tea or coffee. Highly competitive within the agricultural sector, the dairy industry is complex, supplying local markets, in addition to exporting overseas. Traditionally reliant upon manual labour, dairy farmers are quickly starting to recognise the benefits attributed to automation.

Peacock Technology Limited is an advanced engineering and robotic automation company specialising in the provision of machine vision and artificial intelligence, within the agricultural industry, specifically to help food producers achieve efficient and sustainable production processes. Of the many challenges facing Dairy Farmers today, the most time consuming and challenging is finding labour with the necessary skills to work with cows. Peacock Technology is applying its industry knowledge and expertise to automate key tasks, freeing up labour hours that can be applied to other tasks.

Their first automated robotic cell, the IDS Teat, is a compact system used to disinfect cow’s teats, post milking, within rotary milking parlours. The cell, which features a KUKA IONTEC industrial robot, utilises a 3D vision system that allows for the consistent application of a spray disinfectant to cows’ teats, which helps to fight mastitis and improve cow welfare.

Darren Dyer, Field Operations Manager, PTL describes the advantages of using a 3D vision system, within the spray delivery: “IDS is delivering consistent results; we are always spraying all four teats. The camera builds up a 3D image for us qualifying the spray area: Is there sufficient room between the animal’s legs; Are all four teats visible? Coordinates are then sent to the robot so that the arm can enter and apply the cleaning solution”.

The dairy industry is a large volume, high throughput industry that has, like many others, been impacted by the reductions in skilled labour pools. Cattle have an inherent fear of unfamiliar objects, and frequent changes in their environments, that could be presented by recurring changes in personnel, can be unsettling and, ultimately impact the quality, or quantity of milk produced. The IDS teat system, designed, developed and delivered by PTL, addresses this, and several other factors within the milking process:

• The need for manual labour is reduced
• Consistency and accuracy considerations are addressed
• Animal welfare is maintained
• Continuation of throughput is sustained: supply versus demand is not interrupted

Remote monitoring capabilities are also integrated within the IDS teat system. As the robot cell is intended for use on dairy farms, by definition rural and/or remotely located, the ability for PTL’s field support engineers to remotely access the system is critical, if a failure may occur., so that costly downtime can be avoided.

To this end, Darren adds: “We have a PC connected to all of our installations, which allows us remote access. We use Work Visual as a diagnostic tool also, so we could be sat in at the office in Sterling, and a customer calls. We can dial into the site and have full visibility of the robot”. 

Delivery of the IDS system was achieved after significant research by the PTL team, led by Director, Robert Boyce: “First and foremost we had to understand the challenge, so time on the farm, even undertaking some milking ourselves and understanding the process and what was involved. We then broke that process flow down into basic ‘steps’. Identifying a robot partner who could deliver robot hardware, that would provide a consistent spray delivery was key”.

The IONTEC robot of KUKA’s medium payload category combines compact design with the largest working envelope in its class for optimal use of space with a small footprint and was the perfect model for this particular application, considering its location.

The IDS teat system is deployed via an asset lease solution. Neil Baker, Rushywood Farm identifies significant benefits of securing valuable automated assets, via leasing: “It’s an easy ‘in’ to the technology; there are no massive upfront costs. In addition, there is the tie-in that we have to the provider (PTL). What has been a huge breath of fresh air for us, is Peacock Technology’s commitment to us. They are always on the end of the phone and proactively dealing with challenges behind the scenes before they become problems. They (PTL) are exactly what we needed. I have enough things to deal with. They come on-site and add to the team. Everything comes down to people and the team at Peacock have looked after us”.

The utilisation of automation technology across niche production sectors is increasing, as industries look to manage process chains and optimise operations against a backdrop of increasing competition and demand for products.

Robert Boyce summarises: “It’s a very exciting time to an engineer in any field at the moment, but particularly in agriculture. New technologies are becoming available that are enabling us to undertake tasks that just didn’t think were possible, before now”.

For more information about the IDS Teat system please visit:

KUKA UK business units and Peacock Technology Ltd. are not the providers of finance. T&C’s are as per the asset finance Company partner to the leasing programme, subject to status; credit approval and underwriting. The leasing programme is available to Limited and PLC Companies in the private sector as well as public-sector organisations. The programme is not available to sole traders and small partnerships. E & O E

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