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Robots help cut out waste for cheese producer

18 February 2024

Robots have helped one cheese producer to speed up productivity on its cutting line at the same time as reducing waste due to crumbling, cracking or deformation of product during the cutting process.

Food production in the UK wastes around 1.5 million tonnes of food every year according to figures released by the UK Parliament. Cheese is a major culprit – it is notoriously wasteful and for each kilo of cheese manufactured, nine kilos of whey – or liquid byproduct – is produced; 40% of which must be disposed of. On top of that is the solid waste. Cheese is prone to crumbling, cracking and deforming during the cutting process, especially when applying manual force with knives. 

One UK cheese manufacturer set out to address the issue of solid waste on its line.

Traditionally, it had relied on predominantly manual cheese production processes which created a risk of uneven pressure that caused the cheese to break, crumble or deform unexpectedly. Additionally, the drag of the knife could lead to product damage, especially with softer or more delicate cheese varieties. 

In addition, the manufacturer was taking four to five days to meet its weekly quotas and so needed to find a faster and more accurate approach to cheese cutting to help it minimise waste and boost throughput. 

Achieving a consistent, clean cut would be a complex task due to the product’s varied textures and structures of the products being cut. For a solution, the manufacturer turned to Elliptical Design, a designer of bespoke machinery for the food industry, who proposed the use of an ultrasonic cutting system which allows for precise, damage-free cuts in cheese and various food products. 

Frictionless cutting
Ultrasonic food cutting systems offers an almost frictionless cutting solution, utilising high-frequency vibrations, transmitted through a blade, to precisely cut or slit sticky or delicate foods.  

To further enhance precision on the cheese cutting line, industrial robots from TM Robotics were integrated into the process. 

TM Robotics provided SCARA robots for pick-and-place applications with vision and conveyor tracking capabilities. The robots have an IP65 rating, which makes them suitable for applications handling raw food.

For the crucial ultrasonic cutting application, TM Robotics supplied a six-axis industrial robot, again with an IP65 rating.

The application was not without its challenges. Fine-tuning the robot's vision system to accurately pick up and place cheese posed a problem. TM Robotics collaborated with experts in the US and Japan to develop a customised algorithm to ensure the robot could identify and accurately handle non-uniform shapes with utmost accuracy.

With the ultrasonic cutting system and robots in place, the quotas that previously took four to five days, are now achieved in just two day, providing an impressive increase in throughput and a significant reduction in waste.

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