When you think of robot safety, that usually means safety for humans. Yet in the case of food and beverage production, safety can mean preventing human contamination of the food. You can’t sterilize a human worker, but you can eliminate contaminants from mechanical equipment such as robots.
Robot maker ABB has lately been creating robots for the sterilized environments in food and beverage production. The goal is to reduce recalls due to food contamination while also making manufacturing processes uniform, efficient, and flexible.
The Food and Drug Administration introduced the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011. The law came into full effect is 2016. The regulation puts strict guidelines on safety and sanitization standards for US food manufacturers, as well as companies hoping to export into the US. Add to this a slew of recent oversights in contamination control across the world, and you begin to see changes in food and beverage production.
Consequently, food plant managers are investing in digitalization and robotics to improve safety and efficiency to meet these standards. “Food and beverage requires special attention because of safety issues, particularly the safety of the product. Recalls are costly both in real terms and in the damage to a brand. Moving to robotic production improves consistency of production and the cleanliness of manufacturing space,” Tatjana Milenovic, global marketing and portfolio manager of ABB’s Food and Beverage Program, told Design News . “People bring contaminants into the food and beverage manufacturing space. People have contaminants on their hands and head. Robots can be sterile.”
Food handling regulations are forcing the food and beverage industry into the automation future. “Food and beverage generally lags in technology adoption, but now there is a focus in the industry to make a leap jump in picking, packing, and palletizing over the next five years,” said Milenovic. “Customers want to produce more with existing lines and capabilities, and the implementation of robots helps this effort.”
The Same Oreo Across the Globe
One of the challenges in food and beverage is consistency. Often that means consistency across multiple plants. Robots can produce the same processes in facilities that span the globe. “Consistency is an issue. Whether you’re producing food in Europe, China, or Viet Nam, you want consistency at all plants,” said Milenovic. “The robots help make sure that each plant is producing product in the same way.”
Flexibility is also an issue in food and beverage. “Ten years ago, we had two types of yogurt. Now we have hundreds. One company we work with was equipped for two types of yogurt just a few years ago. Now they have 98,” said Milenovic. “The variety in food products is growing exponentially, and that requires flexibility in processing and packaging. The robot is adaptable. It can be designed