Robots are already very common in the food and beverage industry, with nine out of 10 food processing and packaging companies using them, according to 2017 Evolution of Automation, a report from PMMI Business Intelligence.
Collaborative robots (cobots) could drive that adoption rate even higher, the report details, especially as costs come down. “The ROI on collaborative robots is three times better now,” says one OEM. “And use will continue to increase, replacing low-level operations or simple human tasks.”
One reason for increasing reliance on robotics could have to do with the fact that human error remains the most common reason for downtime, the study says, and can also result in unreliable product quality.
Robots are being used in a variety of locations, and will likely continue to infiltrate various areas of the plant. “Robotics is used mainly for case packing,” notes one design engineer at a large food plant. “But in the future, it will increase up the line as wash-down capabilities improve.”
Robots are being used at the front end of the line for direct product handling like filling, dosing and pick and place, according to 40 percent of those interviewed for the study. A quarter of the respondents predict more use in product handling, such as cutting, coating and feeding; and 13 percent cited front-of-line use for depalletizing. End of line will see growth in both palletizing and secondary packing such as tray packers, cartoning and case packaging.
For more information, download the executive summary or full report of 2017 Evolution of Automation.