Robotic technology has rapidly evolved in recent years, leading to its widespread use in various industries. While robots are commonly utilized in food production lines and industrial kitchens, their application for household chores remains limited due to cost constraints. However, the latest generation of collaborative robots, known as “cobots,” have significantly improved capabilities and can now perform diverse tasks, such as sorting fragile food products and decorating desserts.
Connectivity in food and drink processing plants enables quick reprogramming of cobots to fulfill different tasks while connected to a central control system. One area where cobots have faced limitations is food handling, as food products are often delicate, slippery, and irregularly shaped. However, significant advancements in the development of end-effectors, such as mGrip grippers produced by Soft Robotics Inc., have addressed some of these challenges. These grippers, which can handle meat products with varying bone configurations, offer high-speed automated picking solutions using 3D machine vision.
The functionality of food handling robots is further enhanced by the use of sensors. For example, uSkin magnetic force sensors developed by Xela Robotics enable robots to handle and sort delicate food products accurately. These sensors can detect fruit size, shape, and ripeness, resulting in improved quality and reduced waste. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning also play a crucial role in robotic systems for food processing. For instance, TOMRA Systems has developed robotic food sorting systems equipped with industry-leading sensors, high-resolution lasers, AI machine learning, and biometric identification technology to detect toxic weeds and ensure the quality of food products.
Moreover, the growing use of bespoke Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software facilitates end-to-end automation in food and drink processing. By programming robotic systems to optimize raw ingredient usage for custom orders, these systems minimize waste, standardize processes, and improve operational efficiency. Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are increasingly employed in modular systems, offering flexibility and streamlining production processes while reducing human error and exposure to hazardous environments. Kuka Robotics provides technologies that allow businesses to simulate robotic systems before investment, providing insights into productivity improvements and waste minimization.
While robotic automation offers numerous benefits, it also presents food safety challenges. Contamination risks necessitate the maintenance and cleaning of machinery that comes into contact with food products. Innovative solutions, such as automated weighing systems developed by OAL and high-powered water cleaning systems by JMP Solutions, help mitigate these risks.
Overall, the advancements in robotic technology for food processing are revolutionizing the industry by improving efficiency, accuracy, and food safety. However, challenges related to delicate food handling, sensor technology, and maintaining clean machinery need to be addressed for widespread adoption.