Factors such as lower technology costs are leading to more significant opportunities for manufacturers to benefit from robotics in the baking and snack sector, according to Industrial Robot Opportunities in Food and Beverage Processing, a new white paper from PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.

While the cost of robotics has lowered, performance and ability have improved, making it an opportune time for baking and snack processors to embrace implementation. Additionally, as the cost of labor continues to rise, many manufacturers have discovered that automation solutions, which were previously too expensive, now yield an acceptable R.O.I. Capital budgets for baking and snack companies also are expected to increase, allowing more money for automated innovations.

Previously overlooked for many applications in baking and snack because of cost and due to industrial robots not meeting the necessary health and safety regulations, automation is increasingly available for use in direct contact with food. OEMs are developing robots with a high protection class suitable for handling unpacked food and subsequent washdown, creating new opportunities for the direct and indirect handling of foods.

Unlike their human counterparts, robots don’t get distracted, lose attention, get tired, go on holidays or get sick. Along with other automation technologies, like vision systems, robots can process information at a higher rate and can operate at far higher throughput levels than that of a human worker. As well as offering improved speed, robots provide a higher degree of accuracy and repeatability, improving production rates while reducing downtime and waste.

As gripper and end-of-arm technologies develop, the ability of robots to handle fragile products like individual cookies or cupcakes without damage has improved significantly. As this technology continues to grow, becoming both gentler and more consistent, potential applications will broaden from traditional robust tasks, making robots the preferred option to human handling. In turn this will free up human labor to focus on higher level tasks.

Rapid developments in artificial intelligence and deep learning also is creating additional opportunities to improve the automation of product quality control. Sensors and cameras can monitor attributes such as size, shape, color, etc. and use this information to identify product outside the norm.

On the opposite side of the table, robotics manufacturers see the food-based industries as markets to target because of its greater immunity to economic uncertainty. Regardless of the economy, people need to eat, making food an area less influenced by cyclical swings in demand.

At ProFood Tech, being held March 26-28 in Chicago, robotic systems will be on display. The three-day event welcomes 7,000 processing professionals and showcases crossover technologies and innovative solutions from 400 exhibitors over 125,000 net square feet of exhibit space. For more information and to register, go to profoodtech.com.