The food industry has always been essential and, as you know, that’s not going to change. But times have changed, urging the food industry to adapt and evolve amid a global pandemic, labor shortages, and disrupted supply chains. The demand for food continues to grow, so how do you meet that demand while overcoming the challenges along the way? One of the answers has been automation, which has benefited the industry greatly and will continue to do so.
Is automation in the food industry raising the bar? How can it help your food business? Let’s find out.
Impacts of Automation on the Food Industry
In the past, the closest thing to automation the food industry had were processing machines and conveyor belts. The majority of the process, however, relied on people. Consider a candy factory in the 1950s, where people would place ingredients then run the candy through a machine. From there, someone else would check the quality, and another might add the wrapper before the candy was sent to be packaged or placed on the shelves.
However, a scenario like this also adds room for error. If the ingredients are wrong, if a candy isn’t checked, or if a wrapper is missed, the consequences are disastrous.
Automation has shifted food processing companies far from manual labor. Automated ovens, blenders, mixers, wrappers, cutters and formers, and sorting equipment fill in the blanks where humans used to stand. This is made possible with programmable logic controllers (PLCs), like those constructed by EZSoft. A PLC monitors systems, starts and stops processes, and can even alert you to malfunctions or generate reports. By automating food production, food businesses ranging from independent bakeries to globally known food processing plants have increased productivity and efficiency dramatically.
With the demand so high for food, automation has become a necessity. Now, the food industry is required to maintain those machines or upgrade to meet the needs of the consumers. This is where the future of automation in the food industry starts to form.
Manufacturers are already producing advanced technologies that will innovate the food industry more than ever. As food processing and packaging evolves, there will be less and less employees standing along the conveyor belt and more operators controlling the machines.
After all, food will always involve people. From harvesting, processing, and cooking, the idea of food is very human in nature. Automation isn’t removing the human factor from the food industry, at all. Rather, it’s calling for a new set of skills, such as greater efficiency in machinery.
Benefits of Automation in the Food Industry
The food industry is more than the processing plants—it involves the farms, grocery stores, and restaurants, too. Automation has been introduced to every segment of the food supply chain, and the entire food industry has benefited from this.
The benefits include:
- Precision. Automation limits human error, improves efficiency, and helps food and packaging plants stay compliant with food and safety regulations.
- Efficiency. Producing more product and a lower cost and shipping that product out sooner can give a company a competitive edge.
- Increased profits. A smoothly running company and reduced losses and fines can improve revenue.
- Adaptability and flexibility. Automation enables the food industry to continuously evolve and retool as the supply and demand changes.
- Enhanced customer experience. Rather than facing labor shortages, automation can fill in gaps where manual labor used to be required. This reduces product shortages, keeping the consumer satisfied.
- Improved workplace safety. Automated equipment can handle tasks that would be dangerous for people to perform. Additionally, the automated systems will do the task with greater precision and output.
- Traceability. Automated tracing systems will automatically record data involving production and supply chains. Traceability also assists with compliance, finding inefficiencies, and maximizing shelf life.
Let’s look at some of these benefits in greater detail.
Increased Efficiency With Automation
As mentioned earlier, automation was adopted so readily because of empty roles along the production line. Almost immediately, efficiency increased.
Right now an automated system has to be developed to work alongside human workers to a degree. Since time is such an important factor in the success of a food business, the efficiency of automation has also improved the quality of food while limiting waste and lowering operational costs. Furthermore, the more automation within a single food processing plant, the fewer chances of delays and downtime you experience.
However, this cannot be done without having people available. Modern automation machines and systems are, ultimately, controlled by human workers. Without human intervention, the system wouldn’t be as efficient. In the end, the amount of automation a company takes on is your prerogative, but as long as the system can enhance the current process, it will be advantageous to you.
Standardizing Quality Control
The food industry is a machine full of spinning gears and cogs. Should any point along the supply, production, or delivery line stop, everything could fall apart. One example would be contaminated products making their way to the consumer. This can cause irreparable damage to your company image.
Automation can eliminate many of the issues within the production line all the way down to harvesting. For example, PLC systems can be used to scan the quality of a product by using image references stored within a database. If the product on the line doesn’t match, the automated system will remove it, while every product that passes inspection continues on down the conveyor belt. When an issue is noticed earlier, it prevents severe problems from popping up later on.
Automated equipment also standardizes food production. Machines are more precise than humans, and multiple units will all produce the same product with the same level of quality. This makes quality control much less challenging.
Ready to Automate Your Food Business?
During manual labor shortages, automation enhanced productivity and efficiency throughout the entire food supply chain. Now, automated systems have become an integral part of the food industry and will continue to help the industry adapt and evolve to consumer demands and government regulations. If you’re looking to modernize, evolve, and see new growth in your food business, automation can get you there.
Are you looking to experience the positive impact of automation yourself? EZSoft constructs PLC solutions that automate your business, be it a mass production line or artisanal bakery. If you want to increase quality, output, and profits, give us a call today at (484) 568-5040 or fill out the contact form.