Food & Beverage Asia Jun/Jul 2020

Are cobots the helping hand in the food industry of tomorrow? I n the 1519 work Vulgaria , the author William Horman used the Latin phrase Mater atrium necessitas , which translates as “necessity is the mother of innovation”. And in the 21st century, Horman’s verse hits home with the surge in automation in the food and beverage industry. Consumers are the arbiter of success with ever increasing sophistication and demands, and they increasingly push food companies to turn to automation to help achieve higher efficiency and productivity, higher production consistency, while achieving higher profitability. Although automating food production can reap many benefits, the need for high capital investments and safety concerns restricted the adoption to some extent. With fast changing consumer habits especially in hectic metropolitan cities pressed for time, a rising demand for processed and advanced packaged foods, and more stringent food safety regulations are driving food companies large and small to consider automation. This is when a new class of robots, collaborative robots (cobots), are the ideal fit for automation of repetitive processes while retaining high safety considerations in food production. What are cobots? Traditional industrial robots are caged within a fence since getting too close can be dangerous. Cobots, on the other hand, are designed to be inherently safe to operate alongside human workers without a physical barrier subject to risk assessment. They are intentionally built to operate in close proximately with humans, and physically interacting with humans to perform their tasks, in a shared workplace. If the cobot encounters an obstacle in its path, it automatically stops operation to ensure the safety of human operators. The range of parameters such as force, speed and power can be adjusted to minimise the risk of injury, and the safety boundaries can be restricted to minimise contact with operators. Flexible rotation of all joints allows a cobot to operate even in confined spaces. They have been easily adapted even for medical uses in surgery theatres, attesting to precision, safety and operating in tight confines. These cobots can be mounted on floors, ceilings, walls, wheels and many other deployment methods as required. Instead of requiring skilled programmers, cobots come with a tablet-sized touchscreen user interface, where the user guides the robot arm by indicating movements on the screen, or by physically guiding the arm. Cobots can perform motions close to the dexterity and micro-precision of a human arm, by mimicking the movements of its human trainer. These characteristics of cobots, previously not found in traditional industrial robots, open up applications in the food industry that were previously not possible. For these reasons, Cascina Italia, an egg supplier, decided on implementing cobots on their factory floor when they needed to automate their processes. ‘Eggciting’ changes Faced with the extreme competition in the fresh food market, Cascina Italia needed to improve productivity and react quickly to market demands. At Cascina Italia, millions of eggs are processed every day. In the past, the repetitive and non-ergonomic task of picking and placing trays of eggs was done by hand. Traditional robots would have been prohibitively expensive and difficult to implement into a live production environment. Safety is also amajor concern as there is limited space for additional equipment while human operators need to occupy the same confined space. With a growing population to feed, embracing technology and automation empowers food and beverage manufacturers to enhance productivity and efficiency. Darrell Adams , Head of South East Asia and Oceania, Universal Robots, pens the importance of automation and robotics in the food market, and provides an overview of the extent robotics are being used in today’s food and beverage industry. MARKET INSIGHTS FOOD & BEVERAGE ASIA JUNE / JULY 2020 17