The history of robotics application in food processing goes back to decades. Many food processing companies have successfully utilized robotic technology in various areas of their operations.
With the increase in demand for automation in food processing, robotic applications have witnessed rapid development.
The application of robotics in food processing has increased spontaneously in recent years due to its many benefits. Robotic food processing hashelped to avoid or reduced contamination by removing humanworkers in the manufacturing process.
The processes of food manufacturing are basicallydivided into two stages, namely; primary food processing and secondary food processing. As a result, the robotic application in the food processing industry depends on the stage of food processing.
Robotic applications in primary food processing
The primary food processing focuses on the first stage of processing agricultural raw materials. It involves the extraction or transformation of different components of the raw materials for food production. In this stage, the raw materials are cleaned, sorted, chopped and packaged. Some foods only undergo primary processing before they are packaged while others serve as ingredients for the secondary processing.
Before now, robotic application in the primary food processing has been virtually non-existent. This is due to the different sizes, shapes, andweights of raw foods. But with the recent improvement in sensing and soft gripping, robots can now handle many rawfoods.
The carcass of animals differs from one to another, andthis makes it difficult to automate the task of butchery. A skilled butcheryrequires that each cut should be based on the shape and position of bones and flesh. Despite this difficulty, some food processing companies have found a way to introduce robots into their operations. And the application of robotic butchery has helped to improve on safety, quality, andefficiency.
Fruits and Vegetable Pick and Place
Traditionally, picking and placing of fruits and vegetables are usually done by human workers. Handling of fruits and vegetables by robots is challenging due to their various sizes and shapes. And because fruits and vegetables are soft,they require delicate handling. Nonetheless, with the latest achievement in softgripping, robots can now handle delicate foods. They are now used for picking and placing fruits and vegetables in the food industry.
Robotic cutting and slicing
Many food processing companies have started using robots for advanced cutting and slicing of raw foods. Although cutting and slicing can also be done with some kitchen food processors, robots offer more efficient operations.For instance, in cutting of fish, robots detect and remove any defects from the fish and also consistently cut fillets into uniform sizes and shapes.
Robotic application in secondary food processing
Secondary food processing involves the further processing of food products that have previously undergone primaryfood processing. Manufacturing robots are also used in secondary food processing in more advanced applications.
Pick and place of food products
Unlike fruits and vegetables, the food products are uniform insize and shape. Robots are used to pick and placefood products in the production line because they are easier to handle. The application of robots for picking and placingfood products have been in existence for several years.
Cake decoration and Pizza making
Robots are used for decorating cakes in the food industry. This involves the use of a robotic arm to pipe icing onto a cake. They are also used to spread tomato sauce and tend pre-baking ovens in pizza making.
With the continuous development in technology, new applications of robots in the food industry are emerging. Some of the complex applicationsof robots will become possible and affordable. In the nearest future, the industry will be making use of the same number of robots as we have it today in the automotive industry. The future of robotic application in food processing is both interestingand exciting.