The Food Manufacturing Brainstorm features industry
experts sharing their perspectives on issues critical to the
overall food industry marketplace. In this issue, we ask:
What types of plant automation should food manufacturers be looking at
on a component level to most effectively streamline their operation?
Rob Herrmann, Remote Solutions Manager, Sealed Air
For food processors to streamline day-to-day operations as efficiently as possible, it’s imperative that they
have full visibility into the performance of their systems. While most processors may have a good feel for their
production rates, fewer have a complete understanding of their system capacity and utilization metrics. As a
result, these processors may be surprised to discover that their systems are performing at a fraction of their
Providing access to real-time and historical performance data helps plant operators maximize productivity
and troubleshoot potential problems sooner. Some processors wait for external system audits to identify inefficiencies, when in reality they could evaluate deviations and adjust capacity levels and running rates immediately with detailed data monitoring tools. In-depth performance data also enables processors to mitigate labor
needs down the line. For instance, one of the most prominent sources of processing inefficiency results from
overrunning machines. While accelerating machines moves products along faster, it also increases the likelihood that products will be improperly placed or packaged, and will eventually need rework. Locating potentially
overrunning machines earlier can save processors additional work later.
An effective data monitoring solution also can help processors eliminate machine downtime. Automated
machines by nature are designed to run constantly, and with better planning, processors can maintain a steady
product flow to keep the machines running rather than sitting idly between batches. Additionally, systems that
are operating under capacity may still experience the same wear and tear as equipment performing at full
capacity. By identifying these inefficiencies, services can help processors avoid maintenance issues that are premature when compared
to product throughput or production levels.
Automation within a food processing plant will only be as effective as the insight operators have into their systems’ performance. It is
advantageous to partner with a total solutions provider that can help operators understand how to acquire, review and react to critical
performance statistics. ◆
Jonathan Ferrell, Packaging Market Specialist, ABB Robotics
To me, the area that should be a point of focus is packaging. Typically, I see that processes
upstream of packaging have been sufficiently mechanized, while processes downstream of packaging remain labor intensive. While not all applications lend themselves easily to automation, ever-im-proving technology may open opportunities not previously considered viable.
Correctly configured vision systems can find and inspect almost any product, wrapped or
unwrapped. Robotic systems designed with flexibility in mind can pick-and-place or pack faster and
more reliably, increasing throughput and quality. Integration of a robotic system is further simplified
by advanced software products, now becoming increasingly available, that allow for line construction
in a virtual world without the need for programming knowledge. Other packaging equipment, be it
flow wrappers, cartoners or case/carton formers and closers, are all able to interface seamlessly
with robotic systems.
The emergence of stainless steel washdown IP69K robots have begun to move robots further
up the line, especially high-speed, pick-and-place, Delta-style robots. These hygienically designed
models are able to handle the harshest plant environments, and are capable of withstanding caustic cleaners. This allows for robotic integration in primary packaging applications where raw or
unwrapped frozen products must be handled. We work closely with a system integrator that has
designed a system using the IP69k stainless steel washdown version of a Delta robot for use in
packaging applications with open food, such as meat, dairy products and ready-made meals. ◆