Automation Considerations

In this new world of pandemic-affected work force challenges, the food processing and packaging industry is taking another less-sidelong glance at equipment automation.

Manufacturing's food processing and packaging subset is a traditional industry with a long history, and a notorious reputation for being at the tail end of technological advances. Sturdy metal fabricated mechanical equipment run by a sturdy labor force has kept food processing and co-packing facilities running at a steady pace for decades. Slowly, and definitely most recently, automation is becoming a solid topic in the most growth oriented food processing and packaging businesses.

Now that we have experienced a modern global pandemic's effects on a reliable workforce, what might have been red flags to deny automation's entry into food processing and packaging facilities, are now being considered against new criteria. Reliable human labor is being assigned more business risk and becoming more scarce as workers battle illness, quarantine protocols, childcare, and a fear of close quarters working environments. Growers and facility operators are struggling to manage that risk - harvest waits for no one - while continuing to keep dedicated, quality employees engaged and working in a pandemic-safe environment.  Predominant reasons for avoiding automation upgrades like price, in-house technological know-how, integration and long-term maintenance concerns, are now being weighed against the losses incurred with stopped operations, human sanitation and safety, and a far less available labor pool.

As a final example, lets examine a piece of automation equipment at the tail end of the manufacturing process - a palletizing robot. Normally, workers gather at the end of the production line, stacking boxes or bags onto a pallet for shipping or storage. To safely manage worker safety items, like heavy lifting, an operation might consider smaller, lighter processed units, with more units per pallet, which keeps workers safer, but increases production costs due to extra handling and  packaging to keep weight per unit managed. A palletizing robot, capable of handling an industry-leading 2,050 cycles per hour with a nearly 300-pound payload and the ability to handle incoming and outgoing production lines with a 7-foot horizontal range, systematically eliminates the most physically demanding part of this tail end process, and allows for adjustable flow of product out of the facility without adjusted labor scheduling.

While a palletizing robot might not make sense for every processing facility, there are other automated ways to increase steady flow of fruit, vegetables or other food through facilities, like automatic dumpers, flat stackers, and drum fillers, that contribute to the growth of food processing and packaging businesses, while still honoring the value of and contributing to the safety of loyal, quality employees.

If you are or know of a farmer, co-packer, fruit, vegetable or other food processing facility that could benefit from information about the mechanical or automation equipment Andgar Food Processing Equipment, LLC manufactures, and the customizable equipment system options available, please reach out to www.andgarfoodprocessing.com/contact-us or call 360-366-9900, option 4.

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