Automation is the application of equipment and technology to produce food products with the goal of reducing the amount of human intervention, improve the process, or increase productivity. Automation of food production processes that are normally performed by people can benefit a food plant in many different ways: reduced labor, higher throughput, higher quality, greater product consistency, and improvement in food safety. As with all choices, there are tradeoffs when weighing the level and complexity of the automation needed for the returns and benefits to outweigh the costs and risks.
When making such decisions, know that the greater the level of automation implemented in a food processing facility, the less flexible the operation becomes. High levels of automation make sense for operations that produce a limited number of food product items. The opposite is also true: The greater the number of items produced, the less likely a highly automated process will make sense.
Many food processing operations produce a mixture of products, some with high volumes, and some with low volumes. Facilities such as these can develop their operations so that automated lines are set up in the plant to produce the high-volume items, while separate lines or areas are designated for the batch or high-changeover products.
Food Plant Engineering can help sort out the many options for automation available to food manufacturers. A smart plan for automation that is integrated into the overall facility and production plan is critical for successful application of automation technology.