Automation is transforming the food industry with robot applications as diverse as the range of food in our supermarkets. From the first robot-run lettuce farm in the world producing 30,000 heads of lettuce a day to novel fruit-picking robotic systems capable of distinguishing between apples and oranges, productivity all along the food chain is optimized with the revolution now also reaching the work in meatpacking plants. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, meatpacking is the most dangerous job in America. It is therefore not surprising that this industry has the highest rate of fluctuation; Repetitive tasks, tiring and strenuous movements are not only an issue for those who work in the meat industry alone but across the entire food industry.
Swedish sugar producer Nordic Sugar is one of the food manufacturers automating an especially repetitive task; three collaborating robots (known as cobots) assist in sample inspection during the main production time. They use a gripper to lift around 45,000 containers with sugar beet samples from a scale and scan their bar-codes. Whether it is scanning, stacking eggs, spraying bread rolls, or packing food in cartons: cobots are at the forefront of the food industry transformation. They become the third helping hand in production, which takes over physically demanding work and gives the staff time and space for more valuable tasks – without depriving them of their work. The personnel at Nordic Sugar are now in a position, with the use of the robot arms, to concentrate more on the area of process optimization.
Automation with cobots is an innovation which especially benefits small and medium-sized companies (SMEs). The use of robot arms like the UR3, UR5, or UR10 can be implemented economically and the small size of the robots and their simple programming allows them to be used for the most varied applications in the SME sector. The cobots enable companies to better deal with volatile markets while increasing competitiveness. The six-axis robot arms from Universal Robots are now in use globally in a wide range of industries and applications, from handling Pick-and-Place tasks to or partial process steps in the packaging branch.