The immediate future for automation in the food industry


Where is automation going in F&B?


The immediate future for automation in the food industry


Chris Evans, Marketing and Operations Group Manager at Mitsubishi Electric UK’s Automation Group looks what is around the corner in terms of automation for the food and beverage industry.


When food producers range from craft breweries and hand-made foods to some of the largest automated processing sites in the world, each has a different perspective and adoption policy.  As soon as machines are involved in preparation and packaging tasks however, some themes are pretty much universal. The requirements for efficiency monitoring, product tracking and traceability, faster, safer, lower cost processing and packaging solutions and plant flexibility are all growing.


The result is some advances in automation technology that design, process and maintenance engineers all need to be aware of: one of the biggest is the increasing use of small articulated arm and SCARA style robots to perform repetitive tasks. Mitsubishi Electric regularly hosts seminars on the use of robotics in the food industry and attendees are usually genuinely surprised by the low package cost, combined with ease of use and simple integration.


This acceptance is driving significant sales growth. Robots are integrated quickly using Mitsubishi’s iQ-Works software suite. It is a common platform for programming and configuring all the machine control disciplines of PLC, HMI, inverter, servo and robots and its use means the cost and time of integration comes down.


Platform integration

Platform integration is a major factor for delivering multiple benefits, users expect an incremental improvement when replacing individual automation components such as drives, servo systems and PLCs. However, when you take a holistic view of your automation system, then you can make significant gains.


A good example is using a powerful PLC to manage a production line. It can coordinate everything from guided operator pick to light systems that improve quality and throughput for manual workers, to conveyor systems, process plant, ovens and chillers, high speed packaging machines and robot cutting, packing and stacking lines.


Benefits of compatibility

If you make sure all the peripheral automation equipment is from one vender compatibility is assured, and several things happen: design and commissioning time plummets; installation cost drops; reliability improves; operating speed increases as plant equipment works with better synchronisation; productivity increases and the result is  improved competitiveness and profitability.


Information produced by the system is easy to display on HMIs: the quality of the information improves, and the transparency of the plant increases. More managed data means regulatory compliance is more easily met, and improvements in plant performance are easier benchmark. Maintenance is far faster and easier, particularly with monitoring alarms and set operating parameters using mobile devices.


The future for automation in the food industry is most certainly going to be centred on increased plant and automation platform integration, simply because the universal advancements that producers require cannot be delivered without it.



See more of Mitsubishi’s Automation platform at 999 Automation




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