Top Four tips on flexible manufacturing in food and beverage production

Four tips on flexible manufacturing from Omron Automation

The coronavirus pandemic has posed significant challenges to organisations of all types and sizes. As a result, the food and commodity industries, have faced fast-changing demand patterns and disrupted supply chains. Omron Automation offers four tips on using flexible manufacturing to improve productivity in food and beverage production.

So how can manufacturers adapt their business strategies and production processes to cope with higher levels of uncertainty? According to their article, the pandemic provides an opportunity for rethinking outdated processes and procedures. Instead, to enhance them with concepts such as innovative robotics, sensor technology and holistic automation strategies.

Flexible manufacturing in food production

By increasing their use of industrial automation to boost their flexibility, competitiveness and productivity, companies can secure their future. For example, by introducing fixed, collaborative and mobile robotics with advanced sensor and vision technologies, tailored to specific production tasks. In particular, food, beverage and commodity manufacturers should consider and focus their efforts on four key perspectives. Optimising workforce resources; product quality and traceability; flexibility and customisation; and sustainability and innovation.

Workforce optimisation

Automation in food production can help in overcoming these challenges whilst also improving long-term safety and efficiency. Collaboration is crucial in this blend of people, machines, robots and artificial intelligence (AI). Collaborative robots (cobots) or mobile robots can complete challenging and repetitive tasks and allow employees to focus on more value-added roles. They are fast, accurate, and simple to integrate into a safe manual working environment without the need for extensive guarding.

For example, one of Omron’s partners carried out a project involving the replacement of manual labour with an automatic system for handling heavy rolls weighing up to 30 kilograms. Automating this task enabled the company to support its employees whilst boosting efficiency and productivity.

Track and trace

Quality and traceability are paramount for both manufacturers and customers, barcodes on packaging form an essential part of this. Furthermore, international regulations are driving demand for reliable systems and tools to ensure that barcodes are clear and correct. There is a close link between automation and traceability, which will reduce costs and protect the reputation of the producer.

An example is a verification solution that uses vision systems or RFID, linked to production management software, to reduce issues connected with incorrect codes or labels.

Flexible manufacturing

The F&B sectors rely on volume, so increasing flexibility and agility are priorities for meeting changing customer demands and regulations. As an alternative to conveyor systems, mobile robots provide the flexibility to move items to any location as needed. They help companies manage fluctuating demands and develop flexible production environments that are easy to deploy and redeploy. Mobile robots can change routes to avoid obstacles or working on changing different priorities through the increased use of AI.

Innovation & sustainability

Sustainability is principal to the majority of consumers, who prefer to buy products with as little packaging as possible. However, packaging both protects the item and provides useful information. Automation supports sustainability by controlling temperature and pressure when sealing an item in packaging. This ensures the precise and safe packaging of the products and minimising of scrap and reworking.

As an example of innovative technology, Omron’s Sysmac AI Controller is a smart solution that collects, analyses and uses data at the ‘Edge’ to detect abnormalities, prevents failures and prolong equipment life. It does this by combining the control functionality for manufacturing lines and equipment with AI processing.

Finally, producers should explore how by utilising new automation technologies they can improve processes to help the effective management of workforce resources. Technology that realises value through increasing the quality of processes and products and reduces waste for future sustainability.

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