Barriers Manufacturers Face in Food Automation

Automation in food production is constantly improving. With more automated equipment available than ever, it is difficult to imagine why some manufacturers do not adopt new technologies ASAP. Yet although automation is widely available (and more cost-effective than in the past) there are still barriers that manufacturers face when it comes to implementing these new technologies in their production lines.

Are you considering automation in your manufacturing practices? We’ve compiled a list of some of the major barriers that manufacturers face when making the switch, so you can plan ahead and anticipate potential problems. Although automation comes with a few drawbacks, with proper attention and planning, you’ll be reaping the benefits in no time at all.

Up-Front Investment

Upgrading to automated equipment will help you save money long-term, but there’s no doubt that installing new machinery requires a sizeable investment up-front. Because of the potentially prohibitive costs, some manufacturers integrate automation on a “case-by-case” basis. This means that problem-areas or bottlenecking zones will receive upgrades more quickly than other areas in the production line. The benefit of this approach is that machinery is introduced more gradually, thus decreasing the financial burden.

On the other hand, installing equipment in a hodge-podge manner leads to issues down the road: “there’s often a long-term price to pay for piecemeal automation. Getting rid of bottlenecks one by one is all very well, but it results in a patchwork system that’s hard to coordinate or improve” (foodprocessing.com). Make sure you are sourcing machinery from a stable, reliable vendor. If possible, work with the same team to implement upgrades so they have a more wholistic view of your production system.

Flexibility in Packaging

Packaging machinery is often an easier upgrade than processing equipment. This is because packaging “is a high-speed, discrete assembly process with multiple repetitive steps, amenable to automation” (foodprocessing.com). But packaging automation comes with challenges too.

  • Essential Function – Packaging is a key component of the supply chain. Unfortunately, this means that if anything goes wrong, it can result in serious delays and backups along the assembly line. Since automated machinery is often made to complete a specific task, there’s less flexibility to adapt if something does go awry.
  • Sustainable Flexibility – With more and more recyclable, compostable, and alternative packaging options hitting the market, old packaging machinery may be left in the dust. Manufacturers need to take into consideration “the age of many packaging machines, and the advent of packaging materials that are reduced in thickness or otherwise not as robust as they used to be” (com). The good news? Sustainable packaging options appeal to a large customer base and will end up being more environmentally friendly in the long run.

Sanitation in Processing Areas

Processing raw materials is the most delicate part of the manufacturing process. Because of this, it’s difficult to implement automation at this stage. It’s often more cost-effective to continue to use workers to handle products since robotics are “more problematic with unpackaged product, which needs gentle, sanitary handling” (foodprocessing.com). Keeping your practices clean and maintaining the integrity of the product is paramount in producing consistent, high-quality items.

Cleaning machinery may also present issues down the line. While some machines are able to withstand being washed down with heavy-duty sanitizing solutions, some may not tolerate vigorous cleaning over time. Check to ensure your new equipment is up to the task and able to withstand sanitation before it’s installed in your facility.

Training Workers

Adding new machines to your manufacturing facility means hiring and training workers who know how to operate them. Finding skilled personnel is a fairly simple task, but your team needs to know the ins and outs of their equipment and how to properly care for it. It might seem daunting to invest yet more money in training workers to operate machinery, but the more skilled your workers are, the more smoothly operations will run going forward.

Fear of Change

Fear of change is a common emotional reaction when renovating or upgrading a system. While automation has been around for years, it still feels intimidating to make the switch from manual labor to machine labor. After all, you’re used to running your system a certain way, and it feels scary to rock the boat.

You might find yourself wondering: what if this doesn’t work? What if this goes wrong? Try to set these fears aside and trust the expertise of your supplier. Remember, automating your manufacturing practices is vital if you want to keep up with changing markets and increasing demand.

Quantum Technical Services

Quantum Technical Services is committed to providing you the best that automation has to offer. Our customizable products are built with high-quality materials, and assembled to fit the unique requirements of each client. Our team of experts is dedicated to finding you automation solutions that are cost-effective, easy to use, and will return your investment for years to come.