Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Cost reduction and reducing human intervention are the two top most priorities for the food industry though ensuring safety of products is an unavoidable prerequisite for survival. Food industries in most developed countries depend on scale of economy for maintaining their margins and this is possible because of efficient and high productivity machinery. In contrast such machines requiring large investments to acquire and operate are just not affordable to small scale processors who dominate the food industry landscape in countries like India. This is compounded by under developed capacity of machine building industry which finds it impossible to invest in new designs and fabrication due to uncertain market demand for large scale handling and processing machinery. Imports may be possible but most of the processing industry players just cannot afford to buy them due to exorbitant cost of such imported machinery. While such situation is prevalent in many developing countries, rich nations are focusing on reducing production cost further through deployment of Robots, replacing the human element as far as possible.

"Wilson said there are specific and historical reasons why robotic technology has been slow to gain significant penetration in the food industry. Robotic and automation systems were not initially developed with food production in mind. Equipment did not routinely include features that are essential in food processing plants – such as washdown capability and clean design to eliminate dirt traps, he added. The nature of the systems is that they work best where there is uniformity of size and shape in the products. Food does not generally have this characteristic which means that more expensive vision and handling need to be included – which has cost implications". "In food this issue has been more of a challenge and this difficulty makes the machines more expensive," he added. "It is no coincidence that palletizing of finished packaged is where take up of robotics has been greatest in the food sector. But the robotics sector is now adapting to the general needs of the food and beverage industries and is developing high speed picking and packing systems for processing lines." "There is universal agreement in the robotics sector that the food and drinks industry is a fertile growth market for their products. The BARA chief believes the potential is so great that take up from food processors may approach that of the automotive sector with a decade. "Change is coming as the technology becomes cheaper," he said. "The food sector has the biggest potential for growth and within ten years it could be reaching levels approaching those of the automotive industry."

Even if affordable, whether automation through Robotics can ever be acceptable to the third world countries remains to be seen because of high rate of unemployment prevalent there. As it is rightly said in order to establish automation the materials to be handled need to be uniform in size and shape which is not possible in these countries because of low scale farm operations in relatively small holdings. Countries like India with large rural population see food processing industry as a Savior to generate vast employment opportunities and talking about Robotics here can be heresy!


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