Why Robots are Right for Packaging Safety

By Tim Schiller, National Accounts Manager at KUKA Robotics

Packaged food and beverage safety concerns are on the rise. Nearly half of all U.S. consumers say their concern over food safety has increased – and for good reason. From 2012 to 2017, food product recalls issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) grew by more than 90 percent while recalls from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) jumped 83.4 percent.

Worse yet, foodborne diseases are responsible for nearly 50 million illnesses,128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Robots can be used to eliminate the spread of germs and bacteria introduced by humans who happen to be sick, or are not practicing hygienic principles.

Robots in a Food or Beverage Factory

A hygienic robot’s design and materials allow it to be used in applications involving direct contact with foodstuffs and pharmaceutical substances. Corrosion-resistant surfaces, food-compatible lubricants and stainless-steel parts ensure the highest level of hygiene. FDA-compliant powder paint coatings, additional seals at the joints and the ability to introduce compressed air into the robot are all used to protect the robot against frequent and/or harsh cleaning.

Thanks to its hygienic design, deposits can’t form on the surface or screws of these 6-axis robots. The cleaning-sensitive electrical interface is not located in the primary contact area, but rather underneath the robot. Cleaning is possible using industry-standard cleaning agents, as well as high-pressure washing – making these robots more than capable of operating within a sterile environment.

Well Known Efficiency of Robotics

In addition to safely being used in the food and beverage manufacturing industry, robots can also offer plenty of value in other areas of business, including increasing efficiency. Unlike their human counterparts, robots do not have to take time off. Vacations and unexpected absences caused by illness or family emergencies can be less disruptive when you implement robots that can help pick up the slack.

Perhaps even more importantly, monotonous tasks that were once reserved for lower level employees can now be offloaded to robots and other automation. Not only can this shift help prevent burnout and improve employee retention, but workers may also have the time to dedicate their efforts toward more complex tasks and responsibilities. Workers can have the chance to assume more responsibilities and grow within the organization, allowing more time for renewed focus on issues that are particularly important to the success of your business.

Improving Product Quality

Mistakes are part of the packaging process. Although it’s hard to achieve 100 percent accuracy, it can come close with robots. Adept at picking up minute details, robots can help spot errors that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. Say, for example, the packaging for one product is just a few inches off, robots using high-accuracy cameras can spot such an issue long before any products leave the assembly line.

Considering the amount of concentration that’s required for a product quality check, you may want to bring aboard robots sooner rather than later. While human workers can typically review the quality of a product and its packaging for a few hours at a time, maintaining that same level of focus over the course of a week could prove difficult. Incorporating robots throughout the packaging facility can help ease the burden of human workers and ultimately improve product quality.

Whether it’s preserving customer health or bumping up efficiency, robots are ready to put their stamp on the food and beverage processing industry. Provide consumers with the peace of mind they deserve by bringing robots into the fold. Designed to minimize human contact with food and beverages, food-grade robots decrease contamination and stop the spread of human-born germs during the packaging process. Better yet, increases in efficiency and product quality may bring big benefits to the food and beverage industry as a whole.

About the Author

Tim Schiller is the national accounts manager at KUKA Robotics and is responsible for several key end customers and System Partners.  He has worked in the robot industry for over 32 years, and specializes in automation within the packaging/palletizing world.