Automation Bandwagon: Know the Challenges Before Jumping On

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The meals trade is behind excessive tech industries relating to automating sure manufacturing and warehousing processes. Though the benefits of utilizing automation applied sciences can profit many meals corporations in the long term, they need to additionally pay attention to the potential hurdles earlier than shifting ahead. “With our rising inhabitants, we’re going to must develop extra meals with [fewer] sources—automation will allow us to do this,” stated Wendy White, challenge supervisor, meals security at Georgia Tech throughout her presentation on the IAFP annual assembly in Louisville, KY. “There are quite a lot of jobs in our trade that may profit from automation—I don’t suppose it’ll essentially get rid of jobs; I believe it’ll assist get rid of the harshness of a few of the repetitive duties.”

The advantages of automation are clear (particularly for processes that contain shut precision). Automation applied sciences can contribute to stopping accidents on the job, promote operational efficiencies, and provides corporations higher entry to data and reporting. In addition they can in flip allow the manufacturing of extra constant merchandise, assist in quicker product launch and decrease meals prices. The next are the challenges that meals corporations could face, which embrace the copy of human senses, having the ability footprint that enables for these applied sciences, expense and complexity, and potential vulnerability to outages and even cybercrimes.

Problem 1: It’s onerous to copy a human. It’s troublesome to copy any human activity that requires thought. “For instance, it’s onerous for us to grasp what number of selections go into selecting off an apple from a tree,” stated White. “It’s really extraordinarily onerous for a robotic to do… we underestimate what number of issues occur earlier than you decide an apple.” White referred to a challenge on the Georgia Tech Analysis Institute’s Meals Processing Know-how Division that makes use of cameras to evaluate traits of an apple (i.e., insect intrusion spots, bruises, injury, ripeness, desired colour), and integrates totally different sensing capabilities right into a robotic arm. The robotic arm can sense the totally different gases being produced by the apple and may perceive whether it is on the peak of its ripeness. But, doing this kind of work in a lab could be very totally different from working the robotic arm out in an precise apple orchard, so there may be nonetheless quite a lot of work to be achieved.

One other instance is the method of deboning a rooster carcass. “We’ve to determine a approach to get the bones off quicker,” stated White, including that with American consumption of rooster reaching about 92 kilos yearly, the poultry trade is attempting to maintain up. There are security issues with deboning, together with ensuring sliver of bone or cartilage is just not left on the top product. It’s one other activity that isn’t straightforward for a robotic to execute. She mentioned present work that’s utilizing cameras and x-ray know-how to grasp the joint location, and from there this data is fed into an algorithm to assist the robotic make selections educated human would intrinsically make. As soon as once more, it takes quite a lot of effort for a robotic to make these selections, White identified.

Problem 2: Facility footprint. Implementing automation applied sciences often requires a bigger facility footprint, and plenty of meals corporations merely don’t have the area.

Problem three: Robotic accidents. In keeping with OSHA, about four,500 accidents occurred in meals services in 2013, two of which had been robotic associated. Nonetheless, these two robot-related accidents resulted in loss of life. Though robotic accidents are much less more likely to happen, they’re often extra critical after they do occur, cautioned White. She said between 1984 and 2013, 38 robot-related accidents had been reported and 28 resulted in fatalities.

Problem four: Discovering more and more expert labor. An worker must function the robotic. Though this may occasionally not appear to be it might be troublesome, the query is whether or not the prevailing workforce at an organization can deal with a totally totally different manner of doing their jobs. Discovering the extent of talent required to both function these robots or discovering the worker who’s prepared to even work with these applied sciences could possibly be a hurdle. White added that she is seeing quite a lot of analysis round co-bots, or collaborative robots, which is the time period for robots that present help to people in conducting duties reminiscent of heavy lifting.

Problem 5: Complexity. The extra advanced the know-how, the extra seemingly there may be to be a difficulty. And when this situation happens, how lengthy will it take to repair? Will it shut down a complete product line? That is additionally a consideration for corporations which are contemplating retrofitting their current services.

“We owe it to our workforce to make their jobs as protected and as straightforward as doable,” stated White. She encourages trade to pursue automation however to additionally pay attention to these challenges and vulnerabilities to make sure that corporations are approaching implementation in the correct manner.

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