How is Automation Applied in Food and Drink Manufacturing

What is Automation?

Automation refers to ways in which mundane or time-consuming tasks carried out by humans can be made more efficient using mechanisation with control systems, robotics, artificial intelligence, and other advanced technologies. Automation is key to improving productivity across many industries, allowing businesses to utilise their employees to their full potential.

What are the drivers of Automation in Food & Drink Manufacturing?

There are two main factors that we recognise driving automation within food and drink manufacturing, changing consumer shopping habits, and the demand for greater productivity. We work closely with our clients and partners in identifying, designing and installing leading automation and control systems that keep them ahead of the curve.

Changing Consumer Habits Demanding More Flexible Automation

The food and drink sector puts a lot of effort and resource into understanding consumer shopping habits. As an example, in recent years there has been a move away from large multi-bag packets of regular potato crisps, often presented in pillow sacks with lots of wasted space in the packaging and on the supermarket shelves, towards more varieties and flavours presented in smaller, tighter, multi-bag sleeves that stack more neatly and allow higher product density on the shelves. By reducing packaging, products are presented more efficiently and economically, with outer cartons often needing just a single face opening to reveal the multi-bag sleeves within.

Our automated systems for providing for these new tightly wrapped multi-bag sleeves have been developed in conjunction with our partners. Combining pick-and-place robotics with the latest conveyor technologies and our unique system integrations, we provide flexible, automated packaging systems that can handle the wide variety of packet size, shape and quantity for insertion into a wide range of sleeves or outer cartons.

Demand for Increased Productivity Requires New Automated Systems

The other driver of automation within food and drink manufacturing is the demand for greater productivity and automating the packaging processes is where we find most gains. Fundamentally, automation removes many of the variations found in a manual packing process such as variable product weight, pack quantity, product selection and line stoppages due to inconsistently applied packing tape to outer cartons wrapping around conveyor line rollers!

Automation provides consistency and control in the manufacturing process. From manufacture to packing stations, from packs to multi-bag packs, from multi-bag packs to outer cartons, and on to palletisation, automation eliminates variability in both content and presentation while reducing line stoppages due to packaging inconsistency. Printing and reading barcodes ‘in-process’ provides accurate track and trace within our control systems and, in combination with automated check-weighers, delivers increased confidence in product identification throughout.

More recently we have seen an evolution in automated conveyor line technologies. Previously our automated packaging lines utilised 400 Volt, 3m ‘line-shaft’ conveyors which gave limited sectional control over a typical 50m conveyor run. Many of our new systems are designed with safer and more economical, 24 Volt, 700mm ‘zero-line pressure’ automated conveyor sections, providing control zones more closely aligned to the carton sizes being conveyed and providing close to individual positional control over each carton. This allows a precise feed of cartons into the end-of-line automated palletisers while providing the means to better manage the buffering of cartons further up the conveyor line run. This balances the feed of product between processing stations and compensates for occasional temporary stoppages.

How do Customers in Food & Drink Manufacturing Benefit from New Automated Systems?

So, what are the benefits of the newer automated systems in manufacturing? In short, increased speed of processing, increased flexibility for a wider variety of product sizes, with product buffering, improved quality of the finished product and higher system reliability through online diagnostics and IoT.

Automation Systems from Elmleigh

Flexible automation is replacing traditional hard automation, enabling the increased product variety demanded by the consumer whilst providing the gains in productivity our clients demand. To find out more about how Elmleigh can help improve automation in your food and drink manufacturing process, contact us today.

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