The need to social distance as well as the mass migration of foreign nationals has meant that the UK's food factory labour force has been steadily shrinking over the past year. To compensate for the shortage, as well as keep up with increased demand during the Covid-19 pandemic, manufacturers have turned to automation.
Automated solutions are highly efficient, which means that manufacturers are now seriously considering robotic solutions to automate production processes as much as possible. This will ultimately mean there is less call for manual labourers in the food industry. However, this is not to say that people will no longer have a place in today’s food industry.
People vs. robots
Whilst automated solutions have many benefits for manufacturers in terms of efficiency, return on investment and scalability, there have been concerns that this will prompt mass redundancies for manual labourers in the industry. But the situation is far from a ‘people or robots’ choice.
Automation can take a collaborative approach instead. Implementing the use of cobots in the production line mean that workers can still remain on the factory floor.
What are cobots?
Cobots are robotic solutions designed to work safely alongside workers. This means we don't have to choose between having workers on the factory floor, and the efficiency that automation can offer.
These solutions are particularly useful in the current climate, as cobots can be strategically placed among the workforce to satisfy social distancing requirements while also maintaining efficiency. As well as this, cobots are completely safe to work alongside, easily programmable and mobile versions can be moved frequently to wherever is most convenient along the line.
Robotics have come on leaps and bounds since the first clumsy prototypes. One such product of all this innovation is SHEFF, a pick and place tool which uses an intelligent vision system to register its surroundings and respond accordingly.
This means that SHEFF can be place anywhere on the line with minimal programme changes and no product pre-positioning required.
Cobots are well-suited to pick and place applications, which creates an obvious link to the food and beverage industry. Robotics have advanced greatly over the past decade, and now there is a robotic solution for a variety of tasks, such as picking, placing, cutting, sorting, packaging, palletising or transporting.
The use of cobots offers increased efficiency and repeatability than relying on manual processes, and the total cost of ownership is a fraction of what you would expect to pay in employee salary to achieve the same result.
How does automation contribute to the upskilling of workers?
Automated technology could even benefit workers in the food production industry, as cobots are great at performing repetitive or monotonous tasks which can cause repetitive strain injuries.
Cobots free up workers to take on tasks which add more value than performing a single dull and repetitive task over and over. Introducing robotic solutions into the workforce can provide greater variety and opportunities for greater responsibility for human employees.
Find out more about the automated solutions we can offer to increase your line’s productivity and scalability here.