Two major technology trends in the food manufacturing and processing space include the increase in the adoption of robotics and machines and also food automation and digitalization. Six technological companies (serving in the US market) in food-producing, processing, and manufacturing space are Stäubli, Piab,…
Food Processing and Manufacturing Trends
1. Increasing Adoption of Robotics and Machines
- According to a publication by Forbes, Eastern Peak, Food Safety Tech, and ING, the increased adoption of robotics in the food manufacturing processes is regarded as one of the recent trends in the food production space.
- Robotisation is defined by ING as the process of using robots to stabilize the production process, thereby achieving higher production volume, improved food safety, and less labor-intensive processes.
- An example is the use of robotics in cutting, moving, packaging, and palletizing products.
- Food Industry Executive opined that robots are changing the food industry.
- The increased use of robotics in food manufacturing is driven by the quest to reduce labor costs, while other companies are focused on improving food safety using robotics.
- Other factors that affect the use of robotics in food processing include increased demand for clean and contamination-free production areas, increased productivity, and food production stability.
- Large companies are searching for emerging technologies to aid them in innovating and crafting better products.
- An example is Kraft Heinz, which recently opened a new digital hub to create digitally powered strategies and help launch new food ideas capable of successfully capturing a colossal segment of the market.
- Another example is JBS, one of the world’s largest meatpacking firms, which deploys robotic butchers within its plants.
2. Food Automation and Digitalization
- According to Ignite, Food Safety Tech, and ING, the increased adoption of robotics in the food manufacturing processes is regarded as one of the recent trends in the food production space.
- As of 2017, 73% of food and beverage manufacturing companies in a survey said they either had or were in the process of establishing automation within their facilities.
- Data technology (digitalization) is used to increase predictability using artificial intelligence towards achieving streamlined use of production lines, thus improving production efficiency.
- An example is the use of connected machines, which helps increase the inspection of food manufacturing processes and allow for a remotely controlled process.
- AI can also program more intelligent automation platforms that can be designed to respond and engage in a particular manner through many parameters.
- The system might slow production, for instance, based on a decrease in product demand or swap to an alternate component or ingredient because of a shortage somewhere.
- Data analytics helps to identify problems that can affect food quality, safety, and freshness.
- An example is Brightseed, a US-based company that uses “AI, big data, and predictive analysis to identify beneficial plant compounds.”
- The company leverages the data to create bio-actives that can be added to make foods more nutritious and healthful.
US Food Processing Industry: Smart Technology Companies
1. Stäubli (North America)
- Stäubli’s North American is headquartered in Duncan, South Carolina.
- Its robotics solution, HE robots, provides automated solutions that maximize efficiency by minimizing interruptions, increasing flexibility, and eliminating the risks of contamination.
- In the food processing space, HE robots are employed in protein, dairy, bread, bakery, and pastry processing.
- For bread and bakery food processing, the robotic arms are used to “maintain better control over the product even during proofing, score bread in any fashion while maintaining its shape and handle soft or fragile bread, all while maintaining the product’s organoleptic properties.”
- HE robots can be used in Protein processing plants for loading/unloading, deboning, cutting, sorting/bulk collection, portioning, tray-loading, boxing, and palletizing. It is designed to prevent bacterial contamination by keeping water out, providing mandatory arm pressurization, and a perfect cleanability.
- In making dairy products, the robots are employed to make direct contact with unwrapped food due to their strictness with hygiene standards and harsh cleaning procedures while maintaining production efficiency.
- In chocolate or pastry-making, robotics can give the users greater freedom for creating decorations or presenting products.
- Stäubli works with different food manufacturing companies across the different applications of its robotics technology. Some of them include;
- Dairy Products: Big Drum Engineering uses Stäubli TX90 HE robots to manufacture equipment for ice cream packing and filling operations, while ALPHA’s “bassine technology” for producing soft cheese uses TX200 HE robot in slicing curd with very little waste.
- Bread and Baked Goods: Grote, designed a fully automated line for sandwich production, which uses the Stäubli TX2-60 HE six-axis robot. Also, Dewilde developed a compact robot cell for bread scoring in industrial bakeries using the FAST picker TP80 robot.
- Protein Processing: Mayekawa designs cutting-edge technological solutions for the food industry, which uses the Stäubli RX160 HE 6-axis robots for the integrated ham deboning system.
2. EnWave Corp.
- EnWave Corporation is a Vancouver-based technology company specialized in dehydration technology, microwave vacuum technology, and food dehydration.
- EnWave has its headquarters at Derwent Way, Delta, BC, Canada V3M 6R9.
- According to Food Processing, EnWave’s radiant energy vacuum technology (REV) “involves removing moisture from food by exposing it to microwaves while it is under vacuum. The moisture removal is uniform and can be calibrated to each application.”
- Brent Charleton, the president and CEO of EnWave Corp., stated that the REV technology “offers end users a precise way of removing moisture from any food products at controllable low temperatures.”
- Explaining further, Charleton opined that the technology allows the product to be dried uniformly from the outside while the vacuum reduces the boiling point of the product’s moisture. This allows for faster removal of moisture. Additionally, the speed at which moisture is removed from food products allows for “superior retention of nutritional properties, color, and flavor.”
- About 70% of current customers use the technology “for dairy, shelf-stable snacks and ingredients, and the remaining 30% for fruits and vegetables.” Prospective markets for REV technology include meat, herbs, seafood, and spices.
- EnWave Corporation works with different companies with different food processing requirements.
- Dairy Products: The NutraDried Food Company, with products such as cheddar, gouda, garlicking parmesan, and pepper jacked, is a partner to the corporation. The food company leverages the REV technology in producing its “Moon Cheese.” Other partners include the Ashgrove Farm.
- Fruits and Vegetables: Nomad Nutrition company applies the technology for fruits, vegetables, and packaged ready to eat meals.
- Furthermore, EnWave Corp. recently signed a deal with a leading South American Food Company to evaluate the commercial use of REV technology.
3. Etia SAS
- Etia SAS is an “engineering company specialized in equipment and processes for sustainable thermal treatment.” The company’s primary aim is to provide products for different industries across specialties, including gasification and steam sterilization.
- The French company is the manufacturer of Spirojoule technology, while Norris Thermal Technologies is the sole distributor of the technology in North America. This technology is sold under the trade name Safesteril.
- Spirojoule technology offers a way to “reduce or eliminate the bacterial load of low-moisture powders and bulk solids.” The technology uses an “electrically heated auger conveyor in an enclosed space to treat products such as herbs, nuts, grains, seeds, and other powders and bulk solids.”
- The process exposes products to a superheated system while it is being conveyed; this “completes the heating profile while imparting moisture.”
- According to Norris, the president of Norris Technologies, “heated screws are used to drive energy to the product and to the atmosphere around the product, and then the steam to add moisture both in saturated form and in superheated steam to get the required results for de-bacterization.”
- Norris opines that his company has installed “more than 10 Spirajoule lines in North America, for products including spices, nutraceuticals, almonds, milled flaxseed, capsicums, and chopped mint.” Other users are toll processors with products such as chopped vegetables, grains, and seeds.
- Partner of the Safesteril technology includes Vow, NTT, and Icon Inc.
4. Piab (North America)
- Piab designs technologies used in food and beverage manufacturing.
- Its technologies are used across different food manufacturing processes such as bag filling with powder and granules, bag opening, feeding equipment, and flexible packaging material.
- The solution offers an automated process for filling bags with powder and granules. Some advantages of using Piab’s solution include “increased uptime thanks to the hygienic design that makes it easy to clean and an improved working environment as it is a closed system with no dust contamination.”
- The company provides a blister technology that protects products and presents them attractively. This allows a vacuum to be applied to “mold or a series of molds. Heat and/or pressure may be applied to the topside of a flat blister while the mold cavity is evacuated, causing the container to form in the mold.”
- The automation process of feeding a mill/sieve/weighing and handling of flexible packaging materials are all part of the different solution offered by Piab.
- Piab has over 300 distributors in the United States and notable partners, including Sepsol.