Robots have become increasingly dedicated for the food and beverage industry, as the large articulated robots that dominated the robotics industry in the earlier days were not suitable for applications in this area. The demand for speed, accuracy and hygienic design led to the development of faster, simpler and better designed robots.
These trends arose from the pressures on manufacturers to be more competitive in producing high quality products that rapidly change whilst still being cost efficient. Some moved offshore to manufacture in low cost countries, but this was not the solution and is not the solution for the majority of manufacturers; food and beverages are still goods that are locally produced and need to be very quick at the point of sale.
Another trend is of course the growing number of single-person households, which drives the need for individual packages and the creation of flexible, ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook meals. This is a driver for flexibility and what can cope with that more easy than a robot?
So what are the core benefits to robot-based automation in this field?
FK. The main benefits of robots in this context can be summed up as:
•Overcoming potential and existing labour shortages
•More information through data transfer into ERP
•Increase of production through higher efficiency
•Less scrap and therefore better product quality
This, and more, leads to a rage of additional benefits, which should be considered
when it comes to a payback calculation in the field of robotics:
•Fix product quality/inconsistency
•Increased manufacturing flexibility
•Improved operations reliability
•Improved regulatory compliance
•Increased product yields, productivity, and production
•Reduced manufacturing costs, labour, scrap and floor space
After considering all of these arguments, it suddenly makes a lot of sense to think about an automation project and to change the way you view robotics. It is not a costly piggy bank any more, and it creates quality and profit.
It is clear that an intelligent combination of manual operation and robotics automation creates the most benefits for the manufacturing company.
FS. How have your automated solutions developed to adapt to changes in the requirements of food and beverage manufacturers, for example in cutting costs, being more time-efficient, flexible, etc?
FK. There are three major points that we take into consideration: ease of use, cost-effectiveness and delivery time. The first of these leads you directly to flexibility and cost cutting in the installation process. Applications can be developed in up to 40 percent less time than five years ago, which generates a great saving on the system cost and reduces the lead time of a system. Ease of use means quicker development, quicker installation and better and more reliable operation of a system.
Cost-effectiveness is certainly created through an improved cost situation for robots; as we know, prices for robots have decreased quite drastically during the past five years. This, of course, drives the volume of installations in various areas.
The delivery time of standard robots are down to a few weeks, and therefore the planning phase for system integrators and OEMs is increased. They do have more flexibility in the engineering phase and need to come up with a final decision about the robot only a few weeks in advance.
Flexibility in the technology aspect also plays a key role. By offering vision systems with the robots, it increases the number of applications possible. Applying vision technology means increasing quality, flexibility, productivity and also decreasing the cost and system downtime. It also helps further improve the degree of ease of use.
FS. What ongoing research are you involved in to enhance your existing
solutions further or to develop and bring new solutions to the European market?
FK. As every market oriented supplier, we constantly strive for better solutions. In discussion with our partners and the end-users, we define the scope of the next generation robotics for the food and beverage industry. Again, this means being more flexible, more reliable, better designed, faster and dedicated for the applications in which they are required.
What do you believe distinguishes your offerings from any other company
in this field and what strategies or aims do you work towards to ensure you
maintain that competitive edge?
FK. Being easier to use, more reliable, faster, designed to be used in the industry and, what is more important above all, is that we fulfil the demand of our customers to the highest extend and see us as being a reliable partner to develop the best solutions for the industry. Expertise both in robotics and in the industry as a whole is an indispensable quality we offer.