How automation is changing the food processing industry

As the Australian economy transitions from the mining boom, there is strong global demand for Australian high quality food produce.

The three Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) recently signed with China, Japan and South Korea present unprecedented openings for the Australian food industry.

And more food processors are now looking to the latest technology to fully capitalise on these opportunities.

Omron, a global leader in automation technology, recently showcased its latest automation solutions designed to improved productivity and drive profits in the food processing industry.

More than 40 food and beverage company representatives attended a seminar at Omron’s headquarters in Silverwater, Sydney to learn about new automation technologies.

Omron NSW State Manager Standy Law told guests that food processing is one of Australia’s fastest growing industry sectors.

“By 2025 it is estimated the world’s population will grow to 8 billion,” Law said. “And by 2050 the world’s food consumption will be 75 percent higher than at present.

“Australia has gained a reputation throughout the world for high quality produce,” Law said. “There is great consumer confidence in Australian food because we have such high quality produce.

“But how do we maintain that quality? – that’s the big challenge for the industry.”

Through advanced technology, the food processing industry can now address major issues such as quality control, improved efficiency and productivity, worker safety, traceability and operating simplicity.

How automation is changing the food processing industry2

At the breakfast seminar Omron’s experienced team of engineers explained how new technology can minimize product recalls, increase productivity and improve workplace safety.

Omron’s Vision and Sensor Product Manager George Nematian showed how new advanced visual inspection systems can avert product recalls that are both costly and damaging to a company’s reputation.

With Omron Vision Sensor Technology food processors can:

  • Eliminate human error
  • Increase productivity with high speed production lines
  • Reduce waste
  • Enhance company reputation and customer satisfaction
  • Avoid costly product recalls
  • Get a quick return on investment (ROI)

Nematian said Vision Sensors can perform a broad range of product inspection tasks including:

  • Label inspections
  • Barcode reading
  • Label or product damage
  • Character recognition
  • Counting
  • Shape recognition
  • Positioning of products

The main advantages of using Omron Vision Sensor Technology are:

  • Superior colour sensing
  • Greater accuracy and reliability
  • User friendly set up, programming and user interface
  • Only one controller is needed for the entire system
  • Omron is a strong global company with an expert engineering team
  • Global service and customer support
  • Regular training including customized training courses

David Pratt, Omron robotics engineer, then explained how automation and robotics is transforming the food processing industry with improved efficiency and increased productivity.

By using industrial robots food processors can:

  • Improve quality
  • Achieve greater accuracy and precision
  • Eliminate contamination
  • Increase productivity
  • Improve workplace safety and risk of injury

Pratt said by using fixed industrial robots and mobile robot technology (autonomous indoor vehicles) food processers can make significant savings on labour costs.

“In the meat processing industry labour costs are running at more than 60 percent,” Mr Pratt said.

“With automation you can reduce those costs and increase production.”

Safety Engineer Irfan Munir demonstrated how industry can protect workers from harsh and dangerous environments by better controlling machinery.

Munir said companies should not wait to invest in safety.

“By doing things the right way you not only minimise risk, but you improved efficiency,” Mr Munir said. “In reality, machines are safer if all the rules are followed.”

Munir gave examples or safety techniques that food processing companies should follow.

This included conducting a comprehensive workplace risk assessment and implementation of staff training programs.

Robert Lloyd, a senior automation engineer, explained why traceability has become an essential part of the food processing supply chain.

By using “big data” and IoT (Internet of Things), products can now be tracked from paddock to plate, he told the Seminar.

Lloyd said with improved traceability technology businesses could prevent counterfeiting, achieve higher throughput, better quality and lower costs – with less wastage and pollution.

Most importantly, companies could avoid costly product recalls.

With Omron technology all data can be collated using one controller. The information can then be monitored internally or externally by a remote smartphone or tablet.

Lloyd also emphasized the need for greater simplicity in the food processing supply chain.

“With Omron’s Sysmac system using an NJ series controller you have a total automation solution,” Lloyd said.

“Sysmac integrates control, motion, safety, robotics and sensing technologies into one platform.”