January 4, 2021
These are the challenges facing food producers today:
● Lack of available labor to scale production up and down as demand requires
● The current workforce is aging out, and the next generation of workers isn’t interested in working in manufacturing
● The struggle with inconsistent or unreliable workers
There are, of course, many reasons why it’s hard for manufacturers to accomplish their targets. Ultimately, the single biggest reason may be labor constraints.
With unemployment rates down in the world’s most industrialized countries, these conditions make it even harder to find the workers needed. So, the question is: if there aren’t people to build our products, who will?
The answer? Food Automation Utilizing Robots.
The human hand. It’s useful for everything–from playing piano concertos to digging the last potato chips out of the bag. To find something as adaptable as the human hand is one of the biggest challenges in automating these tasks.
Just Born Quality Confection Co, best known for their marshmallow Peeps®, was looking for this adaptability to fully automate the picking and packaging of soft, delicate Peeps. Their packaging process involved approximately ten employees, who had to be pulled from other tasks to manually pick and pack these Peeps to keep up with one packaging line. It was disruptive and not sustainable. A critical requirement was that the system needed to keep up with changing product mix while keeping up with the high production rate. What Just Born needed was a flexible automation solution that could handle delicate food products.
Problem solved. Soft Robotics’ unique soft grippers are successfully running this incredibly delicate marshmallow treats with no loss of quality to the product. Today, the company processes 13 SKUs with Soft Robotics grippers, eliminating Just Born’s need for manual packing and increasing its supply chain productivity. Check out the case study here.
Warehousing services or fulfillment operations are one of the fastest-growing segments of the supply chain especially in e-commerce and are expected to grow 6% annually through 2022. An obstacle to that growth is the employee turnover rate, estimated to be 40% or higher. The cost of hiring and training workers is also high – estimated to be between $3,000 and $10,000 per instance.
More and more consumers are leaving behind the brick-and-mortar retail experience. Consumers are attracted to the ease of online shopping and e-retailers’ promises of free and fast shipping. These customer demands are an added burden on the industry already starved of reliable and dependable labor. That’s where robots provide the solution needed to meet customer expectations for the right product at the right time. Able to perform highly repetitive tasks and skilled enough to manage product variability seamlessly, robots can increase productivity and manage SKU proliferation challenges while lowering costs.
With robots on the job, manufacturers can put people to work on the challenges of product and process innovation, quality, and problem-solving.
It’s a powerful model that can meet the evolving nature of manufacturing – moving toward a more sophisticated supply chain built on consumer demand and better enabled to respond to fluctuations in the global business environment.
According to Justin Rose, an analyst at Boston Consulting Group, 60% of tasks on production floors could but have not yet automated. If you’re ready to improve productivity and efficiency in your operations for a sustainable and long-term gain, we are ready to help.