The robotics industry is witnessing rapid growth and innovation within the food sector. However, Martin Jinks, partner at Roythornes Solicitors, cautions that it is crucial that businesses do not ‘run before they can walk’ when it comes to its implementation.
Robotics within food manufacturing is flourishing thanks to the benefits of productivity, health and safety and profit increase that automation can bring. The food and drink industry has historically lagged behind in adopting robotics, however as this begins to change there is a worry that businesses will run before they can walk.
It is therefore incredibly important that businesses have a plan in place to ensure that their venture into automation doesn’t hit a stumbling block before getting off the ground.
My number one piece of advice would be to test, test and test again. As tedious as it can be, carrying out tests with prototypes before investing huge sums of money into equipment will pay off in the long run. Small scale prototype projects are the best way to prove concept and assess the potential return on investment of your robot.
Secondly, I would recommend identifying the areas of your business which would benefit from automation. Question where money is being lost, which areas have the most risk and which could be made more productive. There is very little point adding robotics into an area which is already performing at optimum levels; instead, go for areas where there is large, low-skill labour-saving to be had, such as with repetitive tasks including weighing ingredients by hand.
Next, be clear with your targets and outsource efficiently. You get what you pay for so don’t be blinded by cheap prices but instead work with experienced suppliers who have in-depth resources for installation and post-installation support.
Throughout this process, getting the right team together will be crucial. Your operation team must have the right skill mix as operating automation requires a calm and analytical approach to ensure issues are spotted and addressed as they arise. Shouting a robot or the software engineers rarely helps a situation.
Finally make sure you secure your investment as getting the right insurance coverage could be your saving grace should something go horribly wrong. Lining up your insurance, contracts and payments before proceeding will make everything much smoother in the long run.
It seems certain that the food and drink industry is set to be increasingly revolutionised by robotics and automation so for businesses looking to implement these measures, the key points to remember are to evaluate the proposed equipment, review where it can best support the business and have all the legal work in place before implementation.