In this video series, The National Provisioner editor-in-chief Andy Hanacek discusses trends in the industry with Jorge Izquierdo of PMMI. This episode focuses on the advancements in robotics and automation in the meat and poultry industry as well as the biggest factor holding back processors from embracing it.                                                

Andy Hanacek: In some of our other episodes, we talked about the growth of robotics and automation in the meat and poultry and how it has been this slow and steady uptick in robotics and automation. Let’s talk about what you see as the next step there. I was recently in a plant where I saw pick-and-place robots taking frozen corndogs. All I’ve ever seen the pick-and-place robots is at Pack Expo or wherever at the automation shows just picking up fake things. It’s so cool to see it actually working. Where do you see the next step in robotics hitting the meat and poultry industry?

Jorge Izquierdo: First of all, I think it’s important to recognize what’s been happening with robotics in the past few years. The acceptance of robotics in the food manufacturing is increasing very significantly and one of the main reasons is the use of robotics is being simplified. In the past, you would need to be a programmer to use a robot. Now it is very easy. In some cases, just take the hand of the robot and tell it to go here, go there, and you are done. The other thing for more sophisticated applications is integration of vision. So vision robotics is a great combination. Vision allows a robot to see how a random pattern of products are coming to the robot and how to handle them. That’s exactly the example you gave in terms of the pick-and-place. The last one I would want to mention is the development of the end-of-arm tooling. How they grab, how they pick. That end-of-arm tooling is adding a lot of flexibility to the robot, to the applications. We’re finding in many cases robots are not filling just one single function but two functions. In some cases, it could be for example they are doing the case packing and the palletizing. Same robot, two functions. It’s very easy when you are using a robot… let’s say you are using it for case packing and palletizing, and you switch the product or the presentation. It’s very easy for a robot to change the program, the recipe and change to a different product. There’s a lot of different benefits here. It’s a quick changeover, also in terms of sanitation, we talked in the past about wash-down robots. The fact that with a person, we are living creatures and we carry a lot of things with us. It’s different with robots. You clean the robot, you sanitize it, and it’s easier. There’s a lot of different advantages there. Finally, one of the things that’s coming more and more and you are finding more applications in the industry is more collaborative robots. Robots that are pretty much side-to-side with operators taking care of repetitive functions. Again with advantages such as sanitation and cleaning.

Hanacek: What do you see as the biggest challenge? Is it cost? Over the last decade, I’d ask people about automation and robots, and so many of the products are just so different. Vision has solved a lot, gotten smarter, gotten better, but is that still an issue. What is the main issue that you think is holding back those processors who have not embraced it yet?

Izqueido: Cost has been dropping down significantly. It’s still there, but it’s accessible even for small and mid-size manufacturers. For some applications, it makes sense. It’s more education than anything else. They used to be extremely complicated. They are a pretty sophisticated piece of equipment, but they are much more user-friendly now and that makes the difference. You don’t need to have a rocket scientist to operate a robot these days.

Keep an eye out and watch the rest of The National Provisioner’s video series on trends in the industry with Jorge Izquierdo of PMMI.