The use of automation in the food industry has increased in recent years, allowing businesses to gain full visibility of their supply chain, protect workers from serious injury and reduce labour costs. With this in mind, it’s no surprise to hear that 62% of surveyed manufacturers plan to implement robotics and automation in 2023.
Let’s break these down further and take a look at eight benefits of automation in the food industry:
- Keeps your workforce safe from injury
- Improve quality control
- Gain unprecedented levels of end-to-end traceability
- Improves your targeting capabilities
- Increases efficiency and boost output rates
- Gain better visibility over your ingredients
- Become more flexible and scalable
- Reduce food waste with better supply and demand management
1. Keeps your workforce safe from injury
Automation eliminates the need for your workers to perform monotonous, repetitive motion jobs, and can even perform the most dangerous tasks across your production lines. It also frees up your team to focus on more business-critical tasks to boost your efficiency.
For example, a report found there were 10% more manufacturing accidents in 2022 than in previous years, with most of these coming from falls or injuries whilst lifting heavy weights such as machinery. By automating production areas such as packing and cutting, this helps you reduce the risk of injury to your workforce whilst accelerating output.
Increased safety for your workforce also helps to reduce maintenance costs in the long run. Changes to new regulations will usually involve new equipment or additional training for your workforce which can be time consuming. You may even have to fork out for expensive (but necessary) safety gear.
Automation allows for faster adoption towards new industry changes and is as simple as updating existing hardware and software to meet compliance standards – saving you the trouble of having to deal with all of the above.
2. Improve quality control
There are so many processes, workers and touchpoints along the food and beverage supply chain that it becomes difficult to monitor the quality of food, let alone keep track of it. While the quality of your ingredients is incredibly important, with outdated, disparate systems, there’s no way of guaranteeing perfect quality, every time.
Automation can help you improve production line efficiency, maximise ingredient usage and enhance food safety, all while reducing the risk of any human-related errors that may occur.
Additionally, the more ingredients you add to your production lines, the harder it’ll be to keep consistency in terms of taste, quality, and texture, all of which dictate whether a customer purchases from you. Automated technology can effectively manage your food production from start to finish, which reduces the risk of product recalls and ultimately protects your brand image.
3. Gain unprecedented levels of end-to-end traceability
The number of recalls has risen dramatically in recent years, affecting the top players in the food industry. Let’s take Ferrero for example, who in April 2022 had to recall a number of its ‘Kinder eggs’ due to traces of salmonella being found. To prevent this, automation and modern analytics tools allows you to trace all ingredients from farm to fork, so you can:
- Identify issues as they happen
- Find contaminated orders and pinpoint where they’re heading
This means you can isolate the problem before it impacts the wider public, safeguarding your reputation.
Plus, automation can help relieve stress and compliance costs by improving the overall performance of your supply chain and provide full visibility into key processes. Food-specific technology, for example, can streamline your data into one location, creating a singular source of data truth for your teams to make faster, smarter business decisions.
4. Improves your targeting capabilities
Getting closer towards your customers is as important as improving operational efficiency across your production lines. Automated technology and advanced analytics will help you:
- Build an accurate profile and predictive system for future gains, such as better sales forecasting reports
- Monitor changes in consumer behaviour and identify any emerging trends/preferences
- Provide in-depth knowledge on market trends which can be used during new product development processes
All of these ensure you can reach your customers at the right place at the right time, even during a crisis.
5. Increases efficiency and boost output rates
You can reap the rewards of increased efficiency across your operations and maintain high output rates with automation. This is because technology can work 24/7 (with the occasional break for maintenance) and often more efficiently than what humans can do.
Automation also allows you to gather intelligent data insights from the production line that can be used to improve your maintenance response times, so you can flatten out any issues quickly to prevent energy waste.
For example, a smart factory with IoT (Internet of Things) devices can automatically collect data on machinery performance and transfer it straight into your food-specific solution. This access to real-time data provides opportunities to improve your response time by alerting you straight away when maintenance is needed.
6. Gain better visibility over your ingredients
In the food and beverage industry, we’re seeing added pressure from today’s consumers who want to know more about the origin of their food products and the journey it took to get to their basket. Therefore, to maintain trust with your consumers, you need to ensure you have visibility over the ingredients going in and out across your supply chain.
An integrated system can centralise data from multiple sources to make it easier and quicker to find what you need. You can take this one step further by investing in a food industry-specific solution, offering visibility over current and future regulations so you can become compliant and adaptable to future changes in the market.
Additionally, solutions like Lot tracking or IoT help you to quickly determine where affected products have entered your supply chain and where it is now, allowing you to safeguard your operations against product recalls. After all, the faster you can respond, the better!
7. Become more flexible and scalable to tackle the energy crisis
The last 12 months has highlighted the importance of remaining agile to cope with the disruptions of modern society. For example, the recent energy crisis has forced food manufacturers to rethink how much energy they’re using and look at reducing production wherever necessary, leading to potential shortages for consumers.
Whilst it’s inevitable that the energy crisis will impact your profit margins, investing in automation allows you to become more flexible and adaptable to rapid changes in production. These changes can simply be programmed into automation software, and you’ll be able to see exactly how your production capacity (output) will change as a result of trying to reduce energy costs.
8. Reduce food waste with better supply and demand management
Waste reduction has long been a key focus area, with food manufacturers contributing around 16% of waste in the UK alone. In particular, supply chain waste within food is always a concern, given the short shelf lives of certain perishable products. Over-supply can also lead to products being wasted if they’re not used in time.
Automation can help food businesses improve their supply and demand management. An end-to-end-solution can provide accurate data on the amount of stock needed based on real-time demand to cut down on food waste.
Automation can also help food businesses avoid any lack of alignment on inventory levels and reduce their chain carbon footprint by minimising travel throughout the supply cycle.
You can find out more about tackling food waste in our podcast episode here.
Take a look at how one of our customers has embraced automation to improve its processes
As you can see, automation in the food and beverage industry brings several benefits across the board such as consistent quality, improved food safety and unparalleled levels of traceability.
One of our customers Jacksons Bakery, the UK’s leading supplier of sandwich bread, were able to modernise its core processes with a transformation project that overhauled its technology and supply chain.
Read how Jacksons gained new efficiencies with automated software, from eliminating manual errors to increasing its agility, in the case study below.