Top three automation challenges facing food manufacturing


What are the top 3 automation challenges facing food manufacturers? As a company who invests 8.2% of their turnover into R&D, OAL conducted market research to establish what challenges food manufacturers face coming into 2016. With the introduction of APRIL the robotic chef, a flexible fully automated processing cell, the research was conducted to ensure they are providing the solutions required for the industry. Here’s what OAL found, the top three challenges reported may not surprise you.

1. Food safety & traceability

Unsurprisingly food safety and traceability tops the list of challenges that face food manufacturers. Food manufacturers have a duty of care to ensure that food is safe for people to eat and thus the ability of automation to ensure traceability is critical.

Through discussions with respondents, stricter regulations and complexity presented challenges to ensuring complete traceability through existing food production systems. Tracking product/ingredients through all stages of sourcing, processing and distribution with the complex nature of supply chains and shear-number of SKU’s is no easy feat.

OAL has been developing solutions as part of their OAL Connected software, to overcome these challenges whilst offering real-time data for both food safety and factory efficiency. A key aspect of this development is building the paperless factory. Paper systems do not offer the level of assurance to overcome the challenges highlighted and easy to use paperless control systems have been a cornerstone of OAL's work. Integrated product tracking with ERP systems through SCADA enables complete traceability of products from the first receipt of goods in, right through to dispatch.

OAL Food Safety

OAL Food Safety

2. Packaging

Packaging was the 2nd most highlighted challenge and it's little surprise with the number of format changes and regulations that food manufacturers face. Packaging has always changed but 2013 saw the boom of healthy eating, and manufacturers have been under ever-increasing pressure to ensure that food packaging appeals to customers. This changing consumer landscape has raised issues in the flexibility of automated packaging systems to respond to change.

The rising number of packaging variations has heightened the risk of the wrong product being placed in the wrong packaging, a nut product with the incorrect packaging could have fatal consequences.   Back in 2004, OAL was involved in the development of Autocoding with Tesco and Geest (Bakkavor), and the introduction of 2D bar codes to ensure that every piece of product packaging is correct. This was a major step forward as 2D barcodes meant the lids, sleeves and packs could all be identified by a barcode scanner.

OAL have experienced first-hand the importance of flexibility and an ability to adapt to the changing packaging formats, working closely with customers to ensure compliance with retailers codes of practice. As the trend for packaging variations grows, they see this as a key area for continued collaboration to ensure packaging security.

OAL Packaging

OAL Packaging

3. Cost of implementation

Finally, in a very respectable 3rd position was the least surprising problem reported, Cost. The initial cost of implementing automated solutions is high but existing systems have often lacked flexibility. The flexibility of the systems is critical in allowing soft reconfiguration to accommodate evolving consumer tastes; attempts at previously achieving automation have often missed this key component resulting in costly white elephants.

APRIL, the robotic chef development from OAL, seeks to eliminate this issue of flexibility by using principles from Manufacturing 4.0 to deliver a truly flexible modular solution. Coupled with the cost of robotics and automation dropping because of strong adoption in other industries, OAL believe the challenge of the cost of implementing automation can be overcome.

Want to find out more about how OAL can help you? Contact them here

About the survey

OAL contacted a wide range of food manufacturers and the results were based upon 97 respondents. Respondents varied in roles with a good cross section of line managers to business directors. [mailmunch-form id="436478"]