Automation in the Food Industry: Feed the Need for Automation

By Chad Dukhart

Reading time: 3 minutes

Hygiene, safety, speed. Plus constantly changing product shapes and types. In often repetitive, physically demanding production steps. In the food industry, production requirements are high. Support would be good, but can you even automate successfully in such an area? You can. We show two examples where robots provide support in the food production of cheese and beef.   

“Manually derinding coated cheeses is heavy work and very burdensome for the employee. It is therefore difficult to find people who want to carry out this job,” project manager Kurt De Guffroy said. At Belgium’s Dupont Cheese, importers and distributors of products from all over Europe, a specialized two-robot KUKA installation weighs and derinds 20-30 giant wheels or blocks every hour. The system handles 10,000 tons of product annually on 16 production lines. One KR AGILUS HM places each cheese on a weighing scale before another robot cuts off the rind with a quickly rotating round milling head mounted with small knives.

Robots in the food industry: production around the clock

Faster and more accurate than a human being, this knife-wielding KR AGILUS HM robot slices off the crusty exterior with 2%-3% less product loss than from a manual derinding operation. Because of its hygiene-compatible design, the KR AGILUS makes a great match for applications that involve direct contact with food.

The system uses 3D vision to locate each cheese, visualize its unique shape and process it, overcoming the twin obstacles of varying dimensions and rind thicknesses. To run this specialized application, KUKA developed equally specialized software called KUKA.DeCrust, which reads a 3D data point cloud created from laser scans and builds efficient derinding paths for the robot.

Robots are taking over more and more tasks in the food industry – like at the Belgian company Dupont Cheese – here a KUKA AGILUS HM is debarking cheese wheels.

Dupont Cheese moved to this automated system to improve working conditions for its employees. Along with the system’s precision and its ergonomic benefits for workers, it also increased workplace safety and efficiency.

The requirements for robots in the food industry are high

Automated meat processing is no less demanding. With ultrasonic sensors and vision systems, robotic systems must locate and remove bones and fat from sides of beef. Like a cheese production line, automated meat processing must make on-the-fly adjustments to account for variances in shape, size and weight of a natural product.

On manual beef-processing lines, an employee uses a hot knife to trim away fat as carcasses move down a conveyor from one station to the next. Each worker makes one specific cut in an operation that requires protective clothing and equipment to guard against splatters and injury. With advanced robotics and the ability to “see” the product clearly, KUKA automation can handle virtually any food-related process and eliminate the dangers of the operation.

The requirements for robots in the food industry are very high. For example, like the KR DELTA, they must comply with the regulations for materials that come into contact with food and withstand the necessary cleaning and sterilization. In addition, the requirements for the application itself vary greatly, depending on the task in hand. KUKA and its network of system partners therefore work closely with many food and beverage manufacturers. This means that complete turnkey systems can even be offered that are tailored to specific products, such as cheese or loose meat.

Robots are taking over more and more tasks in the food industry – no longer just in palletizing and depalletizing, but also in the handling and packaging of products such as meat, cheese or baked goods. You can read about the advantages of automation and the solutions with which KUKA supports the food industry in the blog post “Robots in the food industry: “Almost the entire industry is asking for automation”.

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