10 California Food Producer EDITION 2, 2017 Stakes are high for the world’s food producers. The global food industry represents nearly $8 trillion or about 10 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product, according to Plunket Research. Yet labor shortages, worker safety and foodborne illnesses threaten the fold. Rising living standards and changing eating habits in developing countries pressure capacity and throughput. Consumers want more choices, more convenience and they want it fresh, fast and affordable. From individual snack packs and ready-to-serve party trays, to healthy options and quick meals for busy people on the go, customization and variability is at an all-time high. Food producers must keep up with the trends, while trying to anticipate the future. But it’s often difficult to know what’s on the menu. Flexible automation is the ticket. “Automation could do for the food industry what it did for the automotive industry in the ‘70s,” says Carl Vause, Chief Executive Officer of Soft Robotics Inc., a manufacturer of soft-actuating adaptive gripper technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “It could take this industry to the next level. Drive quality, drive consistency. Make sure they can scale and grow, and meet the demands of the market, and in this case, feed the world.” ROBOTS SATISFY LABOR WOES. Feeding the world is proving tougher every year as our population ages and labor costs rise. Innovative automation solutions help tackle the tedious but necessary jobs. “We’re seeing a major shift in the mindset of our clients, safety being the number one priority for most of our customers,” says Keith Allen, Client Manager for JMP Automation, Inc., an RIA Certified Robot Integrator in London, Ontario, Canada. “The priority is to get people out of unsafe tasks. There are major ergonomic challenges in tasks like case packing, carton loading, and palletizing.” He cites a case where workers were stooped over a fast-moving conveyor belt loading ice cream bars. The job was so taxing that workers had to rotate to another task every 15 minutes. Even then, they walked away with neck and back strain. “It’s not sustainable,” says Allen. “So a lot of food companies are turning to a company like ours to help them solve some of their most ergonomic challenges. We focus on what we call smart robotics in the food and CPG (consumer pack- aged goods) marketplace.” In the case of the ice cream bars, three pick-and-place robots tied to the customers cartoning equipment was the solution. Feeding the world is proving tougher every year as our population ages and labor costs rise. Innovative automation solutions help tackle the tedious but necessary jobs. Robots Help Feed Soft-actuating robot gripper handles fresh produce of every size and shape. (Courtesy of Soft Robotics Inc.)