Making the switch

Online Editor

Jessica Stank details the benefits food and animal feed industries can achieve by moving from manual to automated equipment

The costs of keeping workers safe in manufacturing environments is high and will likely continue to rise as the need for PPE and appropriate workplace distancing continues. In these situations, process automation equipment not only presents an opportunity to reduce costs and improve efficiency, but also reduce the human related costs such as human error, workplace injuries and illness.

Giving repetitive, dangerous, close-proximity work over to machines has multiple benefits to your workers and your bottom line. Let’s dive in to five of the benefits of automation equipment for the food processing industry and animal feed industry.

Reduced direct labour costs

Reduced labour costs are one of the first benefits of equipment automation that comes to mind. With the jobs of three or more workers completed by a machine, the costs of wages must be balanced against the costs of initial investment, upkeep and maintenance.

With a proper maintenance schedule, a machine can continue operating effectively for many years for a fraction of the cost of three employees.

Reduced injuries

Looking at work-related injuries, manufacturing is one of the most dangerous industries, second only to social assistance occupations, such as emergency response. Research shows automation can reduce three out of the five leading causes of workplace injuries, including contact with harmful objects, heavy lifting, and repetitive stress injuries.

In total, robots and automation equipment have the potential to reduce workplace manufacturing injuries by up to 72%.

In pet food and animal feed, there are ingredients that can be an issue, due to problems stemming from prolonged exposure. By having a machine do weighments instead of an employee with a scoop and a scale, the risk of exposure to these types of substances is greatly decreased, which means a safer working environment for those on the floor.

More accurate record-keeping

While a person can easily mismark a sheet or push the wrong button, a control system that is installed and set up properly will always perform the task as directed. This is especially helpful when detailed record-keeping is mandatory, such as tracking required by FSMA and other regulations.

When inaccurate record-keeping can create hazards, such as tracking and recalling tainted food, a machine’s diligent record-keeping can also help to protect consumers. It is crucial, when the need for a recall of product arises, that the batches and lot numbers can be quickly identified and communicated to those affected.

Improved consistency

Machines do not get distracted or side-tracked with another task, however by contrast there’s very little variability in a machine’s performance. This means the task will be performed the same way every time. From dispensing ingredients to pelleting, coating and packaging, automation improves consistency across the process and in the final product, improving quality and reducing costs of product defects and loss due to waste from human error.

Increased efficiency

A person cannot be expected to work continuously without breaks. A person also has limits to the speed with which they can work safely. A machine also has limits, though they’re much greater than a person’s. With proper installation and programming, automated equipment can work almost seamlessly together, running at the same time and all but eliminating downtime completely.

Being able to run a process from a control room instead of having several people out on the plant floor also saves in the event of illness, like was seen during the Covid 19 pandemic. Processing facilities can avoid costly shutdowns due to contact tracing and illnesses when fewer people are needed to run a shift.

Keeping up with software upgrades and having a robust preventative maintenance plan will ensure that you get the most bang for your buck.

Ready to level up your equipment automation?

Automation equipment can upset labour markets, however this equipment can also protect workers from hazards. Giving dangerous and monotonous tasks over to machines and reducing the total number of workers in a facility has the potential to reduce the spread of illness and reduce workplace injuries, while also reducing costs. For these machines to perform properly, installation and verification are essential.

Jessica Stank is with Apec

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