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· Food robotics have found great importance in the food industry, right from the processing to the pickup to the packaging and repackaging aspects, as automation gathers steam in this space. The growing demand for packaged food, along with the necessity for operational efficiency in food and beverage-related industries, has spiked the demand for robots in the sector.
· The introduction of advanced and innovative automation technologies in the robotics industry, which has made them capable of performing a number of activities with better efficiency than the manual aspect. Some of the major robotic applications include picking and placing of randomly oriented food products, wherein systems make use of robot vision to detect the product orientation; another aspect is palletizing, which involves stacking of the packaged boxes on pallets for shipping. The use of robots here can help avoid workplace-related injuries to humans, while freeing them for other value-added tasks.
· According to data from Robotics Industry Association, 35,880 robotic units were shipped in 2018 to different industries, which was a 7% increase from 2017. Of these, non-automotive segments witnessed a 41% rise from the previous year, receiving 16,702 shipments, with the food and consumer goods sector witnessing a rise of 48%. This shows the perceived importance of robots for food and beverage manufacturing industries.
· In terms of the type of robot, the market is segmented into articulated, parallel, SCARA and cylindrical robots, among others. Articulated robots provide the advantage of high speed while occupying less floor space, and are used for food packaging as well as material handling processes. SCARA (Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm) robots are expected to witness high demand in the coming years from the industry, on account of their low cost, small footprint and high throughput rates.

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· In terms of application, the market is segmented into packaging, repackaging, palletizing, picking and processing. The packaging segment accounts for a very significant market share, as companies look towards reduction of wastage, uniformity in packaging as well as increase in production capacity, all of which robots are capable of performing efficiently. The repackaging and processing segments are expected to show appreciable growth in the coming years, with the growing presence of automated solutions.
· Regulatory measures play a huge role in determining the demand for robots in the food industry, which has resulted in Europe showing a high demand for the product in the past few years. Another factor developing favorable conditions for robotics in the European market is the rising cost of labor. Asia Pacific is anticipated to show substantial growth in the near future, on account of the growing demand for packaged food in the region, as well as strict government regulations regarding food safety in the region.
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Recent Trends and Developments
· The current outbreak of coronavirus has seen the removal of manual activities in various industries, including food and beverage, with workers instead making use of robots to carry out activities in the factories and warehouses. In the coming years, the use of robots is expected to become more commonplace in industries, with human intervention being only required for controlling the various activities of these robots.
· OnRobot, a Danish robotic end-effectors specialist, recently developed a food-grade soft gripper capable of picking up delicate and irregularly-shaped objects in food industry, as well as the manufacturing and packaging operations involved in it. The Soft Gripper offers seamless integration with most collaborative robots and light industrial robots, using OnRobot’s One System Solution platform, which has recently expanded its support to robots from ABB.
· In March 2020, Yaskawa launched a 20 kg payload HC20XP collaborative robot, designed for safely working in close proximity to humans. This is the industry’s first IP67-rated collaborative robot, and includes NSF H1 food-grade grease, enabling its usage in environments where there is a possibility of incidental food contact.
· FANUC demonstrated its DR-3iB food-grade delta robot, and M-410iC/110 palletizing robot, at the International Production and Processing Expo (IPPE) held in January 2020. The delta robot has been rated IP69K, and is used for picking and packing primary and secondary food products. The palletizing robot has been designed for high-volume production in case, bag and bottle palletizing operations.