How Robots are Improving the Safety of Food Processing
Despite the strict cleanliness standards of food processing facilities, food borne outbreaks and illnesses are still a common occurrence. Nearly every month recalls are issued for certain types of food or brands. These recalls can damage a company’s reputation as well as cost them several millions of dollars in lost sales and production shutdowns. However, food manufacturers are turning to a unique source in order to reduce the risk of an outbreak occurring at their facilities or with their products and that is automating with industrial robots.
Articulated robots are often associated with industrial settings in which they are used in dirty or dusty environments. Many rarely picture six axis robots operating in sterile environments, however, the development of food grade and cleanroom robots have made this possible. Many industrial robots are available with a food grade option. Food grade robots may consist of a stainless steel exterior or treated with a special exterior coating. Their openings are sealed and they use a special food-grade grease to prevent contamination. Most food grade robots are also wash proof. All of these features make the FANUC LR Mate 200id/7LC along with other food grade robots perfectly safe for automating food processing.
Controlled Manufacturing Environment
The best way to prevent food borne outbreaks is to ensure a sterile work environment. Even with stringent cleanliness standards, it is impossible to completely control the work environment with manual labor. However, replacing humans with robots makes this possible. Robots always stay within the food processing facility and within the same work area. This significantly reduces the risk of harmful bacteria or viruses being brought into the manufacturing facility. The fact that robots do not leave the factory makes it much easier to control the food processing environment.
Automating food processing can reduce the risk of cross-contamination from occurring. Humans can easily contaminate food. Workers may unknowingly touch a dirty surface in between batches and not think to wash their hands or change gloves. They can even unintentionally spread contaminants around a factory by changing workstations causing multiple outbreaks at a single facility. In addition, workers are often shoulder to shoulder in food processing facilities making it easy for contaminants to spread around a factory. Robots are typically fixed to one location reducing the chance of cross-contamination. They are programmed to repeat the same steps and motions over and over, which also reduces the likelihood of cross-contamination.
Robots also can improve the safety of food processing by automating the cleaning of any machinery used. The ABB 2600-20 can thoroughly wash food processing machinery in between each cycle. Machines are quickly, but thoroughly cleaned to prevent harmful bacteria from developing and spreading to food items.
Food-grade robots themselves can also be washed down and sanitized between cycles. Keeping food processing robots clean will also prevent any cross-contamination. Some food manufacturers have implemented robots for washing their food processing robots. This automates the sanitizing process as the FANUC R-2000ib/210WE can be activated at the end of each batch to clean the FANUC M-2ia.
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