AGVs (automated guided vehicles) also known as AMRs (automated mobile robots) are best suited for multiple shift operations in food manufacturing facilities. While there are exceptions to this general rule, the expected return on investment (ROI) can be accomplished in a year for companies with multiple shifts. A single AGVAMR can perform the same duties as multiple forklift operators during several shifts, saving thousands in salary dollars. The square footage of the facilities is also optimized in leveraging AGVs/AMRs. While it makes the most sense for operations with routine, predictable delivery of stable loads and lots of space, many food manufacturing and logistics operations experience a variety of seasonal SKUs. These variances are well adapted with easily modified robotic solutions.
Food companies improve safety and quality by achieving significant decreases in lost or damaged product, which generates the greatest ROI, often with 10 percent plus improvement in efficiencies. From food packaging to logistics, beverage bottling to refrigerated meat processing facilities, AGVs/AMRs are optimized in food plants with 24-hour operations by eliminating human errors. Never has this been more critical as labor shortages drive many food companies to incorporate these technologies. It has become increasing difficult to fill forklift positions. Several food manufacturers increased material handler wages by 50 percent over the past two years to maintain trained personnel with quality experience; still many food operations managers report an average staff turnover of 30 days. These data promulgated the greatest rationale for implementing AGVs/AMRs.
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Industry 4.0 in the Food Industry
Mobile robots are an important advancement in food material handling and Industry 4.0 initiatives. This is particularly true in the food sector which has strong Lean Manufacturing demands of regulatory compliance, precision, and quality rigor. As noted above more than a quarter of all food manufacturers are responding to production fluctuations, including the ability to easily change the layout and add more vehicles to increase the capacity.
Industry 4.0, Lean Manufacturing, and Quality Challenges
These autonomous solutions are part of the quality control/quality assurance paradigm maintaining significant flexibility without magnetic tape guidance. Industry 4.0 mandates preserving scalability and safe transport of food products. Unlike human fork truck drivers, one metric of quality is the high precision movements and repeatability found using AGVs/AMRs.
While Industry 4.0 metrics do not focus exclusively on high levels of personal safety, there is universal agreement that safety cannot be compromised. Ease of integration to automated equipment is part of every food quality conversation.
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Ultimately, food operations process improvement roadmap must be aligned with the products selected to achieve maximum throughput, productivity, and rapid ROI.
Sullivan, AutoGuide Mobile Robots’ president and CEO, is a proven robotics and automation leader with a solid track record of pioneering innovative products. Reach him at [email protected].