Delicious Automation: How Machines Produce Our Culinary Joy

29th June, 2020

Robots may seem to have nothing in common with our food, but they are playing an increasingly major role in producing some of our favorite indulgences — ice cream, cheese, chocolate, and beer — and in serving us at locations such as conveyer belt sushi restaurants and cafes. Not only is automation helping us get the food we want more quickly — it’s also ensuring we get to enjoy flavors that will knock us off our feet!

Factory Automation — The New Flavor

What springs to mind when you hear the term, "factory automation"? The sound of metal clanking as robots assemble machines in a dreary industrial plant? If so, you may be surprised to learn that factory automation is playing an increasingly crucial role in a more cheerful domain: our food.

For example, FA is already being used to monitor the temperature and humidity levels for growing strawberries and other delicate fruit to improve their flavor. The possibilities of FA in food production are as limitless as our food itself — it could be used in the production of desserts such as soft serves and cakes, or fermented products such as craft cheeses and beers. FA could also play a role in adding pizzazz to our food scenes — remove a robot arm from a factory and put it behind the counter of a coffee shop, and it could serve as an entertaining new twist on the barista.

Technological advances have improved FA to a point where robots can apply artisanal knowledge and experience to food production more consistently than a human, allowing food industry professionals to focus on more creative aspects of food production. Let’s take a look at a few examples from around the world.

Prizewinning Cheeses

Of the many cheesemakers located in the pasture lands of Lancashire, England, perhaps none are more famous than Dewlay. Established in 1957, the cheesemaker prides itself on having the best Lancashire cheeses — underpinned by its numerous international awards. Inside Dewlay’s factory, Mitsubishi Electric’s FA technologies constantly monitor the fermentation process to ensure the company can produce cheese throughout the year at a consistently high level. This is necessary, as anything from the weather to the genetic and biological traits of the milk can affect the quality of the cheese.

"Ours is a fast-paced production environment simply because we have so many cheese vats at different stages of the production cycle, each following individual recipes," explains production supervisor Richard Jones. He adds that by automating the process without sacrificing the cheesemaking knowledge and experience that has gone into it over the years, Dewlay has managed to both boost production and satisfy their customers.

When Mochi* Meets Ice Cream

One long-running ice cream hit in Japan is Lotte’s Yukimi Daifuku — vanilla ice cream balls wrapped in soft, chewy mochi rice dough. The unlikely pairing proved a hit when the product was first launched in 1981, and it remains popular forty years later.

At Lotte’s Yukimi Daifuku factory, Mitsubishi Electric FA technologies have been incorporated to meet various goals — for example, consistency in quality and increased operability. Factors that were once at the mercy of the supervising employee’s intuition and instincts — such as the ratio of the ingredients mixed to produce the vanilla balls and the temperature needed to imbue the mochi with an ideal chewiness — have now been streamlined through FA. The result is consistent quality achieved across high production volumes, allowing more consumers than ever to enjoy the chilled, chewy deliciousness of Yukimi Daifuku.

Japanese rice cake

An Extensive Health Food Lineup

Sante — derived from santé, which is French for "health" — is a Polish health food maker established in 1992. Its lineup of over 150 products includes cereals, energy bars, soy pâté, and other products designed with the consumer’s health in mind. All products are manufactured at a south Warsaw factory working at full capacity.

For a company like Sante to survive, it needs to be able to meet the growing demands for healthier foods and greater quality brought about by increasingly food-conscious consumers. This is why Sante became an early adopter of FA. The decision has reaped numerous benefits for the company, which has been able to optimize its production efficiency and develop a much clearer interface for operating the factory machinery. Most importantly, FA has allowed the company to create a comprehensive monitoring system that collects important data from all factory equipment and presents it in a way that is intuitive and easy to understand.

A Century-Old Craft Beer Brand

Craft beer is conquering the world — and FA is playing a role in this field, too. Take Sadler’s Ales, a British brand that dates all the way back to 1900. To accommodate the growing craft beer market, the company decided to automate its factory processes; at the end of the day, beermaking is a scientific process that requires every step, from boiling the malts to producing the wort, to be closely monitored.

"I have been brewing without the support of an automated process control system for many years, so initially I was a little apprehensive," says production manager Sam Pegg. However, just one month after automating their factory, Sadler’s Ales enjoyed a threefold increase in productivity. "I was pleasantly surprised," says Pegg. "The new solution is straightforward and easy to use, which means I can now focus on more interesting aspects of brewing, such as developing new beers and recipes."

A World of Culinary Delights

Today, we have access to a greater variety of foods than ever. As a result, our palates have become more sophisticated and demanding — the moment we taste something incredible, we want more of it or something even better. FA not only allows food manufacturers to ensure that we get to enjoy the same great flavor every time, it also frees up staff from the painstaking production process so they can focus on improving recipes or crafting new products. As a result, our food choices are about to become a lot richer and more exciting — welcome news for food lovers around the world!

The content is true and accurate as of the time of publication.Information related to products and services included in this article may differ by country or region.

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