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EnSight & Stäubli Are Helping Food Processors Meet Increased Demand with Robotics

May 4, 2020

By Heath Clifton, Engineering Controls Manager, EnSight Solutions

With the coronavirus threat looming, more families are gathering around the table for meals at home these days. And that means America’s food processors are stepping up production to keep grocery store shelves and, in turn, pantries, fridges, and freezers stocked.

The growing demand has companies large and small looking at cost-effective ways to be more efficient while keeping plant workers and consumers safe. Spacing out line workers and putting systems in place to keep the highly contagious virus from infiltrating and spreading through plants are now top of mind.

For many processors, robotics have emerged as a broad solution that offers a relatively quick return on investment, usually within two years. EnSight Solutions—in conjunction with Stäubli Robotics—is working with processors to design and build state-of-the-art yet affordable equipment that can be customized for their line processes, space constraints, and washdown requirements.

If you’re not considering robotics, you definitely should be. The first step is to get past the science fiction that robots are taking over and squeezing humans out. It’s quite the opposite.

For many plant workers, the biggest concern is that robots are going to take their jobs. That’s a major misconception, though. Robots are actually here to do the monotonous tasks people don’t want to do. Thankfully, there are plenty of things humans can do that robots still can’t.

Robots and people make a great team, and together they can accomplish more than going it alone. Robotics are adept at repetitive processes that require consistency, reliability, and precision like case packing, food cutting, and slicing, deboning, and palletizing. In fact, collaborative robots, or “cobots,” work alongside their human co-workers to complete many of these tasks as efficiently as possible.

And for robots that come in contact with raw meat or other food products, sanitation has never been simpler. Stäubli offers robots that meet IP67 washdown requirements. The hygienic design features smooth, rounded, and tilted surfaces to eliminate liquid buildup and a fully enclosed, pressurized structure that keeps microorganisms out and prevents condensation buildup and bacteria growth.

Our engineers also routinely accompany salespeople on plant visits to analyze how the processes fit into the footprint and then assess where robotics can make the biggest difference. New camera and 3D technologies can help identify opportunities where high-speed operations can be broken down into different robotic cells or determine whether cases are needed.

Even the most skeptical plant manager can see the possibilities with EnSight’s visualization services, which can include a 3D conceptual animation of the robotic equipment on their line. We work with Stäubli’s engineering group to design a layout and then run a simulation that figures in cycle time, robot size, gripper type and more to make sure your application will be successful from the start.

Finding adequate space for robotics in plants is always a challenge, but EnSight has more than 50 years of experience when it comes to designing and building equipment that will meet your safety and sanitation standards, all of our engineers receive sanitation training so they understand first-hand what it takes to clean the processing equipment. That’s really influenced our design by opening our eyes to what equipment should look like and how it should function to reduce cleaning time and cost.

If the robotics solution you need isn’t something that’s on the market, we can design it and build it in our manufacturing facility. We’re really good at sharpening our pencils and finding different ways to make that work for companies.

Robotic systems also offer flexibility, adaptability, and scalability that’s ideal for food processors. Machinery can easily be reprogrammed for line changes or to supplement staffing shortages when you’re battling high turnover rates. And when robots are on the line, you can count on them.

They show up every day. They never call in sick. They don’t get tired. And they’re always ready to work. That sort of dependability limits downtime and keeps productivity high.

In addition to the outright cost of purchasing the equipment, processors often worry about ongoing maintenance and repairs. Stäubli robots have the lowest total cost of ownership on the market and are quick to pay for themselves. Thanks to top-quality fabrication, solid components, and optimal efficiency, Stäubli robots have a long lifespan. And here’s the best part: Your plant staff can be trained to care for the equipment and handle the upkeep.

That’s right—you don’t have to be a robot engineer to make these things work. We develop the robotic cell and make it easy so any maintenance person can understand how the equipment works and troubleshoot any issues that might arise.

It may seem hard to believe that an investment in robotics could pay itself off within a couple of years, but it’s absolutely doable. And if it isn’t, we don’t recommend going that route. There are lots of benefits to robots, but if it doesn’t pay for itself, then it’s just not a good business investment. That’s why our experts want to look at your application to find the best way to fix your problem.

To learn more about Stäubli robotics, develop a conceptual animation, or to schedule a plant visit with EnSight’s team, please email us at info@ensightsolutions.us. You can calculate your operation’s potential ROI with our ROI Calculator.

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