How Automation Can Help During… and after COVID-19

If you’re in the food manufacturing industry, you likely know that this industry faces significant labour shortage struggles. In fact, according to a study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, approximately 2.4 million manufacturing jobs will be left unfilled between 2018 and 2028. This statistic is shocking enough on its own, but with the impact of COVID-19, these labour shortages have only gotten worse.

Meat processing plants have especially fallen victim to this pandemic, and this is evident from an analysis in May 2020, which found that almost half of the COVID-19 hotspots in the US were linked to meat factories alone. Experts attribute this spike to the environmental conditions of meat processing plants, as they allow the virus to easily spread.

As the effects of COVID-19 continue to impact the food manufacturing industry, companies are experiencing a variety of challenges, and plenty of them currently struggle with staying afloat — some meat plants have even been forced to suspend operations because of COVID-19 outbreaks emerging among employees. However, with the help of automation, food manufacturers can overcome these obstacles and continue to meet customer demand in this difficult environment. There are three key areas where automation can support manufacturers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

1) Physical Distancing

According to the CDC, COVID-19 mainly spreads when people are in close contact with each other for a prolonged period of time. Therefore, limiting face-to-face contact will drastically reduce the possibility of infection. This is why social and physical distancing is Meat plant processingrecommended as the best way to reduce the spread of this disease. However, at food manufacturing plants,
it is often hard to maintain the recommended space of 6 feet part between all employees. In fact, it’s very common for multiple workers to be working shoulder-to-shoulder along a production line. With automation, a robot can swap places with an employee and create more space between human workers, while still getting work done at that spot. As a result, COVID-19 will be less likely to spread between employees, and less people will get sick.

2) Food Safety

Even though the CDC has found no evidence that consuming food can lead to contracting COVID-19, food manufacturers should still remain vigilant about maintaining high quality food safety standards. After all, there are still various other foodborne diseases that could contaminate a production line. For example, according to the CDC, approximately 70% of norovirus cases are caused by infected food workers making contact with the product, thus making it important to reduce the amount of physical human contact while food is being produced. However, most production lines are handled by countless amounts of people, and if even one infected employee comes into contact with the food, that’s all it takes for the product to be contaminated. Automation can address this issue, as it allows businesses to easily reduce the amount of human contact with a product, thus reducing the risk of spreading this disease.

3) Productivity

As the number of infections grow, it can become harder to find employees who can help you keep up with customer demand. More and more employees may call in sick or even quit entirely, leaving you extremely understaffed. However, by bringing in automation, you can have a robot fill in for these missing workers and meet your required production numbers. After all, robots never show up late to work, never take breaks, and never have to call in sick. With robots supporting your food production, you can ensure that your customers can get what they want, when they need it most.

Overall, automation can provide a wide range of support to food manufacturers during the COVID-19 pandemic and well beyond. The combination of managing physical distancing, improving food safety, and increasing productivity, allows automation to be a viable solution for food manufacturers to survive this pandemic, while providing a long-term investment that can grow your business, and keep you in business.

If you’re in need of a robotics integrator, Apex Motion Control has in-house experts available to talk about your business needs. With Apex’s help, you can discover an automation solution that works best for you, such as our Baker-Bot, to improve productivity and food safety. Contact our cobot experts today at info@apexmotion.com.

Visit our website to see the Baker-Bot in Action.

Sources:
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https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/manufacturing/articles/future-of-manufacturing-skills-gap-study.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/15/us-coronavirus-meat-packing-plants-food

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/social-distancing.html

https://www.cdc.gov/publichealthgateway/didyouknow/topic/foodborne_illness.html