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Acceptance of innovative automatic equipment in the postharvest and food industry

26 April 2016  •  Author(s): Idoia Olabarrieta, Senior Researcher, Food Research Division, AZTI-Tecnalia / Izaskun Pérez, Senior Researcher, Food Research Division, AZTI-Tecnalia / Raquel Rodríguez, Food Researcher, Food Research Division, AZTI-Tecnalia / Jaime Zufía, Head of the Efficiency and Sustainability Department, AZTI

PICKNPACK1 is a large collaborative project granted by the EU within the 7th Frame programme, with the aim of boosting the development and implementation of innovative automatic systems in food industry. In order to find strategic approaches for facilitating greater deployment of new flexible and autonomous robots, sensors and packaging modules in the food industry of today, an acceptance study was done within this sector. This article summarises the main conclusions achieved from that study for both food processing and postharvest sector.

Acceptance of innovative automatic equipment in the postharvest and food industry

Introduction

Automation and robotics have penetrated in many industrial operations. As production demand increased, larger food companies saw the benefit of automation. At the beginning these new systems were implemented on the high-volume, long-life, single-product lines. Many food industries have automated with great success their palletising and secondary packaging applications2 . However, recent technology advancements, coupled with more challenging production demands, have caused a trend of innovative automatic systems (robots, sensors, etc.) migrating further up in the processing line including sorting, grading and primary packaging of products.

Small or medium-sized (SME) companies have been much slower in incorporating automation. The high variability of the food products, complexity of the food processes and required high investments, limit the use of automation/robots in food industry. In this sense, research is steadily advancing to meet the requirements and challenges of the small food manufactures. Nonetheless, there is still a significant gap between research on innovative automatic systems and its implementation in food manufacturing. In order to achieve signifi – cant deployment of the innovative automation in all the levels, attention should be given to investigating and analysing the factors which affect the infiltration of these technologies into the industrial food processes.

Methodology

A survey was developed with the aim of obtaining the knowledge about the automation level of the European food industry, the problems and requirements in sorting and packaging and about the predisposition to invest in innovative equipment. Finally, a list of different barriers and drivers were prepared for scoring, regarding their importance when investing in new equipment. The survey was made by telephone interviews with 15-20 minute structured questionnaires, and also by email through the online questionnaire. Interviewees ranged from Managing, Quality, R&D Directors and Board Members, Owners (Directors), to Chief Engineers or Operations Managers (technicians) from postharvest plants/companies (hereafter referred to as POSTHARVEST) and food processing industries (hereafter referred to as FOOD) in Spain, France, UK, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Italy.

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