In today’s time, automation has become an expanding element, which has almost upgraded the whole industry. From the healthcare to the automotive sector, automation has improvised the whole process. From housewives to businessmen everyone prefers to have smart and automatic facilities. Operational efficiency, supply chain transparency, and enterprise synergy are a few benefits, which can be achieved by automation. Usage of automation can easily increase the revenue of the food and beverages industry. While highlighting the automation in food and beverage, we have talked to a few fraternities from the industry making a significant impact by their automation-front solutions and processes for the F&B industry. Yatin Varachhia, Co-founder, Euphotic Labs Pvt Ltd; Anil Kumar, Director, Inovance Technology India; Dibyananda Brahma, VP – Growth, Mukunda Foods Pvt Ltd; Meenu Singhal, Vice President-Industry Business, Schneider Electric India further elucidates across the topic.
Automation in Food & Beverages Industry
Food processing is India’s 5th largest industry in terms of production, consumption, and exports. India’s packaging sector is also growing fast, and the food & beverage sector is one of the key drivers of packaging, says Anil.
If we check the acceptance of automation in the food & beverages industry, so it shows that F&B is a bit slower than any other industry. The reason may be the lack of facilities or less awareness. While highlighting such issues, Dibyananda says, automation has started playing a significant role in the F&B industry as it did for automobile, manufacturing and medical & health care. In F&B getting people (skilled labour) is an issue and retaining them is a herculean task. It took little time for F&B since the word “automation” is easily misunderstood; people often think about robots replacing humans. In reality, though, Automation doesn’t necessarily supplant human labor. Instead, it helps foodservice professionals do even better at what they already do best within the same time.
Yatin also agree with it, he says with the evolution of AI, there is a lot of automation is coming at restaurant and food catering businesses. This business faces a lot of attrition and in several situations, a chef leaving end up becoming a brand problem for the restaurant owner, since it changes their taste identity. Automation will play a big role to solve such issues.
Meenu explained the benefits and says, the use of automation in the F&B industry can transform the safety levels of both food and personnel in production facilities while offering multiple benefits and better returns on investment. The benefits include limiting and mitigating injuries, eliminating or reducing direct human contact with food items, and higher output from nonstop operations.
The increased efficiency through automation and greater visibility across the supply chain can result in higher output while lowering labour costs and safeguarding employees from serious injuries. Higher output is possible because, unlike humans, technology works 24/7 and more efficiently than humans. Finally, automation also allows one to garner data insights through the production chain, which can help in improving maintenance, he says.
Is It Beneficial for Traditional Processes?
If we see the benefits of automation in the food & beverages industry, so you will get a lot of reasons. Today, where competition is high and India is already facing a heavy economical breakdown, so automation can be the best solution. Automation in the food & beverages industry can come with the biggest revolution in the industry. The changing nature of customers who wants to have something unique or different can be served by automation in the food & beverages industry.
While sharing his company’s offering, Anil says Inovance has a really strong R&D and engineering team in India. The company can ensure that we tailor our products to the needs of Indian food & beverage and packaging OEMs. Inovance’s experienced engineers – who are based across the country ensure a truly pan-India presence – have expertise in the full range of packaging applications, such as constant-tension winding and unwinding control, multi-axes high-precision synchronization control, and high-precision rep/cross-cutting control.
Yatin also highlighted the major benefits. He says automation is the answer to the high attrition problem. Every time a cook quit the job, you need to get someone new and train them for at least a week and then he may also leave the organization within 1-2 months. So, F&B can’t be dependent on humans. Automation in the food & beverages industry will help restaurants to be consistent and reduce operational complexities.
Each brand has its signature chef and culinary team, which creates the magic in the kitchen. But the fact the original SOP loses its way while replicating at each outlet, and as a result, the consumer does not get the original taste, mentioned Dibyananda.
“That is why we work very closely with the Chef and the culinary team to ensure that our bots capture the right SOP and recipe as per the requirement. All our machines are cohort, so there is a human touch in operating a few buttons, minus the shortcoming of human intervention, i.e., the gap in SOP adherence”, he added.
Meenu emphasizes automation and digital tools can transform traditional processes. The use of industrial IoT and artificial intelligence in F&B activities can help achieve maximum potential via higher food safety levels, greater traceability, minimal food wastage because of better supply and demand management as well as lower risks and costs associated across various stages of processes and packaging, among other benefits. Additionally, automation frees workers from undertaking repetitive, monotonous, or dangerous tasks, whereby these resources can be redeployed for more gainful purposes.
Challenges and Future Scope
Whenever we plan for the bigger revolution, we have to be extra careful, the reason is its pros and cons. Automation in the food & beverages industry while having future scope has some challenges also. Yatin feels that the F&B industry has few major challenges, like; Maintaining the taste identity onset of high attrition, high fixed cost resulting in lower profit and food wastage due to unpredictability of orders. He says that Automation can help solve all three challenges. The robots can contribute to making consistent meals by following pre-programmed recipes. A perfect cooking robot is a little far from deployment right now. But, we will see a simpler robot with fixed functions deployed for repetitive tasks in the food service industry.
Anil says, Inovance has a full automation portfolio. It has helped a Northern-region-based manufacturer of form, fill & seal machines for granules and powders in the food & beverage industries to improve accuracy and quality control. The company helped their production capacity on many machines to up to 100 bags-per-minute without material and 80 bags-per-minute with the material – a significant improvement on previous performance. This required highly accurate paper pulling capabilities, close synchronization of all axes, and rapid switching of digital outputs through a 360o cycle. So, such facilities can be sorted out such challenges of automation in the food & beverages industry.
The food and beverages industry accounts for ~3% of India’s GDP and is the single largest employer, with more than a 7.3 million workforce. The nationwide lockdown set this industry on a downward spiral, with some predictions suggesting that nearly a quarter of all restaurants may shut down by the end of 2021, explained Dibyananda.
The industry has been adapting and innovating since the lockdown was lifted last time to offset these challenges and regain profitability. New service offerings and COVID hygiene protocols are emerging to gain customer confidence and lift revenues. Stimulating demand by Ensuring a low human touch environment with Automation as far as possible for placing food orders to cooking food and pick up, he added.
Meenu also emphasized the pandemic condition and its impact on the F&B industry. An immediate challenge is the devastating impact of the pandemic. Due to this unprecedented crisis that has resulted in national lockdowns and the closure of many businesses, the F&B industry has been badly bruised. Profitably manufacturing food, beverages, and pharmaceutical products that meet the necessary quality and compliance requirements at the right price point for a market is key to the F&B industry. However, rapidly changing demands, product and operational consistency across multiple sites are some of the key challenges faced by F&B manufacturers today.
He also said that gaps in supply chain infrastructure which means inadequate primary processing, storage and distribution facilities; lack of connection between production and processing; seasonality of operations and low capacity utilizations are added pain points.
Future of Automation in Food & Beverages Industry
With digitalisation at the centre, the F&B sector could be completely transformed. The services can be made more customer-centric and personalised while health and safety protocols are standardised and operations become less labour intensive.
Meenu says, transformative change can come by reducing waste – a major problem in the F&B industry worldwide. For instance, considering the short shelf life of specific foods, supply chain waste is a common problem. Also, products can end up as waste due to oversupply. But supply and demand can be managed more efficiently through automation.
While providing the solution of such issues, he says, a food-specific ERP system can offer accurate data regarding stock requirements as per the real-time demand. Such an ERP system could also prevent a lack of inventory level alignment and aid in reducing the chain’s carbon trail by limiting travel across the supply chain. Finally, minimising the human element across varied processes and touchpoints in the F&B supply chain will make it easier to control the quality of food as well as limit safety and contamination concerns. Automation can augment line efficiency while maximising the usage of ingredients and increasing food safety, thereby lowering the chances of human-related errors.
Dibyananda feels, Kitchen Automation is a viable solution for Automation in dining spaces and kick-start and sustains the upcoming cloud kitchen culture in India. This is especially important when people are forced to stay at home and look forward to ordering food but are afraid of the risk of contamination.
He shared that, many clients of Mukunda Foods has been using both cloud kitchens and QSR, like have already been successfully using our robots in their kitchens to ensure consistency in dishes, making sure that recipes are followed to a tee, with perfectly timed actions and ingredients measured exactly. This will allow human employees to explore creative developments and pursue culinary expertise while assigning the cobots repetitive and exhaustive tasks such as flipping, Cooking, drying, mixing, etc. Additionally, they can focus on providing the best customer experience to the consumers, catering to their search for food that is delicious and safely made.
Anil believes, aside from the improvements to profitability that high-end automation brings, the COVID-19 pandemic has added a new dimension: the need to keep food factories running along social distancing lines. While the pandemic is, fortunately receding, we now expect that many food manufacturers will make contingency plans for future similar emergencies.
In the coming future, we will see the tremendous acceptance of automation. In many parts of India, we are already seeing the development and improvement of the F&B industry using automation. Automation is never going to be old because it is going to be revived by enhancing or attaching more services and facilities. There is no doubt that machines can work faster in lesser time than humans. It doesn’t mean that manpower will face challenges it will create proficiency among employees, accuracy and revenue of the company. There is an example of Amazon, which has already started deploying AI and automation systems and the rest is history. It has achieved unbelievable growth and growing continuously. If in-coming time, we also deploy automation in the food and beverages industry then the growth will be enormous.