Food Automation

Food AutomationAutomation or automatic control, is the use of various control systems for operating equipment such as machinery, processes in factories, boilers and heat treating ovens, switching on telephone networks, steering and stabilization of ships, aircraft and other applications and vehicles with minimal or reduced human intervention, with some processes have been completely automated. There are various means of achieving automation i.e. mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, electrical, electronic devices and computers. Usually all these means are used alone for simple systems and in combination for a more complicated system.

Automation is being adopted in the manufacturing plants since last 50 years and is growing day by day. The reason for such a revolution in the industrial automation is because of the exponential growth in computer hardware and software technology. The current level of automation in the food industry has been described as “islands of automation”. Food industry is becoming the fastest growing segments for plant automation. Food industry is growing at a tremendous rate and is one of the major sectors contributing to GDP. The demand of processed goods is increasing day by day with changing lifestyle and increased buying power. This has made it necessary for the food industry to adopt automation in processing to enhance the rate of processing for meeting consumer demands.

Food AutomationFood producers have to maintain high quality standards and to make profits while providing better products, automation is the best fit. The need to automate the industries can be understood by the various benefits it provides in terms of improved productivity, improved quality and improved profitability. Improved productivity as the number of units manufactured will be much higher in automated system than in case of manual system. Improved quality as the incidents of error will be reduced to a much lower value because of lesser human intervention and human errors. The same job can now be done in a shorter time these factors combined lead to improved profitability to the firm. Also there will be fewer burdens on the human labor and their efficiency in doing the job will improve. Also they can be assigned other works.

Food industry is highly labor intensive so reducing the labor cost lead to great profits. The examples of automation in food industry are automatic evaluation of the quality of the finished products and packaging with the help of computer vision systems which otherwise require manual observation (which is very hectic and cumbersome), exact measurement of quantity of the product being filled with automated monitoring systems, monitoring ripening of cheese, etc. Automation in food industry is based on the physical characteristics of the food. Foods which can be handles in bulk are quite easy to be automated. Dairy industry is the most automated because milk is handled in bulk and is readily adaptable to automation.

Automation works on the basis of various tools which have human-computer interface as their main platform. The major automation tools that are employed in the industry are ANN – Artificial neural network, DCS – Distributed Control System, HMI – Human Machine Interface, SCADA – Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, PLC – Programmable Logic Controller, Instrumentation, Motion control and Robotics. Computer vision system is also one of the major tools for automation which aids in proper procurement, processing and packaging.

Human-machine interfaces (HMI) or computer human interfaces (CHI), formerly known as man-machine interfaces, are usually employed to communicate with PLCs and other computers. There is service personnel required to monitor, communicate and control through these interfaces. In the processing/ manufacturing section, these service personnel are called operators while in the electrical or other utilities work like in boiler houses these may be called as stationary engineers.

We need some system to check the performance of automation system as well with respect to some of the factory standards. For that testing software is used. Host Simulation Software (HSS) is one of the testing tools that are used to monitor the performance of the automation software. The Factory Automation standards with respect to which equipment performance is checked are, timeouts, response time, and processing time and HSS helps in testing the software against these standards.

Automation provides many advantages that lead to improved productivity, quality and profitability. Automation systems are installed wherever we require reduced cycle times, high degree of accuracy, replacing human labor in hard physical tasks and also in places that require working in dangerous places (like very high temperature etc.), reducing the operation time and work handling time and Providing higher level jobs for manpower in the development, deployment, maintenance and running of the automated processes.

Repeatability is also one of the major benefits of automation. With the similar operating software we can acquire similar degree of performance in manufacturing plants situated at different far away locations. This will give uniformity in quality of the food products and enhance customer belief and satisfaction. Another advantage of automation is visibility. It is a totally transparent system and we can trace back in case of any discrepancy or any fault.

Conclusion:

Automation has reached far beyond the goals of improving productivity, and quality. Engineers can now have numerical control over the automated devices. However it has some disadvantages as well. The major disadvantage of automation systems is the high installation cost. The Research and development costs are very high for developing an automation process which may even suppress the savings in terms of improved productivity if used for a short product range and a short span of time. Automating a new plant takes a huge amount of money initially, however it can be spread over a large product range for more benefits.

Another major disadvantage is the security threats as any automated system is designed to act within its limited knowledge and is liable to make errors outside its scope of knowledge as it cannot think logically. So, these systems are highly vulnerable. Also some properties of the food like randomness in shape, size and also some microbial factors affect the application of the automation technology. Apart from the limitations automation has a great scope in the food industry as the need for processed foods is increasing day by day and can help the food industry a great deal in meeting the consumer demands.

SRS of ICAR-NDRI, Bangalore, 560030
*Email ID: rnakj1992@gmail.com

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Food Marketing & Technology is a monthly magazine published by L.B. Associates Pvt Ltd

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