A business needs all of its components to operate together seamlessly because of stiff competition and tight margins in the food industry. You need skilled labor, the right types of equipment, strict quality control, an attractive brand, and effective management practices. You also need to abide by the many regulations and laws regarding safe production and food handling.
The challenges associated with running a food business can grow if you achieve success. For example, demand can increase during specific seasons or because of particular events and trends. Such a spike could leave you needing to increase production while maintaining quality and brand integrity.
Changes to production or distribution can also affect the thin margins that many food businesses have. However, adding to your workforce or procuring additional supplies on short notice can hurt your bottom line even if you are selling more products.
Some companies have turned to specialized software and hardware to deal with such challenges.
Automation can help with efficiency, scalability, and quality control. Though computerization is becoming more commonplace in different industries, some in the food sector remain skeptical because of the hands-on approach that they are familiar with and have used to build their brands.
Despite this mindset, it can be difficult to ignore the positives. Automation can help companies achieve better results with fewer workers. Automated systems can take care of many of the inconsistencies and human errors that cause problems for food companies.
What else can automation do for your food business? Here are some areas where automation can help in the food industry.
Traceability is one of the most significant benefits of automation. Automation, especially when coupled with analytics, can improve the traceability of raw materials and foods from the field all the way to order fulfillment.
Automated tracing systems monitor and track foods with virtually no manual input, and so it’s easy to see what’s happening at any point on the supply, production, and delivery chains.
Having this type of data at your fingertips is hugely important when it comes to companies that deal with perishable products that they need to produce quickly to maximize shelf life.
Data from tracing software can also help you improve supply chain management by weeding out inefficiencies and unnecessary expenses. Furthermore, if there is a problem during any part of the supply, production, and delivery process, you will have the data on hand to figure out what went wrong. In some cases, quality automation software can even help you spot potential problems before they occur.
Traceability is also vital for ensuring compliance with regulations. With the right data collection system, you can collect the information that you need to prove compliance.
A food business has many moving parts, and automation can help them work better together. There are many different touchpoints in the supply, production, and distribution processes, and you need adequate quality control at every step along the way.
This challenge is especially crucial because quality is the primary way that food companies differentiate themselves from the competition. A serious misstep, such as allowing contaminated food to reach the end consumer, can irreparably harm a company’s brand reputation.
With the right automation systems and food processing equipment, it gets easier to notice issues earlier in the supply or production processes. Detecting problems right away helps companies avoid more-severe issues later on.
Automation also makes it possible to determine where a specific problem started accurately. Once you define the weak point, you can figure out how to deal with the issue and prevent it from happening in the future.
Automated equipment makes it easy to standardize the food production process. Every single product goes through the same procedures from start to end.
Machines are precise, which helps keep everything standard in a way that is difficult to achieve with humans. Quality becomes reproducible from one sample to the next with automation, and successful quality control becomes an achievable goal.
Automation cannot replace safety training and skilled workers, but it can improve workplace safety.
For one thing, automation systems and equipment can perform, monitor, or control dangerous tasks and limit the dangers that workers have to face. Workers can keep their distance from aspects of production that could lead to injury. For example, a continuously operating dicer and slicer could handle cutting tasks that would be difficult for a human to perform with precision at such a high level of output.
While all companies strive for safe work environments, the extra safety provided by automated systems can help reduce costs overall because companies do not have to respond as often to workplace injuries.
Increased efficiency is probably one of the clearest benefits of automation in the food business.
When developed and deployed correctly, automation can help your business move better and faster than it would if it relied solely on human workers. Time often matters in the food business, and more efficient operations can improve quality, limit waste, and increase your profits by lowering operational costs. Industrial ovens with integrated belt systems allow larger-scale food processing to take place in a smaller area, with less need for human management or direct contact with the food. The more automation you employ, the fewer points of direct contact and potential delay, variability, or downtime you create.
One of the most significant areas of misunderstanding about automation is that it requires you to replace human workers with machines. Automation does not mean that you could – or should – entirely replace your workforce. Instead, modern automation systems and machines can work alongside human laborers, helping them create more efficient processes.
Food businesses rely on the integrity of their brands to acquire and keep customers. Brand image is critical in this industry, where companies have similar products that get put on shelves right next to one another.
Part of the strength of a food vendor’s brand lies in its ability to maintain its quality. For one, customers choose brands because they know they are safe. Furthermore, they assume that a product will give them the same taste, texture, or other characteristics each time they consume it.
Automation can ensure that the process is, as much as possible, uniform and that it always produces the same result. This consistency is what consumers expect from all food brands.
Automation can also help you improve specific aspects of your company’s image. For example, if you want to show your customers that you have a sustainable operation, you can use automation to increase the environmentally-friendliness of your kitchen.
The food industry can change rapidly. Automation helps food businesses be nimbler and more adaptive to change.
Whereas human workers often have to be retrained to adapt to new systems, digital automation systems are easier to repurpose. If laws or industry standards change, then software or hardware adjustments can put you back into compliance quickly.
Perhaps more importantly, automated systems are easy to scale up and down. If you need more products because of increased demand during a specific season, then you can simply adjust your systems. Being able to adjust output quickly can help you create more or less without affecting the number of people that you employ.
In this way, automation can help preserve jobs because employees will not lose jobs during periods of slow production.