Robots and Food Processing: Are You Ready For a New Job?

As the food processing industry digitizes, facilities are introducing more automation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and machine learning.

As the food processing industry digitizes, facilities are introducing more automation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and machine learning.

This opens up opportunities for qualified people entering the industry for the first time.  This is an opportunity to lead production facilities into the future by using your abilities to pick up and navigate new technologies quickly.

As businesses transition from pen and paper to the use of digital tools, there are improved opportunities to collect data.  Access to so much information is relatively new to food production businesses, and many are unsure what to do with it.

So, where does this leave you?

Factories have a lot of data that is being underused

The ability to analyze and understand large amounts of data is a valuable skill that can be applied in many jobs. Food safety, continuous improvement, and manufacturing efficiency benefit from knowing how to use data. Freezer temperatures, line speeds, the amount of product created the amount of waste, product movement, and the number of times a piece of equipment needs cleaning are examples of data that can be used to improve operational efficiency and help to control costs.

Ultimately, analytics can be used to drive profitability. Today there are so many possibilities of what can be tracked. Inventory, for example, can be tracked and used as a way to reduce food waste. How?  Data can provide insight into historical and current inventory levels. If a facility has a product sitting for an extended period of time, systems using data can notify the production team that something needs to be done before the product goes bad.

Food safety also benefits from digitalization

The digitalization of food safety is already having a positive impact on the agri-food industry as a whole. Food traceability is the ability to follow the movement of a food product and its ingredient from farm to fork. Traceability requires volumes of documentation that specifies where produce is located at each stage of production, processing, and distribution. In the past, food tracing was done via paperwork- that’s a lot of paperwork! The biggest problem with that is that documents can get loss and adulterated. Switching to a digital format solves these problems.

Going digital is a game changer for food safety. For example, if a product is recalled, it is faster to go through digital audits and food safety experts quickly recall foods – reducing the risk of consumers getting sick. Being digitally savvy is an asset. It is a skill set that is beneficial to all aspects of the industry.   Finding ways to emphasize this on your resume is a great way to wow potential employers.

Food Factories and Robotics

Being able to navigate technology isn’t just limited to navigating software but hardware as well. In the food processing industry, hardware often comes in the form of machines and robotics.

Robots are changing the face of the food and beverage sector. Simply search “food factory compilation” on YouTube to see hundreds of crazy and fascinating robots preparing our foods. This isn’t the future, it’s happening now. A lot of people are concerned that robots are going to replace our jobs, and this simply isn’t true. Instead, robots are changing the *types*of jobs we are doing and leading to the creation of others.

The appeal of machines to employers and workers is that they can take over the difficult and unpleasant tasks that humans do not want to do. Using robotics to replace more physically or mentally demanding tasks is a benefit for all.

For example, manually sorting produce in a production line can be mentally tiring. Sorting requires a high level of concentration and is difficult to maintain for a long period of time. Robots, on the other hand, are capable of performing this type of work with high levels of precision and by taking over these more demanding jobs, people can focus on more mentally stimulating roles like operating, maintaining and applying the automation.

As we continue into the future, we should expect that people are going to work collaboratively with machines. Some individuals will be working in the manufacturing plant doing complex tasks while others will directly work on creating and developing robots.

This opens up new career opportunities, such as:

Mechanical Engineers
These professionals design and create mechanical devices such as robots. It is a gratifying job to create tools that can copy what humans can do. Mechanical engineers choose materials and perform tests to make sure that robots function as intended. A bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering is usually required, as well as licensing. 

Computer Programmers
Machines and robotics require computer programming to run. Computer programmers design and test programs. Software can be created to help machines handle, palletize, pack and even serve food. Computer programmers are also responsible for fixing code if something goes wrong with a robot’s programming. A bachelor’s degree in a discipline such as computer science is typically needed for this career.

Robotics Technician
If something goes wrong with a machine on the manufacturing floor, facilities need professionals who know how to fix the problem on site. A robotics technician is an entry-level role that focuses on the day-to-day maintenance of robots on the manufacturing floor. However, many factory workers also know how to perform these duties as well as part of their skill set.

Robotics Integrator
How a piece of equipment fits within a manufacturing facility requires a special job. Businesses need to plan the space and determine how it fits together with other equipment in the facility. A robotics integrator evaluates, designs, and implements plans for equipment installation.

Training needed for robotics

The way someone gets into these jobs is not cut and paste. There are several pathways someone can take to build up the skills and education needed to navigate the robotics space.

Ontario Colleges has a page dedicated to showing what someone can expect from a career in Robotics, Automation and Electromechanical Engineering.   Robotics programs are available at the following colleges:

There are many exciting careers coming with this shift in the use of technology. As time goes on, there will be even more new, technology jobs.

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