Introduction:

Automation can be defined as “the creation and application of technology to monitor and control the production and delivery of products and services.” It is the innovation of technology and its application in order to control & monitor the production and delivery of various goods and services by performing the tasks that were previously performed by humans. 

In a number of areas such as manufacturing, transport, utilities, defence, facilities, operations and lately, Information Technology; Automation implementation improves productivity greatly, saving time and cutting costs. In short, it’s the technology by which a process or procedure is performed with minimal or reduced human assistance.

Automation plays a vital role in accelerating and integrating manufacturing processes, enhancing the quality of life; ensuring the reliability, efficiency, safety, constant improvement and competitiveness of an industry as a whole that enables it to advance into the future.

Evolution:

Automation is evolving quickly and Business Intelligence in many advanced applications is a new form of high-quality automation. According to industry experts, the people/organisations that proactively align their skill set to match the fast-changing changing industry demands are likely to succeed more in transitioning into the ‘future workforce’.

The term automation, inspired by the earlier word automatic (coming from automaton) was coined in the Automobile Industry in about 1946 to describe the increased use of automatic devices and controls in mechanized production lines. The origin of the word is attributed to D.S. Harder was an engineering manager at the Ford Motor Company at the time. The term is used widely in a manufacturing context, but it is also applied outside manufacturing in connection with a variety of systems in which there is a significant substitution of mechanical, electrical, or computerized action for human effort and intelligence.

Although the term automation is often used to refer to the simple replacement of human labour by machines, in general, it implies the integration of machines into a self-governing system.

In usage, automation can be defined as a technology performing a process by means of programmed commands with automatic feedback control to ensure proper execution of the preset instructions. The resulting system is capable of operating without or less human intervention.

Consequently, Automated Systems have become increasingly sophisticated and complex. Advanced systems represent a level of capability and performance that surpass in many ways the abilities of humans to accomplish the same activities.

Benefits:

Automation includes higher production rate and increased productivity, more efficient use of materials, better product quality & improved safety. Higher output and increased productivity have been two of the biggest reasons for justifying the use of automation. 

Despite the claims of high quality from good workmanship by humans, automated systems typically perform the Manufacturing Process with less variability in comparison to human workers resulting in greater control and consistency of product quality. Also, increased process control makes more efficient use of materials.

Worker safety is one of the major reasons for automating an industrial operation. Automated systems often remove workers from life-threatening workplaces, thus safeguarding them against the hazards of the factory environment. 

Another benefit of automation is the time required to process a typical production order through the factory is reduced with automation.

Automation in the Confectionery Industry:

Automation in the Confectionery Industry or anywhere else basically means utilizing the equipment that is capable to complete tasks automatically or program the machinery in such a way that it performs the tasks according to our requirements to generate the needed output. Generating the required output expects foolproof and trouble-free after the completion of the manufacturing process. And the Science of Automation has been able to cater to the needs of the global market and never-ending consumer preferences.

Expansion of Confectionery and Candy Processing Plants: 

Globally, many Confectionery and Candy Processing Companies are engaging in the expansion of their Plants along with their production capacities into new markets all over the world to increase their sales and profits. Such expansions strive to increase the demand for Confectionery and Candy Processing Equipment and drive the market for new installations during the forecast period.

The latest market research report by Technavio on the Global Confectionery and Candy Processing Equipment Market predicts a CAGR of close to 7% during the period 2018-2022.

The objective to shift towards Automation:

The emergence of new competitors, as well as technological advancements,  makes it clear that the Confectionery Manufacturing Companies need to invest in processing automation.

With global demand for Sweets & Confectionery on the rise in emerging economies, Confectionery Manufacturers tend to increase output through technology that advances efficiency, precision and speed.

Improved machinery with new features and enhanced capabilities that maximize precision is one way to increase efficiency. An instance includes highly accurate chocolate spray applicators and machines that can place more product per square foot during the Chocolate Enrobing Process. These technologies are in high demand in future.

Larger Confectionery Manufacturing Companies are focusing on building new production lines or even new facilities, but smaller manufacturers may want to look to flexible equipment or consider updating a line to accommodate rapid growth over the next few years.

When it comes to Food Manufacturing, automation is a huge success. It has greatly reduced the human effort and also produced faster and more accurate results in a much shorter time compared to the traditional manufacturing process. This has brought about a change in the manufacturing processes. Automation combined with robotics is a science that is more preferred by manufacturers in recent times. 

Technologies in Automation:

Robotic Systems date back to over decades for successful application in a vast range of industrial sectors. The increase in demand for a Hygienic Food Manufacturing Process, purity of product quality and food security have demanded a change in the traditional Automation processes and this formed the major reason for replacing human operators with programmed machines during the production process. This led to the development and adoption of various Automation Technologies, Go through to know the What & Why of a few of them as follows:

 a) Gripper Technology:

Natural foods like vegetables and fruits come in different shapes, sizes, textures and nature. Human hand efficiently mould them into accurate sizes and placement of them in various other mixes prior to the initiation of the automation process. During the making of Sandwiches, cutting the tomato and cucumber slices accurately and placing them together was the main difficulty. All thanks to Davis Et Al who solved this problem by developing a  hygienic non-contact gripper solution based on the Bernoulli principle. This gripper machine met the requirement of achieving full operational speed during the production process. This concept is now popular in the Food Manufacturing Sector.

b) Sensor Technology:

Through Manual operation, humans had the advantage of assembling the products, checking for quality and sorting those products; that do not belong to the process of packaging. The Automated systems took up the duty of performing all these actions without human supervision in the production line. The quality of the throughput at every single phase in this process happens through automated machines. This is performed basically by the Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology which is fully capable of this process. These sensors are easily integrated with the production management systems and are very immune to functional factors such as pressure, temperature, fluid etc. These sensors can easily be planted and replaced when necessary. They are interconnected with other signal transmitters and measuring instruments which in turn operate the device that’s part of the Automated equipment.

c) Machine Vision:

Vision is one of the basic ways through which humans can recognize and understand objects. Recognition is equally important to computers as it is to humans especially when it comes to the Manufacturing Process in Food Industries. Machine vision is one technology that was expected to last long because of its good number of applications in different parts of the Industry such as medicine and transport making use of various inter-related techniques such as Shape analysis, object location, texture analysis and Image Processing to identify the quality and strength of the product before it is transported for further processing and quality checks.

d) Optical Sensors and Spectroscopy:

The Food Processing Industry needs expert food quality monitoring equipment and techniques. They need to be accurate, cost-effective, fast and safe. Optical sensing and spectroscopic techniques meet the requirements and they are also used as automated systems. Spectroscopic Techniques use lights and dispersion concepts radiated onto the surface of the products; to measure the dispersion in terms of UV, IR, Raman and NIR Spectroscopy. Detector elements and wavelength filter devices simultaneously record these. Spectroscopic Techniques in the Food Industry are mainly to check the quality, Authenticity, composition and adulteration. The fibre optic techniques check emulsification, fat concentration and quality.

Automation in Industries:

The main purpose of Automation is to increase productivity; as these automated machines are functional for quite a long period of time in comparison to Humans who need to rest after work. But now the quality and speed of the Manufacturing Process are more important. Intelligent monitoring and control of the entire Food Manufacturing Process are necessary to ensure flexibility and effective operation. Few such Industries that make use of Automation to the maximum extent are as follows:

a) Bulk Sorting in Food Industry

The main purpose of sorting is to judge the quality of the product. And when it comes to Bulk sorting, the process is time-consuming and needs round the clock operation to sort out hundreds of tonnes of material. This type of sorting would only be possible through Automation. The technique used here is Optical Sorting. Here the definition of quality of the food stream is in terms of permissible limits of defects. The permissible limit for defects varies from category to category. Here an optical sorting machine checks the product streams for any such defects and removes them.

b) Automatic food chilling and freezing

Freezing or refrigeration slows down the changes that occur in the food. The changes can be at the microbial level; which can lead to the growth of microorganisms. Or it can be at the chemical level; which can lead to Oxidation. And also at the physical level; which causes ripening or moisture loss of the food.  Effective automated freezing equipment provides the best environment to prevent or slow down these changes which can increase the shelf life of the product. For example, Gill and Penny famous scientists mentioned in their book “Principles of Modified Atmosphere” mentioned that a lamb if cut into pieces and stored in a fridge at -20 Centigrade, can be consumed for 23 weeks.

c) Meat Processing

Butchering is a tough task and also physically tiring for the people who do it. There are also high chances of foreign particles and micro-organisms entering the meat; either through the employees or through the surroundings. This could cause production loss and would be an extra financial burden for the Industry. Hence the best alternative to this problem is to replace human labour with machines in the Processing plant. This reduces risk and improves quality and production rates.

d) Confectionery Industry

The manufacturing process, as well as the packaging process; is necessary to increase the rate of production and safety of the food products; to enable Automation in the Confectionery Industry. Though the Confectionery products manufacturing accomplishes through automation; the packaging happens in the traditional manual method. This packaging by hand mostly results in wastage and hygiene issues. By updating to Automation of Packaging in the Confectionery Industry, these problems reduce to a large extent.   

e) Thermal Processing of Canned Foods

Thermal Processing of Canned Foods kills any micro-organisms that enter the food even after the basic processing. This is the use of various heat treatments above the boiling point of water for different categories of food. The Automated equipment used by most Industries for the thermal processing of foods is able to accomplish the task. And is also efficient in extending the processing time; if any deviations occur even if it is at the lowest point.

Responsibilities of a Site & Process Automation Engineer in the Confectionery Industry:

A site & process automation engineer in the confectionery industry has many responsibilities. One of their most important responsibilities is to develop and implement systems; that automate various production processes. This can involve developing software programs that control machinery; designing mechanical systems that integrate with existing machinery, or a combination of both. Another key responsibility is; to ensure the maintenance & smooth operation of all automated systems. This includes troubleshooting any issues that may arise; performing regular maintenance tasks, and making upgrades or modifications as needed.

In addition to automation-related duties, a Site & Process Automation Engineer also often takes on other general engineering tasks. For example, they may be responsible for conducting feasibility studies; to determine if a proposed project is viable, designing new production lines or manufacturing facilities, overseeing construction projects; or managing the overall operations of a production facility. As such, they must have a broad knowledge of different engineering disciplines; and be able to effectively communicate with other engineers and technicians.

Conclusion:

Automation Technology, if used wisely and effectively, can yield substantial opportunities for the future. There is an opportunity to relieve humans from repetitive, hazardous, and unpleasant labour in all forms for future automation technologies; to provide a growing social and economic environment; in which humans can enjoy a higher Standard of Living and a better way of life.

Adopting real-time Automated techniques and optimizing the existing practices in the Food Manufacturing Industry; enhance the ability of the production. Automation enhances the sustainability of the food processing industry in the most effective and profitable way.

Freelance Site & Process Automation Engineers from fieldengineer.com offer their effective services in the setup & implementation of Automation irrespective of the Industry. The freelance field engineer’s expertise helps many industries in automating the processes as per the requirement. And helps to meet future business challenges.