My, how things have changed in the past two years. Prior to March 2020, we had a robust economy, full employment, no supply chain issues to speak of, low inflation and we were poised for years of prosperity for all. Today, we have continued COVID-related issues, worker shortages, inflation at a 40-year high and supply chain issues that are impacting everything from consumer goods to industrial products. So, what does the future hold?
While I’m not sure I can predict the future, I can share some insights or solutions that should help many manufacturing companies in the food processing industry overcome a few of the obstacles that they will face in the coming months and years.
First, COVID continues to be a part of our daily lives as we enter 2022. It will likely be with us for many years to come, as it migrated from “pandemic” status to “endemic” status — meaning that it will be similar to the flu and become more seasonal with infection and frequency.
Second, the supply chain shortages that we are experiencing today will likely be around through the balance of 2022 and extend into 2023. As such, it is key to develop and strengthen your relationship with those distribution partners who are “best in class” and also have leverage with the manufacturers of the products necessary to keep your plant running. So partner with the best distributors available that can not only provide you products, but also bring “solutions” to the table.
Third, the worker shortages and wage increases being experienced today are here to stay. We have all heard about the “Great Resignation,” and we have all experienced an unprecedented increase in operating costs due to increased wages, which are necessary to compete in the tight labor market. One way to combat both is to increase the automation level in your facilities.
I can assure you that every food processing plant has automation opportunities. Some may be small and require nothing more than a simple cobot to help pick and place items, while others may be a fully automated production line incorporating many different automation technologies including robotic, linear motion, sortation, vision inspection and more. In each case, when you automate, you typically improve throughput and quality, while at the same time reducing cost and time to produce the final product.
I suggest a simple routine that might put you on the right path to automation in your facility. First, take a look at the areas in the production facility where you have high turnover in people and/or unstable quality of finished goods. These are two indicators of areas typically prime for automation. Go through a routine that answers these questions: Can I eliminate the step in the process? Can I combine the step in the process with another? Or can I automate the step in the process, eliminating a job that people do not enjoy doing, costs a considerable amount of money to employ people to do, and produces an inferior or unacceptable product on a regular basis?
Answering these questions will lead you to finding the best automation solution for your application. That solution will increase your productivity, improve your product quality, reduce operating expense, deal directly with today’s labor shortage issues and prepare you for success tomorrow.
So please don’t wait! These issues are with us for quite some time to come. There is no better time than today to automate.