Robots used in the confectionery industry today are being supported by smarter software that can increase producers’ capacities but also maintain product quality, writes Editor Caitlin Gittins
What do we mean when we discuss smart manufacturing? How can a ‘lights out’ factory be possible? And where does Industry 4.0 fall into the confectionery industry? Sometimes these concepts can prove tricky to translate into the entire production process, whether this is monitoring chocolate refining and parameters such as humidity levels or picking and placing chocolate pralines before they’re packed. Sorting through what this can mean for the confectionery industry reveals a greater drive towards smart software, flexible manufacturing and robust robots to meet fast moving trends and consumer demands.
The global chocolate market is expected to reach a whopping US$133 billion by 2023, and $196 billion by 2032. These kinds of figures mean serious business – and a market that is continuing to grow. Labour shortages and issues around labour retention have driven the growth of automated solutions, robots included, as producers look for solutions to a reduced pool of manual pickers and packers as well as skilled operators.
Industry 4.0 can fall under a number of categories today. Automated production, data-driven decision-making and robotics all represent the areas manufacturers are focusing on to achieve the dream of a smarter, sleeker, more sophisticated factory. The concept of the lights out factory has transformed from a dream into a more tangible scenario, as large-scale manufacturing oversees completely automated production lines coupled with sophisticated software and robots to create a factory that does not need human intervention or supervision.
As a concept, the lights out factory can appear pretty lofty and out of reach for producers – but in actuality, developments undertaken by machinery manufacturers have made this more possible. The application of sensors and controls to chocolate refining, for instance, can go a long way and has been demonstrated by the Hamburg Dresdner Maschinenfabriken (HDM) Group in utilising RGB technology to enable automatic adjustment of refining and provide autonomous refining. In incorporating this technology to chocolate refining, the Group explained that these smart sensors can create valuable sources of data for customers – on anything from automatic refining to humidity monitoring during the roasting process to ensure consistent product quality throughout.
Trends towards healthy chocolate, premium indulgence and plant-based products, to name a few, have meant producers have responded in kind through flexible product portfolio lines and pivoting towards products that will hold greater sway over consumers. Coupled with fluctuating seasonal demand for chocolates, and the need for a solution that will enable agile manufacturing has become more obvious. Where trends such as reduced sugar and plant-based products were the niche of a few historically, today companies recognise the importance of these growing markets and adapting their product lines accordingly.
Where robots fit
Where can robots fit in? Robots are applied well to fast moving consumer goods industries where evolving consumer needs and demands require flexible manufacturing. Product quality, increased capacity and reduced operating costs are what have been drawing producers to using robots in their production lines for decades now.
They encompass a number of tasks relevant to the confectionery industry – namely, picking and placing, packaging and palletising. Robots have operated in the confectionery industry for several years now and their involvement in industrial production more generally dates back to the 1950s. Now, it has become a matter of refining the processes robots are applied…
Stay up-to-date on the latest industry news and exclusives in our magazine.