Emerging technologies have infiltrated the food manufacturing industry. Offering the potential to make food production more efficient and safer than traditional methods, innovative types of technology are entering food manufacturing plants. While humans will never be completely eliminated from the food manufacturing process, new developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) are beneficial to the industry. Here is a look at a few of the new applications for this technology and how these advancements are poised to change the food manufacturing industry for the better.
Improving Food Sorting Processes
Since each fruit or vegetable is inherently unique, rigorous sorting procedures are necessary to ensure that quality control is maintained and that the appropriate products are selected for different purposes. Sorting food by size and quality has traditionally been a job undertaken strictly by humans, making it a time-consuming endeavor. However, there are many ways that artificial intelligence tools can be used to improve the food sorting process and speed up production. One example is TOMRA’s food sorting machines, which use machine-learning algorithms, X-rays, cameras, and near infrared (NIR) spectroscopy to analyze food products for sorting.
Due to the increased use of AI to sort food, human workers have more time for other tasks and the sorting process itself has become faster, as well. AI solutions have also resulted in higher yields and greater efficiency, as well as reduced food waste. For example, sorting out off-color tomatoes means that it is less likely that customers will reject them.
Enhancing Supply Chain Management
The use of AI-powered systems is another way to improve the food manufacturing process. As the result of increased demand from customers for full transparency in production processes and emerging food-safety regulations, effective supply chain management has become a priority for food manufacturing companies. AI tools can be used to track the transport of food products from the farm to the consumer, improving transparency for customers. These applications can also help with monitoring food safety and testing throughout with the production process. Furthermore, companies can use AI-fueled forecasting tools to better predict and manage pricing and inventory.
Monitoring Employee Hygiene
Employee hygiene is another significant issue in food manufacturing and the restaurant industry. AI solutions are being implemented in many restaurants and manufacturing plants to track employees’ compliance with personal hygiene standards using cameras. One example is those designed by the technology company KanKan. Using facial and object recognition tools, the cameras track workers to ensure that hats and face masks are worn, per food safety regulations. If any violations are discovered, the camera’s AI takes a screenshot for further review of the situation.
Ensuring Clean Processing Equipment
Ensuring that the equipment used to process food products is clean and properly maintained is another important food safety issue. Researchers at the University of Nottingham developed the Self-Optimizing-Clean-In-Place (SOCIP) system to conserve resources. By using AI tools to detect and monitor food debris via ultrasonic and optical fluorescence imaging, companies can save money and cut down on the amount of time that it takes to manually clean the processing equipment. Optimizing cleaning will help to ensure that manufacturing companies can meet food safety compliance standards easily and efficiently while saving money.
Increasing Efficiency in the Workplace
Augmented reality (AR) is another technological development that is moving into manufacturing settings on a more regular basis. AR is a technology wherein a digital image is overlaid on real-world environments, typically through a mobile device, tablet, or wearable devices like smart glasses. Such tools can help to improve the skill and efficiency of employees working in food manufacturing plants. They can also use AR to obtain real-time feedback and instruction from off-site technicians, which is particularly useful when installing new machinery or fixing problems with equipment. By leveraging off-site assistance from repair technicians, a problem that might have shut down a portion of a plant can be addressed by an on-site worker in consultation with an expert in less time and with no travel costs.
Collaboration platforms are often used for the purpose of sharing knowledge among employees. In addition, they can help companies to comply with quality audits and other required regulation auditing. Such software can streamline the process of gathering photographs and associated documentation, allowing information to be collected in the same place for easy retrieval, complete with labels and accompanying notes. This can reduce the time needed for an audit check from two to three hours down to 30 minutes.
The Future of Technology
Due to the introduction of new developments and technological tools in the food manufacturing sector, it seems likely that the industry will continue to adjust and change. Additionally, these shifts have the potential to improve the quality and efficiency of food manufacturing operations, benefiting people around the world.