Impression of Food Processing hall at Anuga Foodtec 2024 with a food processing robot in the foreground

Food industry must move towards flexible mobile robots and sensor fusion

8 April 2024

Vision + Robotics’ Paul Goethals recently visited the Anuga FoodTec trade fair in Cologne, Germany. This trade fair focuses on innovations for food and beverage processing and production. Although vision and robotics are playing an increasing and crucial role in this, Goethals still feels that ‘WUR is closer to the front than the industry’. He explains why.

From line production to flexible mobile robots

“At the Anuga FoodTec trade fair, I mostly saw examples of automation and robotisation of production lines: static lines with conveyor belts and machines focused on batch production of large batches of food and meals. You will still find many static robots performing pre-programmed operations. These robots cannot cope with changing recipes and conditions. Because of (rapidly) changing consumer behaviour, resulting in a more varied product range in the supermarket, producers need to move towards (much) shorter production batches. Much shorter and more flexible production lines are needed. Long static production lines are not flexible enough and changeover times are too long. This puts pressure on a company’s flexibility and profitability. I see flexible mobile robot systems emerging to, for example, compose and process different salad meals with changing ingredients. ‘Wheel in – wheel out’ in trade terms, to be able to use the robots in different locations on the factory floor. Such robots are no longer pre-programmed, but self-thinking and -learning based on artificial intelligence (AI). They ‘step in’ wherever they are needed at the time. And they are also able to independently pick up the necessary tools and grippers when the production process demands it.”

Internal supply soon also autonomous

“Although this was not yet on show at Anuga FoodTec 2024, in the future we will go even one step further if you ask me. Besides a flexible and robotised production system, I also expect to see the internal supply of components and ingredients happening autonomously. Supply is fully automated with autonomous vehicles: AGVs (automated guided vehicles) or actually AMRs (autonomous mobile robots) if you like. Robotics ensures just-in-time supply, processing products and putting together meals. While the vision component ensures that the robots can do their job and that ingredients and the finished product are checked for quality and for the presence of unwanted objects (foreign objects). Vision is indispensable in agrifood, because no product is the same. But that switch to robots with vision and AI has yet to fully take place in the industry.”

Sensor fusion

“To make optimal use of vision and further increase its reliability, I expect a lot from sensor fusion: combining (fusing) the information from different vision devices and other sensors. For example, the closure of packaging is automatically checked with NIR (Near InfraRed spectroscopy), while detecting bone debris and glass or metal particles works very well with X-ray equipment. If you combine that with a hyperspectral camera or, recently, microwaves, you can further enrich the data obtained. This allows you to achieve better results and greater reliability. Vision + Robotics can help companies with this. Also in the field of 3D computer vision, by the way. 2D is still very common in the industry, but with 3D technology and our knowledge we can determine the shape characteristics of (fast) moving agrifood products and also reconstruct them digitally for sorting or packaging processes.”

Photo in header: © Koelnmesse GmbH, Anuga FoodTec, Oliver Wachenfeld

Paul Goethals Vision Robotics

ir. PHI (Paul) Goethals MSc

Business Development Manager

Categories: FoodTags: , ,

Contact ir. PHI (Paul) Goethals MSc