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Why Automate? Part 3

In our previous blogs in the Why Automate? Series, we focused on the improved product quality and consistency of throughput that you get when upgrading from manual to automated processes, as well as the optimization you can expect in productivity and speed.

Now we’re going to take a look at how automation can make your production environments safer and reduce workplace injuries.

First of all, robots are very effective at performing unsafe, hazardous, highly repetitive and unpleasant tasks. Some common tasks they perform include material handling, assembly, welding, machine tool load and unload functions, and painting.

SDC10520They may handle riskier jobs like working with high-speed mechanisms that could injure a worker, or mundane, highly repetitive tasks that can result in repetitive-stress injuries in humans. They can also handle tasks like welding where there is a shortage of qualified workers.

Automating risky and highly repetitive tasks results in:

  • fewer workplace injuries, including stress-related injuries such as carpel tunnel syndrome;
  • lower insurance and medical costs;
  • fewer workers’ compensation and liability issues;
  • and less downtime for employees to recover from injuries.

When workers are less stressed and tired because the riskier or more difficult or unpleasant jobs have been automated, they also are more productive, have better morale and their quality of work often improves.

Let’s take a look at the food manufacturing industry, one of the fastest growing sectors for robotics today, to get an idea of how automation can make a big difference when it comes to safety.

The Difference Robots Can Make in Food Manufacturing

According to a recent white paper released by the FDA and the USDA, the use of robots in food manufacturing plants not only reduces injuries to workers but can make our food safer by reducing foodborne illnesses.

The two government entities reveal in the paper that a large majority of the estimated 76 million cases of foodborne illness that occur annually in the United States are actually a direct result of the contamination of food by foodhandlers in food processing facilities. Transient foodborne microbes are introduced from infected humans who handle the food, or from cross contamination from some other raw food product that a human recently handled. Food contamination can also occur when human hair, skin, nails, or other materials are found in food, the paper said.

While it’s difficult to replace human operators in the industry because of their dexterity and adaptive visual, mechanical and decision making capabilities, the paper said that in today’s high-speed repetitive operations in modern day food processing and packaging, human operators begin to show their weaknesses. That’s because food processing plants often require long shifts, typically in temperatures above or below normal room temperature.

“Human performance (both physical and mental) will degrade with the onset of fatigue. This will affect the overall performance efficiency of the production line and the risk increases that mental errors will cause further quality or sanitation problems,” the white paper said. Also, long durations performing repetitive tasks can lead to bodily injury, which will cause lost work time and potential increased expenses.

It’s also hard to keep workers in some food manufacturing jobs because of the unpleasant nature of their tasks or working conditions.

The first robots for direct food handling were introduced in the baking industry in the early 1990s, and even though primary food packaging was slow to automate, today automation is credited with improving quality in sanitary food processing and packaging. The right robotic system can greatly enhance sanitary conditions and overall productivity of the involved process, according to the USDA and FDA paper.

To learn more about how MESH can design, build and program a custom, automated solution for your production line, give us a call today.