Struggling to Staff the Third Shift? Combat Labor Shortages with These Automation Solutions

As labor market woes continue, adopting some degree of automation is no longer optional for companies looking to remain agile and equipped to meet future consumer demands.

Even industries that historically haven’t struggled with labor shortages are now finding it challenging to hire staff. With a peak record of 11.3 million jobs open in January 2022 and not enough workers available, more manufacturers are turning to robotics to fill the gaps.

In fact, U.S. factories ordered a record 29,000 robots during the first nine months of 2021, a 37% increase from 2020, according to data from the Association for Advancing Automation (A3).

The good news? Automated systems are getting cheaper to implement and improving technology is making systems more reliable. At Stellar, we’re constantly monitoring developments and best practices for leveraging robotics in our clients’ facilities to help them improve efficiency and productivity — not to mention combating that growing labor gap.

Let’s review some modern automation tools and the many ways robotics can be implemented into the food manufacturing process.

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Choosing a Systems Integrator (SI) to Advance Your Automation Strategy

The use and development of industrial robotics and automation technology has accelerated in recent years, and that growth remains at full speed ahead. According to a recent ABI Research report, more than a half million mobile robots will be shipped to warehouses globally by 2030. That’s a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of nearly 40% in the next decade — and that’s just for distribution warehouses, not to mention manufacturing and processing facilities.

Many large food and beverage manufacturers have in-house engineering teams that provide automation and system integration services to their various facilities. However, most small- and medium-sized processors don’t have that capability, meaning they must often partner with an outside systems integrator (SI) to advance their automation strategy and bring new systems online.

With so many available options in the vast field of automation and robotics, selecting an SI can seem like a daunting endeavor — but it doesn’t have to be.

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Make to Stock vs. Make to Order: Why One is on the Rise (and What Manufacturers Need to Know)

Historically, most food and beverage manufacturers have used some combination of production strategies to develop their products, but recent supply chain disruptions and consumers’ desire for variety are forcing many to rethink their approach.

Make to stock (MTS) is a traditional “build-ahead” production strategy in which manufacturing plans are based upon sales forecasts and/or historical demand. A company using this approach would estimate how many orders its products could generate, and then supply enough stock to meet those orders.

Make to order (MTO), on the other hand, is a production approach in which products are not made until a confirmed order is received. This typically allows consumers to purchase products customized to their specifications.

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Food Traceability: 5 Business Benefits When Switching from Manual to Digital Recordkeeping

In a recent post, I summarized the new traceability requirements recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The proposed rule would require additional recordkeeping for those who manufacture, process, pack or store foods included on the FDA’s new Food Traceability List. 

The thought of new government regulations can often elicit groans from manufacturers, but rather than view this as another hoop to jump through, food and beverage companies should take a long view: It’s really an opportunity to improve product quality, boost efficiency and reduce manufacturing costs.

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The FSMA Proposed Rule for Food Traceability (in a Nutshell)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing additional traceability recordkeeping requirements for those who manufacture, process, pack or store foods included on the Agency’s new Food Traceability List. The proposed rule is a key component of its New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint and would implement Section 204(d) of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

The additional recordkeeping requirements would apply not only to foods specifically listed on the Food Traceability List, but also to products that contain these foods as ingredients. Let’s look at what’s included:

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IIoT Tech Could Free Up Your Facility for Essential Workers

As the coronavirus pandemic rocked the world early this year and its scope was realized in the United States, food plant operators had to adapt quickly to meet new federal and local orders that mandated social distancing. At the same time, producers saw restaurant demand plummet while retail and online grocery store market shares skyrocketed. As unpaid orders originally bound for restaurants rotted in storage, retailers had trouble keeping milk and eggs on the shelf.

This dramatic shake-up has forced food plant operators to reorganize equipment, production lines and workers to maintain safe social distancing, especially in the wake of multiple COVID-19 outbreaks among food plant employees.

Additionally, the wild fluctuations the supply chain experienced exposed vulnerabilities created by the communication lag between suppliers, manufacturers and retailers.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology has the potential to solve some of these COVID-19-related problems and revolutionize the future of the food processing industry. 

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What Can IIoT Sensors Measure and Monitor in a Food Processing Facility?

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is revolutionizing how food manufacturing facilities operate, from processing to building maintenance and everything in between. Food and beverage companies have access to more data than ever before, and that’s helping them make more informed decisions.

Internet-connected sensors are the “eyes and ears” in a food plant, collecting all the data that makes those insights possible. These devices can measure a variety of inputs from electrical currents to vibrations to air temperature.

Stellar installs sensors in many of the modern facilities we design and construct today, but many owners have the same question: What exactly can I measure?

Let’s look at a few ways sensors can be used in your food plant:

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New Automation and Controls System? Educate and Involve Operators Early

As more food and beverage processing moves from mechanical to automated, it’s important to hire the right people who can operate and troubleshoot from the plant floor. Once you have qualified technical staff in place, transferring knowledge about your automation and controls systems to them is crucial.

At Stellar, we often help food manufacturers configure new facilities, so we understand the process and what it takes to make it go smoothly. When it comes to training your plant personnel on the automation and controls, follow these tips for an efficient startup at your next facility.

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