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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Don’t Put Off Upgrading Your PLCs: 3 Red Flags and a Cautionary Tale

“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

It’s a question we’ve all heard before, but when it comes to older programmable logic controller (PLC) installations, it’s not an answer you want to find out the hard way. While some components can be found and purchased online, if your primary source for replacement parts is a site like eBay or obsoletePLCparts.com, it’s likely time to upgrade your system.

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Machine Learning and AI in Food Plants: Where to Start

So you want to incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning into your food processing facility — but where do you start? These tools have grown increasingly popular, and you’ve likely heard people discussing different platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure. But how do you get access to these tools and what can they do?

Three layers of cloud computing

When it comes to introducing machine learning to your processing, think of it as a three-tiered ecosystem:

1. Service providers (AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure)

2. IoT solutions partners (system integrators, data experts, etc.)

3. End users (Facility operator, plant owner, etc.)

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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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5 Things to Consider Before Investing in Robotics for Your Food Processing Plant

A growing number of food and beverage processing facilities are investing in robotics and automation, as the technology continues to advance and costs continue to normalize. These tools can be a game-changer for many businesses, offering benefits such as reduced operating costs, upped throughput and increased food and worker safety.

That said, such a significant investment requires careful implementation. Before incorporating robotics into your facility, consider these important best practices to ensure you invest wisely and efficiently.

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Industrial Automation: Is It Time to Upgrade Your Control System?

How old is the control system at your facility? In most processing plants, the control system consists of field instruments that are wired to I/O cards which feed to a central PLC controller. Operators communicate with the PLC through a human machine interface (HMI) computer.

While the lifespan of an HMI computer is about the same as a typical desktop computer, the instruments, field wiring, I/O boards and PLC controllers last a lot longer — and the mentality of most operators is: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Upgrading a control system is a costly investment, and, as a result, many facilities have field hardware that is decades old.

So, when is it worth upgrading your control system? And what options do you have?

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