• the newly installed AI robot sorting Tetra Pak used beverage cartons at the APRS facility
    the newly installed AI robot sorting Tetra Pak used beverage cartons at the APRS facility

Research from Global Data looks at the growth of digitisation in food and beverage production processes, which has enabled cobots to offer new manufacturing capabilities with the automation of previously difficult to automate processes.

Global sales of industrial robots, valued at $20.7 billion in 2022, comprising 33 per cent of the total robotics market, are being propelled by the digitisation of production processes, according to the organisation’s findings.

A key development of digitisation in food and beverage manufacturing is the increased use and capability of “Collaborative Robots” (cobots), which are designed to work alongside humans within a shared space. Against this backdrop, GlobalData forecasts that the global industrial robots market is set to grow at a CAGR of 10 per cent between 2022 and 2030 to reach $45.1 billion in 2030. 

Assisted by AI, cobots are more versatile in comparison to traditional manufacturing robotic solutions. One example is the palletisation process where a cobot can stack boxes directly from the production line onto a pallet ready for being moved by a human but with advanced sensor technology to prevent contact with anyone in the production hall.

“Cobots offer companies more capability and control in the manufacturing process with less downtime and a reduced reliance on human intervention,” said George Higgins, packaging consultant Consumer Custom Solutions at GlobalData. “This leads to greater productivity and the opportunity to grow market share with packaging innovation produced on more efficient production lines at a lower cost.”

Cobot integration into production processes

Cobots are being integrated into the production processes of key packaging manufacturers such as Tetra Pak and Sealed Air. Tetra Pak is developing machinery to work in tandem with its own packaging systems, which not only simplifies the integration of cobots in the manufacturing process but also adds value to the packaging applications they provide for the food and beverage industry. 

A key development here is Tetra Pak’s integrated data collection system called the ‘Data Gateway’, which can be retrofitted to older machinery, to feed data into its Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) analytics platform, which helps to monitor and manage factory operations.

Sealed Air is working in partnership with Japanese electronics firm Osaro to explore the new production capabilities offered by automated cobot solutions, and this summer, automated machinery manufacturer Omron, installed one of its cobots at Ice Bakers, a Danish producer of plant-based ice cream. The cobot is used to support the end-of-line packaging process, which Omron claims has increased the overall line capacity of the ice cream manufacturer by 80 per cent, while minimising the requirement for human involvement in the process.

The Rise of RaaS and AaaS supporting cobot sales

The increased use of Robotics and AI applications in the production process has given rise to two new AI services: Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) – where robotics companies offer a subscription model for customers to use their robot devices – and Automation-as-a-Service (AaaS) – where companies offer their customers on-demand tailored automation services to optimize manufacturers operations.

Higgins said, “With the enablement of digitisation, the implications of introducing more cobots into packaging production halls are huge as they offer new methods for optimising production lines, gathering operational data, and increasing ROI for warehouse ‘machinery’ and robots. This will all have a massive impact on packaging companies’ customers and their profitability.

“Savvy packaging companies also have an investment opportunity here to create a fully integrated packaging solution for their clients as Tetra Pak has done, and as a result, we are also likely to see more M&A activity in the space, such as packaging machinery provider Bobst, who acquired a 70 per cent stake in Ducker robotics. Companies that can upskill existing staff to learn how to use the software that controls robot automation will become leaders in the industry.”

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