Automation in Food industry is on rise. The use of machines, information technology and different control systems for efficient productivity is called Automation. Automation ensures the optimized production of goods and services.
For the last 50 years there is a great increase in plant automation. Computer technologies have revolutionized the automation of industries. Automation in food industry is also seeing great booms. Food industry is now the fastest growing sector where plant automation is employed. Computer or machine vision is also a part of automation in food industry.
Advantages of Automation in Food Industry
- Product quality through automation is more consistent (in processing the minor variations are avoided that would cause changes in product quality).
- Automatic process control provides greater stability and safety.
- It provides improved safety to the plant (an automatic control system has constant vigilance that can improve safety by reacting more quickly to unsafe conditions).
- With legal and customer specification, automation has greater compliance.
- It reduced the cost and expenses of human labor and improved profitability.
- Productivity is increased through automation process.
Components of Automation System
The components of an automatic control system are as follows:
- Sensors that detect process condition.
- Transmitters that send information to the controller.
- An actuator that makes changes in process condition. It may be a motor, valve or solenoid.
- A controller that controls and monitor the process.
- A system of communication between controller, transmitter and actuator.
- An interface for operators that communicate with the control system.
Application of Automation in Food Industry
Automation has many applications and uses in the food industry. Some of these are given with appropriate headings.
Liquid and Solid’s Storage:
In food industry the liquid and solids are stored for processing in tanks. Primary purpose of automation here is to measure the level in the tank. A continuous measurement is done. The inlet valve is slowly closed when the system guesses a HI limit. At HI-HI limit there is immediate shut down of inlet valve. Feed pumps are switched off. Over spills are avoided. Similarly in case of LO or LO-LO limit the inlet valve and feed pumps are switched on. Heating and temperature sensors similarly operate in the storage tanks. pH sensors can also be installed accordingly.
Automation in filling machines:
The filling of food products in containers has been automated. Automation of food industry in this section is very important. The electromagnetic flow meters allow exact dosage of the food product to be filled in bottles, packages etc. It increases the efficiency of the system. Precise bottling volume can even be adjusted during filling.
Cleaning in Place (CIP):
Cleaning in place is also an essential step in food plants. It is also quite a complex system with different pipes for hot and cold water, acids, alkali etc. Food industries now a days have automated CIP systems.
Automation in fermentation:
Fermentation technology is the base of many food products. In this technology micro organisms are employed which convert carbohydrates into simple alcohols. Products formed include Yogurt, Bread, Vinegar, Cheese and Sauerkraut etc.
Every step of fermentation like malting, fermenting, mashing etc require proper monitoring. This control and surveillance can be best applied through automation systems.
There are many other applications of automation in food industry. Automation is employed in drying of foods for processing. It saves labor and time. Similarly computer aided vision is used in packaging and filling that discards deformed pack.
Disadvantages of Automation/Automated Systems
Critics have mentioned some disadvantages or limitations of automation technology. These are given as under.
- Automation requires higher setup and maintenance costs.
- Social balance is changed due to unemployment. As machines do the work of man.
- Automation is not suited for those processes or systems in which skill of a worker is required.
- Automation for accurate measurement relies on the accuracy of sensors.
- The process and programming that is working behind the automated system is difficult to understand.
- If an automated system fails then there are risks of delays and economic losses.
Conclusion: Automation in food industry and other industries has changed the face of production. It has many plus points. But there should be a balance between craftsmanship and machine technology.