Industry 4.0 and Where Automation Stands in the Kitchen Industry

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Building kitchens of tomorrow.

Early last year, news came of a robot flipping burgers at a fast-food chain in California. Flippy could grill 150 patties an hour, much faster than the joint’s employees. Unlike them, Flippy didn’t get tired, didn’t need a paycheck, and didn’t have bad days.

Whether we believe it or not, robots and artificial intelligence (AI) are going to take over the Kitchen Industry.

From the First Industrial Revolution to the Fourth, mankind has made a quantum leap in a span of just 200 years. Where Industry 1.0 dealt with mechanical production, Industry 4.0 focuses on automation, interconnectivity, and real-time data. Marrying physical production with smart technology, Industry 4.0 isn’t just about investing in new technology to improve efficiency; it’s about revolutionizing the way businesses operate and grow.

And the Kitchen Industry is relatively stranger to this growing phenomenon.

Industry 4.0 and the food sector

The Kitchen Industry heavily relies on human workers for their flexibility and dexterity. The first industrial revolution saw the use of steam and water power for mechanical production, which aided the large-scale production of staple ingredients. Today, we’re in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, which makes use of the Internet of Things (IoT) for a cyber-physical manufacturing system, promoting the use of artificial intelligence and robots in every sector. It centres on automation, enabling consistent monitoring and traceability.

In the context of our sector, Industry 4.0 will make way for better traceability & trackability of their ingredients and processes improved food safety and quality. Automation will reduce labour costs while introducing standardisation in processes and products, sensors and detection technologies will enable better food labelling and minimising food waste.

Challenges facing the Kitchen Industry

The Kitchen Industry faces several issues that plague daily operations and strategic planning. Key amongst them is labour challenges. The industry sees high turnover rates, and subsequently rising costs. A significant amount of time and money is wasted on continually recruiting, hiring and managing skilled labour, especially in the kitchen. Without a source of reliable and skilled workers, the restaurant business is not sustainable in the long run.

Automation is inevitable

Restaurant chains today face pressure on multiple fronts – to increase production, improve food safety, maintain consistency in quality, all while maintaining reasonable prices for customers. Producing dishes that are identical in taste, quality, and aesthetics on a consistent basis is a major challenge for clay hands. The challenge is even greater for large food outlets with innumerable orders pouring in. A little compromise here and a little there translated into a disaster in the making.

Cooking tasty meals requires skilled labour and with the rise in turnover, this can cost an arm and a leg. Automation can solve these problems by ensuring food standardisation and reducing the costs of hiring workers and professional chefs.

Where automation stands in the Kitchen Industry

Traditionally, the automotive industry has led the way in using robots on a large scale. The food and beverage industry is fast catching up, using bots to increase productivity, reduce accidents, and improve hygiene.

Up till now, robots in the Kitchen Industry have been mainly used for heavy work – packing, repacking, and palletising. Typically, the products are packaged foods, handling which is a pretty standardised and straightforward process. On the other hand, the actual production of food is a rather delicate and complex process since natural ingredients cannot be standardised, have rigid rheological properties, and are typically highly sensitive to mechanical intervention. Besides the fear of damaging the organoleptic properties of food (taste, texture, smell, colour), there’s the need for meeting hygiene requirements; non-toxic and easily washable materials such as stainless steel must be used. Moreover, the equipment needs to be free of any crevices that may become a breeding ground for microbial contamination due to food residue buildup. But, food lies at the heart of the Kitchen Industry and seeking to automate the cooking process is as important as it is challenging.

Automating cooking in the kitchen

The long-held notion that handling food products and their production is too complicated for bots is gradually being seen for what it is – an unfounded theory. Bots are as much becoming a part of the food preparation process, from handling delicate food products to taking part in the cooking process, to even cleaning up following food preparations.

For example, Soft Robotics has developed a flexible gripper that can handle extremely delicate ingredients such as lettuce leaves, Zume Pizza uses a Delta robot to spread the pizza sauce and an ABB manipulator to tend the pre-baking ovens, the Katana waterjet cutting robot can cut out intricate shapes in cakes using high-pressure water, and Olympus Automation’s Robotic Chef picks up food products from stations placed circularly around it to prepare soups and sauces.

At Mukunda Foods, we’ve gone a step further to introduce fully automated bots that can prepare full-fledged meals when fed with precise amounts of the required ingredients. Besides our standard products – DosaMatic, Doughbot, and Wokie – we provide an end-to-end automation solution for a restaurant’s kitchen needs. We conduct extensive R&D to identify problems with the cooking process. Upon developing a prototype, the bots are mass-produced, followed by complete after-sales support, installation and training workers. Whichever be the cuisine prepared in your kitchen, Mukunda Foods customizes efficient and smart bots that cook good food, consistently.

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Dibyananda Brahma

Building kitchens of tomorrow.
Published • 1mo