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FOOMA JAPAN 2023: International Food Industry Exhibition

Updated: Feb 12

FingerVision exhibited at FOOMA JAPAN 2023.

In collaboration with Yamazen Corporation, we have completed an end-to-end automated solution from tray supply to serving and inspection. This system offers new added value to the food industry, including the expansion of production capacity by increasing operating hours and the advancement and efficiency of sanitation control processes, which have been difficult to achieve with conventional human-operated production processes.

Robot systems need to overcome 6 major obstacles

The production of lunch boxes and delicatessen dishes, which involves a large variety of products and small quantities, is not easy to automate, and production continues to rely on manual labor. Why has the production process proved so difficult to change, despite its obvious drawbacks? This has been an unsolved problem for decades.

Behind this, there are six obstacles that hinder automation:

  1. Irregular shapes and individual differences

  2. Many types of production and daily changes in production lines

  3. Rapid cycle time

  4. Low unit labor costs

  5. Low utilization time for specialised machines

  6. Extremely short production time due to the durability of fresh food items

1 to 3 are technical obstacles, and 4 to 6 are economic obstacles. Furthermore, these impeding factors are interdependent, and at first glance, it seems like an impossible challenge. Given the reality that these six obstacles exist, what should we aim for in the next-generation production line, and what approach should we take to overcome them?

FingerVision’s solution from a management perspective

From the perspective of a production line that utilizes robots, the medium- to long-term goal is a fully automated line, and FingerVision believes the KPI at that time is the maximization of equipment utilization.

Naturally, considering cost-effectiveness, having humans and robots coexist on one production line can be a realistic approach at specific sites or during transition periods when automation equipment is introduced. On the other hand, with partially automated production lines, it is important to be aware that one wrong step in operational design will actually worsen labor productivity and throughput, making it impossible to enjoy the benefits of labor savings.

The reason for this reduction in labor productivity and throughput is simple. When it comes to humans, it is most cost-effective to keep production times as low as possible in order to minimize labor costs. This cannot be reconciled with the principle underlying the use of robots, which is to keep production lines running permanently. Hybrid production lines composed of both humans and robots do not offer maximum efficiency.

Economic principles

  • The cost of manpower is its hourly wage, and it is clearly more financially beneficial to complete a task in the shortest possible amount of time

  • Robots are pieces of equipment, and they must be in permanent operation

In the case of hybrid production lines, clearly the KPIs that should be targeted are not consistent between humans and robots so the expected effects of investment cannot be achieved.

Therefore, we have set the construction of a fully-automated production line as a medium- to long-term goal. Fundamentally, we need an approach that involves a radical transformation from a management perspective in which changes to companies’ internal structures are required. For example,

  • Extending production times by providing evening meals in addition to lunch boxes, and/or supplying frozen items.

    • In the food industry, particularly when it comes to room-temperature or refrigerated items, factories cannot store the large inventories that are necessary in order to standardize production levels when there are fluctuations in the amount of demand.

    • This is because room-temperature and refrigerated foods have a limited lifespan. Frozen foods are the ideal solution to this problem.

  • Negotiating with customers to ensure the stability of orders and avoid fluctuations in the number of orders which reduce the efficiency of production lines.

    • Sales departments need to have clear information about production capacity and optimal delivery timings from the production department. This information can be used by the sales department in order to determine the delivery timing that is optimal for the production department. In other words, sales and production departments need to liaise closely and to work in tandem.

It is clear to anyone that in the future it will be more difficult to secure human resources than ever before, and lack of human resources will become the Achilles heel of management. In light of this current situation, we are working with everyone in the food industry who is conscious of the crisis, and ensuring a stable supply capacity that does not rely excessively on human resources is a vital management issue. In the future, maintaining a stable supply capacity will be directly linked to a company’s competitive advantage. Companies that can achieve this will have a clear edge over their competitors. To date, food production companies have not taken any steps to address this significant issue. Therefore, FingerVision is striving to build a next-generation production line composed solely of robots to avoid human resources shortfalls and so ensure the desired stable supply capacity.

Considering the elements that make up a fully automated line, the technically demanding process is the plating of daily side dishes. In reality, there is no production line that only serves only one type of side dish; in actual operation, it must be able to handle side dishes that are amorphous, have individual differences, and can vary in type.

On the other hand, it is very difficult for conventional approaches using specialised machines and robots to simultaneously achieve accuracy (the ability to grasp objects without error or damage) and the ability to grasp any type of object for a wide variety of ingredients. In this regard, FingerVision, through a combination of vision and touch, is able to detect slippage at the moment the food is picked up and grasp it without dropping it, while employing the minimum force to avoid damaging it. This means that it is possible to serve a wide variety of foods, such as fried chicken on Mondays, hamburgers on Tuesdays, and tempura on Wednesdays.

Robotic systems that can handle a wide variety of foodstuffs and undergo frequent setup changes and renewals for new products can maintain a high operating rate, making them a solution that can provide a high return on investment in the food industry.


▼FOOMA JAPAN 2023 (2023 International Food Industry Exhibition) Exhibition Overview


When:June 6, 2023 (Tuesday) - June 9, 2023 (Friday)10:00-17:00

Where:Tokyo Big Sight East Halls 1-8

Organizer:Japan Food Machinery Industry Association


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