Sep 22, 2022

Automated Produce Processing: Solving for the Tight Labor Market

It’s no big secret—there’s currently a tight labor market in the U.S., and it only seems to be getting tighter. The St. Louis Fed recently reported:In the U.S., the V/U ratio was over 1.8 in the last

It’s no big secret—there’s currently a tight labor market in the U.S., and it only seems to be getting tighter. The St. Louis Fed recently reported:

In the U.S., the V/U ratio was over 1.8 in the last quarter of 2021, which meant that there were nearly two vacancies for every unemployed worker. 

This was higher than its pre-pandemic level and higher than the recent historical norm of about 0.7 since 2000. Everyone seems to agree that the labor market is very tight.

The pandemic, labor market, and “Great Resignation” have caused many produce and potato processing companies to search for a better solution. Automating your food processing lines offers significant advantages over struggling to fill jobs in a tight labor market. 

Read on to learn more about the benefits of automated produce processing and how it can significantly reduce labor needs.

Leveraging New Technologies to Combat the Labor Shortage

A study conducted by UiPath, an enterprise automation company, found that 78% of executives are “very or somewhat likely to invest more in automation to offset the impact of the labor shortage.

While automation has been around for decades, it’s finally becoming more widely adopted in food processing. And today, automation solutions can range from:

  • Fixed automation equipment - with options that scale up from manual to batch to continuous processing
  • Flexible automation - "high care robotics" that touch food as well as package produce
  • Machine learning and data analysis
  • Internet of Things (IOT) and Industry 4.0 advancements - including artificial intellgence and virtual reality

Labor Benefits of Automating Industrial Produce Processing

There are many people oriented benefits to automating your produce processing line:

A Younger Workforce

The COVID-19 pandemic saw a significant portion of the workforce retire instead of taking a pandemic-related leave of absence. Companies immediately found it hard to replace these workers and their vast knowledge and experience. Automation standardizes processes and reduces the risk of solely depending on experienced team members. 

When produce processing plants adopt automation technologies, it can entice younger generations into the industry. Millennial and GenZ workers bring with them a wide range of tech skills that can add additional value above and beyond their immediate job descriptions.

Freeing Up Skilled Workers

Automating your food processing lines doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to lay off your workers. Harvard Business Review recently reported that:

Scaling automation requires new skills and organizational models. As automation in the workplace grows, organizations will increasingly need soft skills such as decision making, learning, and creativity. 

Automation handles many repetitive and mundane tasks that won’t take up the time of a skilled employee. You can move that person to a different part of the production line that will redirect their labor to more critical tasks while allowing them to expand their skill set.

Less Downtime and Injuries

Manual labor jobs—especially those that require workers to perform boring and repetitive motion tasks, are a significant source of workplace injuries. Automation can significantly reduce the number of injuries and worker’s compensation claims while simultaneously increasing employee morale.

How Automation Improves Food Processing

Automating a produce processing line can result in:

  • Increasing throughput
  • Increasing capacity for additional production
  • Improving product quality
  • Increasing food safety
  • Improving yield, reducing damage and scraps

Automating the Washing Process

Washing produce by hand is tedious and inefficient for a large facility. Dedicated produce and potato washing equipment speeds up the process, can more gently and thoroughly clean produce while removing dirt and debris, and improves product handling. Automation allows for much higher production volumes with significantly smaller labor requirements.

Automating the Peeling Process

While peeling produce by hand allows someone to target and trim specific areas of produce peel, it often results in losing a larger amount of good flesh, as well. Automating the peeling and scrubbing process helps high-volume food processors increase throughput and yield, and decreases waste by not cutting off too much product.

Automating the Cutting Process

Using a fully manual cutting process creates bottlenecks, reduces throughput, and increases yield loss. Automated machines, such as hydrocutters, increase throughput, decrease waste, and eliminate the need for several manual processes. 

In fact, hydrocutting allows for a more accurate and scalable method of processing a wide variety of food products, such as pickles. You can even automate the entire line, drastically increasing production rates.

Vanmark Automated Produce Processing Equipment

Produce processors that leverage automation will be able to weather the labor shortage while taking advantage of increased production rates, decreased waste, and less downtime. 

Vanmark offers a wide range of produce processing equipment, and we will custom-tailor them to suit your operation. Click below to learn more.

Automated Produce Processing

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