Bridging the gap between chef’s table and ready to eat meals is an ongoing challenge for food manufacturers. Retailers and consumers expectations for high quality/gourmet food products is ever increasing with product quality critical to business success.
Traditionally one route to emulating a chef is the use of highly labour intensive industrial-scale kitchens but these generate food safety and operational risks. Flexible automation and robotics manufacturing cells present new opportunities to close the gap and offer restaurant quality food on an industrial scale.
The APRIL robotic chef uses state of the art cooking and material handling technologies to process ingredients with real care. Robot chefs will emulate chefs in three key ways:
- Products are poured not pumped
Precise batch cooking and process control
1) Products are poured not pumped
In a chef’s kitchen there are no pumps or pipework for the food to be transferred through, yet typically in food manufacturing, product will pass through many pumps and pipes before it’s packaged. Pumps and pipes cause damage to product through abrasion on the pipe wall and the pumping action itself, particulates will disintegrate and quality will be lost. The APRIL robotic chef doesn’t have pipework or pumps and simply pours product for transfer to other vessels (saucepans) and fillers, just like a chef. For example, one of the most challenging to handle ingredients are whole raspberries, when passed through pumps and pipework they break down into pieces. When using a robotic chef we can keep the integrity of the raspberry whole.
2) Process flexibility
Traditional manufacturing often faces the compromise between the desired process steps and equipment available. Desired recipes are amended to match the available cooking processes often to the products detriment. For a traditional cooking system with a steam jacket and homogeniser there is a high cost to adding new devices due to the engineering works required. Often vessels are one size fits all with limits on process flexibility.
Robotic chef systems by contrast enable the use of multiple processing devices that aren’t restricted to a specific vessel. The interoperability of the system (ability to interface with new devices) means it’s very easy to add new cooking technologies at a low cost, whilst increasing utilisation of devices by processing in parallel. For instance, a new device can be easily added to a manufacturing cell to produce more exotic products, a frothing device for manufacturing frothy soup.
3) Precise batch cooking and process control
Automated robotic chef’s offer unparalleled cooking consistency stemming from the use of PLC automation and control. Without any human interaction a products desired cooking steps can be followed precisely offering more consistent flavours and colours. A relatively small batch size of 500kg means product is cooked evenly and quickly with advanced heating and mixing technologies like Steam Infusion, effectively eliminating over processing.
Robotics chefs are coming on stream now, make sure you enjoy the benefits. If you would like to learn more about APRIL sign up for our launch event on Thursday 28th April 2015 at the National Centre for Food Manufacturing, Holbeach UK or if you would like to talk to someone please call one of the APRIL specialists at OAL.
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