Automation Saves Potato Chips


When we think about the benefits of automation (and we do), we think about how industrial motion control allows automated manufacturing processes to save time and money, providing consumers with affordable goods to improve their quality of life. We think about how robots can keep human beings from having to work in harsh environments, and how they save human workers from repetitive motions and soul-destroying tedium. We think about how automation, by reducing waste, can help make manufacturing green.

We hadn’t thought about the potato chips.

But a major potato company in the UK, working its way through 350,000 tons of potatoes a year, has found that automation makes a big difference in its operations. Now that potato crispy slices (some kind of British snack food akin to potato chips, as far as we can tell) are packed automatically, they’re packing up 77 trays a minute — six times as much as human workers could do.

More than that, the automatic packaging machines are much more accurate than the people, and they don’t sample the goods. “Giveaways” used to account for 6% of production. With automation, that figure has been trimmed down to 0.4%.

Machines are not better than people at everything, but they are certainly better than people at some things. Apparently, packing potato snacks is one of the those things.

The same potato company is hoping to get automation into play with rosemary crispy slices soon, but the crispy slices made from sweet potatoes continue to be hand packed. And this is the reality with automation: some work, tedious or dangerous as it may be, can’t really be done by robots or automated factory lines yet. Industrial machinery can do the same action over and over very precisely, but combining multiple actions, especially if they are complex actions requiring dexterity or actions that involve sensing information and making decisions — those things are not easy to automate.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are paving the way for ever greater degrees of automation, freeing human workers to do the things humans do best. Servo motors are central to this progress.

Treat your servos well. If you use Rexroth electric servos, save our contact info for times when they need a little TLC. We are specialists in Rexroth motion control, offering phone support, field support, and the largest selection of emergency replacement units in the nation.

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