4 Ways Automation Can Impact Protein Packaging on Your Line

As the protein industry sees technological advancements to support packaging, more food producers are considering adding automation to increase productivity and precision. However, given the importance of ensuring the quality and safety of the end product for the consumer and resolving potential budgetary and space constraints, adding secondary automation to processes that involve handling and packing raw protein products requires special consideration. 

This post will summarize four areas where automation can impact protein packaging operations. We will also explore ways our solutions can mitigate traditional and emerging challenges and how to get buy-in from your entire team on automation.   


1. Employee Training and Retention


Employee training and retention remain the biggest challenges for producers who rely on manual protein packing. As the job market is still very competitive, employers need help keeping long-term employees in manual packing roles. This impacts operations because high position turnover leads to additional time and costs spent continually training employees. 

Fewer employees to pack protein products and quality check packaging will decrease output and efficiency. Additionally, traditional manual packing processes are time-consuming and labor-intensive, even if you do have the numbers. 

Automating these processes can boost productivity as machines can run 24/7 with greater speed and efficiency, reducing lead times, downtime, and inconsistencies prone to manual packing processes. As protein packaging requires precision at every step to maintain safety and quality control, automation can negate ongoing labor challenges that could impact accuracy and increase errors.


2. Machine Integration


One familiar concern customers have when automating their protein packaging capabilities is integration. They worry it will be too costly or complex, leading to more headaches and challenges. In most cases, the opposite is true, as it can be straightforward to integrate robotics and automated equipment into legacy systems. Most legacy systems can start and stop remotely, which is typically all that is required. 

Existing floor space constraints could impact the degree of difficulty of an automation project. Luckily, while smaller facilities are more difficult to automate, it is generally still possible to add automation to them with creative layout designs.

Additionally, integrating automation can take time based on your current team's capability and the managers' commitment to using and making the system work. As you get further into the planning process, getting feedback from your managers and operators is essential to ensure everyone buys into automation and understands how it will impact their roles and processes. 

Our experts can also answer any questions from your team to ensure a smooth transition toward automation.


3. Food Safety and Contamination


As we discussed, automation can enhance consistency and food safety as these systems negate many manual packing challenges that could compromise food safety and quality. Sophisticated robotics with vision systems and sensors can identify and eliminate defective product and hazards during the packaging process. Also, some food safety challenges with automation can be resolved through careful planning. 

Automated systems typically operate in a controlled environment that should minimize contamination, but with pick-and-place robotics specifically, tooling that touches raw product like protein requires special consideration. 

Equipment in direct contact with raw products needs a higher level of sanitation than those that are not. OEM manufacturers can apply design techniques that make that process easier. Some items include spray bars, lifting bars, and easy-to-remove tooling.

Additionally, traditional vacuum systems cannot be used to grip products due to the risk of contamination in piping, filters, etc. BluePrint Automation (BPA) offers a sanitary stainless steel full washdown system to load raw protein and other products into trays, infeed wrapper chains, or other secondary containers. For example, we have a system specifically designed to be 3-A compliant in the dairy industry.

We typically build equipment to the highest sanitation standards, whether products are frozen or fresh. Sometimes, a lower grade of sanitation construction can be used when a wall separates bagging from case packing.

Food safety regulations are constantly changing, and we maintain seats on various protein industry councils to ensure we are up to date with the latest rules and food safety trends to enhance quality, safety, and compliance with our protein packaging solutions. 


4. Evolving Market Trends


As the protein industry evolves with ever-changing customer preferences and market trends, finding a flexible system that can scale with your needs is paramount. You may need to adjust your line frequently to incorporate new recipes and packaging materials. 

  • For example, bagged frozen proteins are the most common and have been that way for over a decade. However, the latest trend is single-serve products like individual charcuterie cups. 
  • Plant-based proteins and other alternatives are another new trend growing in popularity, but they could be subject to new regulations down the road. 

Automation lets you quickly respond to these evolving preferences and trends to meet market demands. Our team of experts will design and implement a solution that meets your needs and budget to address changes in your market. 

We can also start small as you determine your needs and make the business case to leadership. The cheapest and easiest protein application to automate is the case packing of further processed products. These lines are typically high volume, which leads to increased ROI when automating. 


See Our Automated Protein Packaging Solutions Live at IPPE


This month, we will be demonstrating our protein packaging solutions at IPPE, the world’s largest protein industry trade show with over 1,200 interactive exhibits and 80+ hours of learning sessions for 30,000+ industry leaders worldwide looking for ways to update their operations and implement best practices to support business development and innovation. 

We will be at Booth C40135 at the Georgia World Congress Center from Jan. 30 - Feb. 1, ready to answer your questions and introduce you to our leading automated protein solutions for primary and secondary packaging. We hope to see you at IPPE, but please feel free to reach out to us anytime if you’re interested in improving your protein packing capabilities and adding automation to your line.

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