The food industry has always been defined by slim profit margins. In addition, much like other manufacturing industries, food processing has resisted the push to adopt more automation as a means to boost efficiency, improve productivity, save costs, and become more competitive within the market. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and employee wages have proved a formidable challenge to these producers, who struggle to rise to the task of maintaining production without raising their prices to do so. As such, many food producers have accelerated the pace at which they adopt these procedures to deal with the current situation. Will automation replace all jobs in the food industry in the next decade?
Embracing these technologies comes with a slew of other questions. Specifically, as more and more food processors adopt automation, will these technologies result in fewer jobs for workers in the next decade? To answer that question, we’ll be exploring how COVID-19 has forced the food industry to adapt to the changing climate, highlight which jobs are likely to be impacted most heavily after automation, and finally we’ll see how automation in the food industry will improve outmoded processes and create new job opportunities as well.
COVID-19 and the Food Industry’s Pivot to Automation
The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely impacted industries worldwide; the food industry is no exception. Food preparation and packaging companies have suffered during the pandemic, like the meat-packing industry, which has faced a soaring number of breakouts and infections among workers that often result in factory shutdowns and wide-scale supply chain disruptions.
These shutdowns and disruptions can cause supply shortages that lead to significant increases in product price to consumers. As we continue to fight this global infection, automation has become a way to curtail cases and keep the supply lines open since they are more necessary now than before.
Could an Increase in Automation Replace Jobs in Food Manufacturing?
Whether service or processing, the food industry is a huge employer in the US Workforce, with the USDA reporting in 2019 that 22.2 million full- and part-time jobs—about 10.9% of the total workforce—came from agriculture and related industries. As the food sector moves towards automation, spurred on by the pandemic and the desire to keep prices level and consumers safe, there’s always a chance that many jobs, especially entry-level and low skill barrier ones, will be impacted.
It is important to note, however, that this will always depend on the nature of the technology introduced to handle these processes. In addition, higher level roles with a larger focus on creativity will probably remain more relevant in the sector, as machines can’t replace critical thinking, problem solving and large-scale planning as of yet. As such, humans will continue to be at the helm to guide the ways in which machines and software define the future of food processing, packaging and delivery.
How a Hybrid Human-Machine Model is Food Manufacturing’s Recipe for Success
Although increased automation is likely to affect entry level roles in the food industry like loading, unloading and bagging of products, that shouldn’t be interpreted as a blanket threat to the sector as a job creator. Quite the contrary, in fact! Increased automation will necessitate a transition to a highly skilled workforce, and provide many opportunities to train workers in disciplines like supervisory controls, data analytics, machine maintenance and robotics.
Automation can improve the productivity, accuracy and quality of food packaging and distribution processes, however, the key to unlocking its full potential will mean an investment into diversifying and training the current workforce. Assuming the food industry does this, these human-machine collaborations will create augmented teams that can more easily adapt.
Embracing Food Processing Automation Without The Need to Replace Jobs
Before food processors are able to harness the full power of automation and begin the process of upskilling their workforce however, they’ll need a reliable manufacturing partner—one who can bring cutting-edge technology to the mission of driving the food industry forward. Custom Cut Metals is dedicated to bringing the latest technology and machinery to the food industry in the interest of helping them automate processes within their production and supply chain.
Offering industry-leading machinery in the form of roller washers, volumetric feed conveyors, scale packaging lines, take away conveyors, horizontal and vertical tote carts, quality control workstations and more, Custom Cut Metals excels at helping food processors automate processes that will keep them moving forward through the pandemic and into the future. For more details on how Custom Cut Metals can help your business unleash the power of automation, contact us today.