Food Manufacturing with an Industry 4.0 Twist


Depositphotos_183557040_XL-crop-(1).jpgManufacturing in Michigan plays an important role in our state’s job market and economy, and one sector contributes even more: food processing. Food processors large and small help us pack, preserve, and share delicious foods across our state and nation. Industry 4.0 technology is making it possible for food manufacturers to streamline operations and enhance quality, yet, for years, adoption of these technologies was slower among food manufacturers when compared to other manufacturing sectors. 

However, since the pandemic upended many industries, food processing companies have faced critical staffing shortages that impact production and threaten to stifle growth. Consequently, manufacturers are finding that one of technology’s most important uses is helping them address talent gaps and labor shortages—especially by replacing positions human workers find too dangerous or monotonous to fill. Technological tools are becoming more advanced and adaptable every day and can assist with everything from food preparation and temperature monitoring to packaging. So what are some of the primary technologies transforming the food processing industry? Read on to learn more!

  1. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
    Artificial intelligence (AI) is enhancing food production from the very beginning of the process, with AI-driven farm equipment that can plant and harvest food. During production, AI algorithms can collect food safety, supply chain, and other critical data to improve product quality and even tap into new food trends. Machine learning algorithms and AI can also help manufacturers maintain quality and identify debris or contaminants in food production operations.
  2. Collaborative Robots (Cobots)
    Collaborative robots can be outfitted with grippers, vision sensors, and other attachments to add value to the production process. They can work independently or alongside human operators on dangerous tasks or those requiring extreme precision. While manufacturers predominantly use cobots for picking, packing, and palletizing operations, they are also increasingly harnessing cobots for actual food preparation, cutting or processing hot or raw/potentially hazardous foods, and much more. 
  3. Internet of Things (IoT)
    The Internet of Things (IoT) provides a seamless connection between the production process and operators to share critical data about operations. IoT can monitor temperature, humidity, and food safety data points, trace and track packaged food, increase visibility within the food supply chain, alert operators to equipment maintenance needs, and more. The use of sensors, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), and GPS can give manufacturers important insights into a segment of their operations or about the entire process, improving food quality and safety and boosting production efficiency. 
  4. Additive Manufacturing
    3D printers can create everything from automotive components to entire houses, and food processing capabilities are developing rapidly. Ikea launched a highly publicized marketing campaign featuring 3D-printed vegan meatballs and KFC has experimented with 3D-printed chicken. Many other manufacturers leverage additive technology to create food molds or other tools of production. Additive manufacturing is also helpful in reducing food waste when compared to “subtractive” manufacturing methods, as the amount of ingredients used can be carefully controlled. 

Industry 4.0 technology has the potential to revolutionize the ways Michigan food manufacturers do business and help them achieve the growth and efficiencies they need to compete and thrive. If you have considered integrating Industry 4.0 technology but don’t know where to start, get in touch with MMTC’s business solutions managers today! We provide customized Technology Opportunity Assessments to help you identify the best tools to meet your organizational challenges, plus potential grants and funding sources to make integrating technology more affordable. Contact us today to learn more!

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Categories: Advanced Manufacturing, Food Processing, Industry 4.0, Innovation, Smart Manufacturing