ROBOTICS IN ALMOND PROCESSING
Almonds have been all the rage in recent years, overtaking most other nuts in sales to take the title of America’s 2nd favorite nut behind peanuts. Almonds are a very tricky product to process, which explains their relatively high cost.
Almond processing has become largely mechanized, allowing for large volumes to be produced daily. However, none of these machines have proven to be completely accurate, and a large human workforce is still required to sort through the final process before bagging.
Robotic almond sorters have come a very long way and can now be very consistent and precise for every kind of foreign object or incorrect product remaining on the conveyor belt right before bagging. Let’s take a look at the world of robotic almond processing.
The Current State of Almond Processing
Since they grow on trees, almonds often arrive at the factory mixed with twigs, but they also have a thick outer hull and a shell that must be removed to get them to a consumer-ready state. This process is very long and requires several different machines to break open the shells and sort out the debris.
Even worse, most steps in this process can lead to broken nuts that have to be relegated to flour or almond milk instead of the much more lucrative whole almond business. And these are only the parts of the processing to get the almonds out of the shell. There are still a slew of issues that simply can’t be detected during the shelling process.
After passing through various sorting machines, there are still stray rocks and twigs that have the same dimensions as an almond and manage their way through the various filters. Some almonds end up unusable because bugs dug into the shell and ate away at the nut inside. Even though this is very distinctive and easy to spot, human workers are still required to pick them out on a conveyor belt.
The last step of almond processing is, quite simply, a conveyor belt with dozens of workers hunched over on each side staring at thousands of almonds, picking out twigs, rocks, bug-infested almonds and broken nuts.
This type of work is very physically demanding and monotonous, which means that mistakes are still very prone to happen. It’s also precisely the type of position and repetitive movement that has been proven to cause stress on muscle tissue and can lead to long-term injuries in workers.
At the end of the day, it’s always been pretty clear that the final step of almond processing was ripe for a technological innovation that would better protect workers and businesses alike.
The Advantages of Robotic Processing
Robotic almond processing is simple in theory but posed a lot of challenges that needed to be solved. By positioning two FANUC robotic arms on either side of the conveyor belt, we ensured full coverage of the belt, and enough clearance for both robots to operate in tandem.
Using a set of sensors and cameras, these robots are able to process up to 3000 pounds of almonds per hour. Not only is this a far better rate than human workers, but the processing can also happen 24 hours a day.
Another big advantage is that robotic almond sorters are much better at assessing the grade of an almond than humans. The USDA parameters for the size and shape of the nuts for each grade are entered in the robot’s software, as well as the size of acceptable chips in the nuts, taking away any kind of subjective grading that would normally occur with human sorting.
Robotic Sorting Pays For Itself
The thought of adding an extra machine at the end of your processing line might seem daunting and costly. However, the improved yield and working conditions of your employees means these kinds of sorters pay for themselves in a matter of months.
Almonds will only keep increasing in popularity in the coming years, and now is probably the time to set yourself up for success