Integration and enhanced robotics
Wes Garrett, packaging integration account manager for FANUC America (Booth #C-5244) says his company is on track to comply with FSMA.
“FANUC’s integrators and end users are specifying equipment to meet the requirements of the act,” he says. “In most cases, the deadlines should be achievable.”
The Rochester Hills, Mich., firm specializes in solutions for robotics, CNC systems and factory automation, manufacturing serial-link and delta-style robots capable of handling any food or beverage application, from raw to packaged material. It was vital for the company to change how it builds its products to help food processors make a smooth transition.
“Our integrators need to work closely with customers to deliver compliant systems for the end users to pass inspections,” Garrett says. “It also means that a lot more stainless steel will be required to comply.”
FANUC continues to develop new robot variants with secondary food grade capabilities and higher ingress protection (IP) ratings to meet customer demands. These robots include FDA-compliant material and surface finishes.
Changes to the FDA’s rule governing hazard analysis and risk-based preventative controls will require companies to self-monitor more than ever before. Robot manufacturers like FANUC will need to ensure compliant material and surfaces during development. Because of the additional scrutiny that FSMA standards apply to packaging companies and packaging machinery makers, customer education will also be critical to the compliance process.
“Integrators,” Garrett says, “will need to be sure to specify, order and apply the correct robot variants and options for the application required.”
Another robot supplier, Omron Automation & Safety, based in Hoffman Estates, Illinois (Booth #C-1928), has revamped its offerings specifically with FSMA in mind.
“It’s a whole new ballgame,” says Omron industry marketing manager Laura Studwell. “We have an entirely new set of products that are better suited for meeting FSMA requirements.”
“The nice thing about robots is that, when regularly washed down and properly cared for under a HACCP plan, they don’t present the challenges that people do on the line,” Studwell says. “They don’t have hair that can fall out or bodily fluids like tears, sweat and blood. A robot doesn’t have any of those uncontrollable human attributes that can jeopardize product safety further upstream in food manufacturing.”
Omron’s new robot can also hold up under powerful sanitizing processes that will be necessary to comply with FSMA. Designed to withstand a harsh wash-down, the IP69K robot is equipped with a fully enclosed system for gearboxes, servo motors and cables, preventing water ingress.
“The whole point of FSMA is to get rid of foodborne illnesses,” she adds. “Companies will need harsh wash-down equipment in their facilities, or they’re going to continue to have holds and recalls.”
Investment and reward
A wide range of solutions for compliance with standards generated from FSMA, including technologies from Eagle, Morris, Bosch, FANUC and Omron, can be found at PACK EXPO Las Vegas. As these suppliers roll out solutions to anticipate customer needs, many can empathize with the hurdles food processors face.
With regard to Morris Packaging’s new facility, Steinwager noted the significance of the company’s investment.
“It cost a lot of money,” he says. “The concrete and steel cost more than actually laying the concrete. We polished it and sealed it, so we had no open, porous concrete. The inside of the building is fully sealed so we can steam-clean it. There are also wash stations for shoes, and employees have to go to the wash station before they go onto the floor.”
Garrett concurs that the investment in the future of food safety has been significant for FANUC as well. “As the manufacturing costs are driven up, we try to pass as little as possible to our customers,” he says. “It is important to keep robotic automation a viable option for food manufacturers.”
He knows the upgrades that stem from FSMA compliance serve a greater good.
“With improved monitoring plans and increased inspection frequency, consumers ultimately get better, safer, uncontaminated product,” Garrett says.
Despite the substantial changes and challenges, technology suppliers look forward to the finalization of the FSMA regulations with optimism. With much of the toil behind them, industry players are ready for a new era in food safety,
“It’s going to make us better,” says Steinwager. “I would hope it will make everybody better.”
Companies looking for packaging and processing innovation, including the latest technologies and insights to ensure compliance with current and future regulations can find the latest solutions at PACK EXPO Las Vegas. In addition to aisles of new processing and packaging technologies, food manufacturers will benefit from The Food Safety Summit Resource Center, sponsored and brought to PACK EXPO by the Food Safety Summit. Here they can attend free presentations and have one-on-one consultations with subject matter experts, addressing critical food safety issues and compliance.
For more information and to register, visit packexpolasvegas.com.