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How Automating Enhances Food Production and Distribution
The grocery industry relies more on automation to free up workers to cope with the surge in demand during the pandemic.
FREMONT, CA: The industrial agriculture and food sector are responsible for feeding the U.S. and many of its trading partners. Industry leaders have invested in robotics and automation technology to achieve greater productivity and scale to fulfill potential needs. The key production areas are automated irrigation, fertilizer, harvesting, and breeding systems. These changes to the process aim to lower production costs while also conserving water, fuel, and fertilizer.
Many of these innovations are effective, but they also eliminate the need for human labor. For example, some major commercial firms have employed harvesting robots that can cover the acreage of several workers, prompted in part by a shortage of workers to pick fruit. Given COVID –19’s effect on borders and worker flows into and around the U.S., and many businesses have a strong incentive to continue investing in these innovations, decreasing the need for human labor even more. In addition, the introduction of self-driving tractors and sprayers would further reduce the need for significant day-to-day staff.
Automation adoption is increasing at distribution centers and grocery stores farther down the supply chain. For example, many warehouses have replaced conventional forklifts with Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVS), which can handle tasks that previously required several workers, such as unloading and loading trucks and moving large products around warehouse floors. They can also work in extreme environments for longer periods, including freezers and cold storage.
Similarly, the pandemic has increased the use of technology in grocery stores. Self-checkout cashiers and other forms of kiosks that encourage social distancing have become more common. In addition, the grocery industry is relying more on automation to free up workers to cope with the surge in demand during the pandemic. For example, autonomous floor care robots have risen to about 8,000 hours of daily work in recent months, up 13 percent from pre-pandemic levels. This work that ‘otherwise would have been completed by an essential worker’ allows these employees to engage in allegedly more productive activities.
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