February 12, 2009      

FANUC has become the first manufacturer of industrial robotic solutions to receive equipment acceptance from the United States Department of Agriculture for meat and poultry processing.

The use of robotics systems in industrial manufacturing environments, particularly the automotive industry, is commonplace, almost to the point to where the market is saturated.

In an effort to grow their businesses, manufacturers of industrial robots are trying to expand into new markets by (1) targeting additional vertical market segments and (2) selling robots into small-to-mid-sized companies.

This announcement represents the former strategy.  Meat and poultry processing could be the poster child for work that is ‘dirty, dull and dangerous.’

As such, it is ripe for robotic automation. As the first to receive USDA acceptance for meat and poultry processing, FANUC not only enters a new market (and gains a first-to-market advantage), it has also laid the groundwork for other companies to do the same.

Other forms of food processing and preparation present additional opportunities for robotics and automation firms. Gross handling and manipulation from fixed based systems, including picking, packing, and palletizing, as opposed to fine work (vision guided, especially) and mobile platforms, is the obvious first step for FANUC and other manufacturers moving into the market. Companies participating in the industrial robotics value chain, such as suppliers of grippers, should (and will) rework products and services offerings, as well as seek regulatory approval, to avail themselves of the food processing and preparation opportunity.

—Dan Kara