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EDITOR’S VIEW: The robots are coming

Andrew Seymour

Most operators are all for automation, but where do you draw the line?

Some of the latest equipment on the market, particularly in the commercial oven space, is bursting with artificial intelligence and connectivity that promises vast benefits for those who use it, not least in terms of cost and efficiency.

But when automation feels like it could end up replacing jobs, rather than just assisting them — and those jobs concern chefs or kitchen staff — there is certainly a much bigger debate to be had.

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At KFC, the sight of robots frying chicken in its kitchens may not be as far away as you think after the chain recently inked a landmark agreement that indicates how seriously it is taking futuristic back-of-house design.

The brand has signed a MoU for research and cooperation in automated production manufacturing with the Korean firm Hyundai Robotics, which specialises in industrial robotics.

The tie-up will see the pair explore how collaborative robots can be used to improve safety and efficiency in the chicken production process, as well as the development of process arrangements and cooking equipment to enhance kitchen efficiency.

The engineering firm plans to use vision-sensing technology to automate the process of sorting chicken products, and gradually expand the application of related technologies to the manufacturing process.

This could potentially see the deployment of mobile robots that can move freely into narrow spaces, as opposed to static collaborative systems.

KFC thinks that the use of robots in the cooking process, where risk is high and tasks are repetitive, could enhance stability and efficiency. It would also allow orders to be processed faster and more accurately, which has benefits in terms of customer satisfaction.

In America, meanwhile, a major chain called White Castle confirmed that it intends to install an autonomous grilling and frying kitchen assistant in 10 sites after a trial showed that it could enhance production speeds, empower teams behind the counter and maintain consistent quality and taste.

Research suggests the food tech market is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 6%, reaching a value of $250 billion (£207 billion) by 2022.

It is a space that is worth keeping a watchful eye on, especially in the fast food sector.

There is an awful lot still to happen on this subject, but we should be under no illusions that the robots are coming.

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Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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