The sight of robots frying chicken in KFC kitchens may not be as far away as it sounds after the fast food chain inked a landmark agreement that indicates how seriously it is taking future back-of-house design.
The brand has signed a memorandum of understanding 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.
Hyundai Robotics will be in charge of designing efficient cooking processes and standardising operational procedures, while KFC will provide the manufacturing expertise and sales facilities, as well as develop cooking equipment.
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.
Hyundai Robotics provides vast experience in smart factories, where robots manufacture other robots, but the deal with KFC represents its first foray into the ‘food tech’ market.
COO Seo Yoo Seong said research shows that 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.
“COVID-19 has brought us this new opportunity called ‘food tech’ due to the shifting of consumption patterns,” he stated. “We will use this cooperation to develop and apply robotics technology and expand into new industries.”
The concept of robotic chefs continues to gain interest within the fast food sector, especially.
US chain White Castle confirmed recently that it would install an autonomous grilling and frying kitchen assistant in 10 sites after a successful trial of the technology during the pandemic.
The company plans to implement the new version of Miso Robotics’ Flippy Robot-on-a-Rail (ROAR) into multiple kitchens to enhance production speeds, empower teams behind the counter and maintain consistent quality and taste.