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Unlike many other manufacturing processes, food processing does not always lend itself well to automation.
For example, while car and computer parts come in standardized sizes, the variation in raw materials used in food production, such as chickens, can thwart attempts to automate.
Nonetheless, strides are being made in automating many food production processes and gathering data to improve ergonomic conditions in manual ones, said Sim Harbert, Atlanta-based senior research engineer at the food processing technology division of Georgia Tech Research Institute.
While Georgia Tech researchers are trying to develop robots that use 3-D imaging and sophisticated sensor-based cutting technology to debone poultry, the more immediate use is capturing motion data to better design tools and to train poultry workers.
“As we go forward with our research, some of the sensor technology is really coming down in price,” Mr. Harbert said. “We are looking at ways of changing the environment or training workers based on objective measures of what they are doing.”
The worker safety record in the food processing business has long lagged other sectors, but advances in ergonomics and automation are helping close the gap.