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Robotics will transform the produce industry

Will there ever be a robot produce manager?

The world is moving at lightning speed and most industries rely on diverse types of machines to help operate their businesses — otherwise known as robots.

What was once reserved for science fiction movies is quickly becoming reality today. Robots are entering into our daily lives faster and with more advanced technology then ever before. They can be programmed to perform complicated and delicate activities in the workplace and in homes consistently, and without error.

Take the Roomba Robot Vacuum. It moves about the house cleaning the floors and can be programmed to learn, map and adapt to the floor plan of a house by use of Alexa-enabled smart devices.

The current average growth of robotics is estimated to be about 12 percent annually and increasing rapidly, particularly for business applications.

Here are just a few types of robotics available to retailers:

Manufacturing robot — industrial automated robots that can move, swivel, grip, handle, assemble, paint or do welding in a plant.

Support robot — automated wheelchairs, mobility assistance and therapy exercising devices for people in need.

Commercial robot — used for cleaning, delivering, customer assisting, fire-fighting and for surgery.

Expect the robotic age to act the same as computers did in the early 1980s. It was a struggle in the beginning, I’d wager nary a business today would be operational without them.

Robot technology is entering into our food industry just like the computer age did years ago. More and more companies are confident that this will be a new evolution in the supermarket business and the open-minded companies that invest in this trend will be ahead of the game.

Robotics has already entered the agricultural industry and is being used for multiple purposes. Due to many farm labor shortages, growers are depending on various types of automation to do plowing, planting, weeding, thinning, irrigation, harvesting, packing and loading.

Different types of robots are useful in packing plants as well. They can wash, sort, size, trim, pack, weigh and label product. Robots can be programmed to do daily cleaning of machinery, equipment, storage rooms and floors.

There are even robots that can be rented. Companies can pay a certain fee on a monthly basis for their use. This is especially advantageous for short-term needs in seasonal harvesting such as stone fruit and grapes. In precision tests, the fruit handling by robots revealed much less damage in the picking process.

Supermarket retailers are now starting to test the use of robots in stores. They move about the aisles using sensors for scanning floor spills, out-of-stocks, missing tags, incorrect pricing, damage, and short dated or expired product.

A robot janitor in a supermarket would be able to perform duties that most employees don’t want. They can sweep and mop floors, pick up and empty trash, clean equipment, wash windows, and gather carts in the parking lot. That alone could free up employees so they can keep displays fully stocked at all times.

This is a new age filled with new ideas and robotics has arrived. When computers entered into our everyday lives jobs and the economy grew. Robots will be the co-workers of the future and may actually lead to creating newer and greater jobs for employees.

Machines will continue to become more sophisticated. Today, we have smart devices, drones, driverless cars, cameras, computerized washing machines, printers, and every hand and voice remote there is in the world. But it still takes humans to program and operate them.

So, going back to the original question, will there ever be a robot produce manager?

No, I don’t believe there will ever be a robot produce manager. There is no substitute for people. However, I do foresee robots and people becoming co-workers to some extent in the future.

But one thing is for sure — that robot will be reporting to the produce manager.

Ron Pelger is the owner of RonProCon, a produce industry advisory firm. He is also a produce industry merchandising director and a freelance writer. He can be contacted at 775/843-2394 or by e-mail at ronprocon@gmail.com.