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Food processing automation

May 2014

Creative Food Processing and the Challenges of Automation

Rachel Greenberg writes technical and marketing content on automation, manufacturing, and industrial technologies in the San Diego region.

Back in 2003, the NPR show This American Life did an episode in which they tried to fit 20 unique stories into a 60 minute slot. One of these stores, Act 15 (which you can read in full in the transcript) tells the story of a Chicago-based manufacturer of hotdogs who, after moving his company to a new factory with a brand new advanced automated system, discovers that there is something wrong with his product.

The manufacturer is confused: he hasn’t changed the recipe at all, and after investing heavily in a brand new automated system, he’s disappointed that it seems to have spoiled his product instead of making it better.

After a year and a half of looking into it, he realizes that in the move to their new streamlined system in their larger factory, they cut out a step. In their old factory, which was structured oddly, an employee needed to take the uncooked hotdogs across the factory and through other cooking rooms before reaching the oven. This trip would warm the hotdogs for about a half an hour before they were cooked. The manufacturer then had to build a new room into his new factory to simulate the old process that it turned out was the secret to his recipe.

This story is a great example of how complicated a truly great manufacturing process can be and how difficult it can be for manufacturers and automation engineers alike to predict the kinds of challenges and unexpected setbacks that might come up as they try to make a system better.