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A pair of robotic arms in the process of cutting out the pit of a head of lettuce
A pair of robotic arms in the process of cutting out the pit of a head of lettuce

 

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      ROBIT AI FOOD AUTOMATION HELPS CUT FOOD PRODUCTION TIME AND WASTE


      Labor supply shortages are a global concern, but perhaps nowhere is this concern more acute than in Japan, where declining birth rates and an aging population are projected to shrink the labor force by as much as 12% by 2040.1  The Japanese food industry is already feeling the strain throughout the entire supply chain, from production to restaurant service. Intelligent automation in the food industry offers a potential solution to this growing staffing challenge. Food manufacturing automation can take over repetitive or dangerous tasks, leaving a smaller human workforce to apply their skills in more meaningful, less risk-intensive areas.

      Analog Devices, Inc. (ADI) worked with Japanese manufacturing innovation firm ROBIT to support their development of CUTR, the world’s first artificial intelligence (AI) food cutting robot. CUTR leverages ADI Trinamic™ technology to achieve precise motion control in the challenging space of food processing automation. Innovations like CUTR can help food manufacturers and restaurants improve productivity and quality while reducing costs associated with labor and waste.

      ¥10 MILLION
      A SITE THAT HANDLES A LARGE QUANTITY OF LETTUCE CAN LOSE TENS OF MILLIONS OF YEN PER YEAR BY REMOVING EVEN JUST ONE GRAM PER UNIT MORE THAN NECESSARY.2

      AT A GLANCE

      COMPANY

      ROBIT, a Japanese manufacturing innovation company founded in 2014, drives value through a combination of hardware and software, leveraging AI and robotics to realize a more automated and efficient future.

      GOAL

      Automate simple and repetitive tasks in food processing such as cutting produce and removing inedible parts, all with maximum efficiency and minimal waste.

      CHALLENGE

      A successful food automation solution must process irregularly shaped produce without damaging it, must operate in cold environments to keep produce fresh, and must match or exceed the speed and accuracy of skilled human workers.

      SOLUTION

      CUTR combines ROBIT’s proprietary image processing algorithm with a camera-equipped cutting robot and ADI Trinamic motion control technology to achieve smooth, precise motion.

      CUTR: THE MISSING INGREDIENT IN FOOD AUTOMATION

      The CUTR machine holding a head of lettuce with white target digital overlay
      CUTR prepares irregularly shaped produce like lettuce with speed, precision, and minimal waste.

      ROBIT conceived CUTR to prepare irregularly shaped and fragile produce, such as mushrooms and lettuce, by removing inedible parts and cutting the remainder into appropriate portions. CUTR leverages ADI Trinamic motion control technology to help maximize precision and minimize food waste.

      Industrial robotics are no stranger in the context of food manufacturing and processing. Automation has been used for tasks like measuring, combining, and cooking ingredients, assembling sandwiches, and operating deep fry machines—in short, tasks related to loading, processing, and transporting materials.

      But this was only partial food automation because those materials still needed to be cut, chopped, or otherwise prepared in advance—and doing so is one of the food industry’s most repetitive and dangerous tasks. It is also a task best performed in cold environments where produce can be kept freshest but where employees cannot comfortably work for long periods of time. All these factors make cutting produce an ideal task to automate as robotics emerge to fill workforce gaps.

      CUTR IN ACTION WITH INTELLIGENCE AT THE EDGE

      Flexible AI decision-making means that CUTR can be entrusted with complex cutting tasks. In one case study,3 CUTR successfully automated the cutting of premium maitake mushrooms, which are notoriously irregular in shape and vulnerable to impact. This makes them one of the most difficult crops to weigh and cut, a fact that is clear in the significant efficiency gap between new workers cutting this type of mushroom compared to more skilled counterparts.

      CUTR successfully sliced the maitake mushrooms according to weight and texture, even accounting for the taste of different parts of the mushroom so that each package would contain a balanced portion that looked aesthetically attractive to buyers. This illustrates the suitability of CUTR for use in food packaging automation and other areas that require precision manipulation of irregular and/or fragile objects.


      The Cutting Edge of Motion Control: Watch CUTR in action to see how ADI Trinamic precision meets custom-built intelligence to enable this AI food-cutting robot.

      CUTR CAPABILITIES AND BENEFITS

      ROBIT’s original food manufacturing automation robot, TESRAY, combined AI-optimized hardware with the company’s secret sauce: Its proprietary AI image processing algorithm. Together, these elements enabled TESRAY to achieve high speed, high precision mass inspection and sorting.

      But CUTR required more. As the maitake mushroom case study showed, a robot must be highly intelligent, flexible, and precise to cut produce at least as well as a skilled human worker. It must handle irregularly shaped objects without damaging them and account for variations between units in an environment where one size does not fit all. Finally, it must do all this with the utmost accuracy to minimize food waste and associated costs.

      Below are three critical capabilities that help make CUTR possible.

      Side view of the CUTR machine holding a head of lettuce with white target digital overlay

      Intelligence

      Using input from the imaging module, CUTR’s AI algorithm estimates the size, shape, and angle of portions to be cut—for example, the position and posture of the core inside a head of lettuce—by analyzing the product’s external appearance. This analysis determines how CUTR will grasp the item as well as how it executes the cut.

      A basket filled with tomatoes and lettuce

      Flexibility

      CUTR has been demonstrated with leafy vegetables and mushrooms, but it can be applied to other foods, such as tomatoes. Users can adjust the cutting method according to weight and other variables, change the removal rate of inedible parts, and set pre- and post-removal processes from gripping and handling to waste disposal. CUTR also offers potential space savings and interoperability in food prep environments that employ a blend of human and robotic workers.

      A close side view of CUTR

      Precision

      CUTR maintains high accuracy without using a sensor, an important function since food processing areas can easily contaminate sensors. CUTR leverages another product under the ADI Trinamic brand, StallGuard™, with an algorithm that provides smooth and precise motion control to help CUTR achieve an ideal sensorless cut.

      ADI TRINAMIC: PRECISION MAKES PERFECT

      StallGuard technology provides sensorless load measurement data well-suited for homing, self-calibration, distance measurement, and continuous system monitoring. Where precise referencing is required, sensorless load detection can help reduce cost and complexity, while StallGuard’s adjustable sensitivity supports versatility for diverse applications (and vegetables).

      ADI Trinamic enabled ROBIT to change the grip architecture from an air compressor to stepper motors in CUTR. This change made it possible for CUTR to thrive in tough temperature environments, either hot or cold, and still provide uncompromised torque and speed control regardless of ambient temperature.

      StallGuard helped ROBIT eliminate 12 sensors and over 40 cables from the CUTR design. In addition to SWaP savings, this reduction enabled freer movement of the robotic arm, especially rotational movement. This in turn reduced the complexity required for software programming.

      Wider view of the CUTR machine about to remove a pit in the ROBIT lab

      We at ROBIT want to take automation one step further by combining cutting-edge technologies such as AI hardware and software. We will continue to update robots in Japan and around the world together with Analog Devices.

      Masahiro Arai
      CEO/CTO, ROBIT, Inc.

      ROBIT AND ADI: COLLABORATING TO EVOLVE MANUFACTURING

      ROBIT believes that saving labor and resources on simple, repetitive tasks enables people to pursue work that is more complex, creative, and personally fulfilling. This is precisely what CUTR aims to do. By leveraging tried-and-tested ADI Trinamic motion solutions, ROBIT has developed the world’s first AI food cutting robot to show how food manufacturing automation can help share the burden of such tasks and potentially mitigate anticipated labor shortages.

      ROBIT has a vision to evolve manufacturing with the times—not just to prepare for the anticipated challenges of tomorrow, but to proactively build a tomorrow the world can look forward to. By reducing waste, improving efficiency, and offsetting the labor shortage, advancements in automation intelligence and accuracy could deliver meaningful benefits to our changing global society.

      Scientist picking out lettuce from a greenhouse
      References:

      1 “Future Predictions 2040 in Japan: The Dawn of the Limited-Labor Supply Society.” Recruit Works Institute, 2023.
      2 “Robots are not limited to transporting food/FOOMA JAPAN 2022.” Robot Digest, 2022.
      3 “Yukiguni Maitake, a comprehensive premium mushroom manufacturer, successfully developed automation technology for the Maitake cutting process and agreed to develop a next-generation packaging line.” PR Times, 2021.