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Application of robotics and automation in the FMCG sector

 The Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry has changed significantly over the past decade. Consumers’ preferences have altered and so has the demand and supply chain pattern. Since the adoption of automation in the industry, the FMCG industry has experienced a digital revolution.

In a country like India, fast-moving consumer goods are the key contributors to the economy. According to Statista Research department, the FMCG sector accounts for the fourth-largest sector in the Indian economy. The FMCG market in India is expected to rise at a CAGR of 14.9% to reach US$ 220 billion by 2025, from US$ 110 billion in 2020.

A number of large companies have adopted automation such as P&G, Coca-Cola, Hindustan Unilever and many more. Robots have gained wide acceptance across the industries, especially in consumer goods industry processes ranging from packaging, mixing, piece-picking, palletising to quality checks. Indeed, robots are performing an incredible job.

Automation of the whole production line is an expensive process that only larger enterprises can afford. However, with the advancements in technology, collaborative robots or cobots are introduced to the factory floor. Unlike industrial robots, cobots are economical, space-saving and safe to be used within human settings and do not require fencing or caging to ensure workers’ safety (upon risk assessment). These user-friendly cobots are offering partial automation in the manufacturing processes, an affordable option for small and mid-sized enterprises. In addition, the deployment of cobots does not require major changes in infrastructure.

In the past few years, the automation industry has seen a surge in cobot deployment across the globe. The manufacturing industry was greatly hit by the pandemic, leading to disruption in the supply chain. These companies were under great pressure to improve and optimise their business operations to meet the production requirements as well as to remain competitive in the market. Adoption of robotics and automation across the industry helped manufacturers to ensure business resilience in the sector.

Manufacturers in the FMCG industry face various challenges such as reduced efficiency in labour due to mundane and repetitive tasks in activities like packaging and palletising, logistics and warehousing, weight lifting and many more. The application of robotics and automation has made these tasks very easy and efficient. In the FMCG sector, applications of robotics and automation include:

  • Packaging and palletising

Such processes involve some of the least ergonomic tasks in the supply chain, accounting for a significant number of repetitive strains and musculoskeletal disorders among workers. Lifting heavy loads and bending to pick up or wrap goods are not just non-ergonomic tasks that carry the risk of injury, they are also repetitive, which can lead to human error as attention spans decline.

Programmed to work on repetitive tasks to relieve workers from performing mundane and tedious tasks, cobots increase the production rate on the factory floor. The application of cobots decreases the fatigue in the workers leaving them free to work on higher-value tasks.


  • Warehousing

In the past few years, robotics in warehousing and logistics has seen a massive increase in adoption. As cobots are lightweight and flexible, they ensure that goods are transferred at a consistent or even faster pace. Additionally, major infrastructure changes are not required in order to automate the manufacturing unit.

Cobots have relieved the stress of strenuous tasks on workers and also help in increasing production. Automation has reduced the cost of production and increased efficiency among the workers.


  • Inventory control

Keeping checks of inventory is a rigorous process, especially in the case of retailers where maintaining stock is a necessity. Inventory has become more transparent as a result of automation, and the potential of a last-minute supply outage has been avoided. Distributors and retailers can get real-time inventory counts on specific items, further assisting them to make better decisions.

Cobots are now equipped with sensors to allow manufacturers to scan inventory and identify the space required for the storage of goods. This creates a more efficient space and eliminates the risk of breakage or wastage. Taking advantage of cobots’ precision and consistent capabilities, manufacturers are relying on cobots more than ever before.


  • Quality checks

In the FMCG industry, technology has worked as a boon for industries where maintaining quality and keeping checks of ingredients is very crucial. Human employees tend to lose concentration due to repetitive actions after a prolonged period of time, leading to an increase in the prevalence of human errors. In this case, cobots are taking on the ergonomically challenging tasks and relieving human employees to work on better tasks. Besides increasing efficiency and productivity, the reduction of human errors has led to a decrease in product and materials wastage.


  • Product customisation

The FMCG sector is heavily dependent on seasonal demand, with constant changes in consumer tastes and environments. Traditional industrial robots are often designed to perform a particular task and require robot experts for any programming changes. Whereas cobots are flexible and can be redeployed to perform a variety of tasks without the need for professional engineers.

Robotics and automation have reached new heights, defying barriers caused by the global pandemic and escalating conflicts. The labour-intensive nature of the FMCG sector delivers new options for the adoption of advanced technology. In this case, the perfect man-machine collaboration, cobots, has been a game-changer in this growing industry. With automation and robotics likely to open up opportunities for commercial growth, sustainability monitoring and operational efficiency, the future of the FMCG sector is exciting.


(The author is Mr. Sougandh K.M, Country Manager of India, Universal Robots and the views expressed in this article are his own)

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