Tag Archives: virtual reality

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

How Will AR and VR Improve Safety in the Food Industry?

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

The food and beverage sector is a huge presence in the U.S. economy. As of 2017, the industry employed 1.46 million people across 27,000 different establishments. Total food and beverage sales stand at around $1.4 trillion and add $164 billion in value to the economy as a whole.1 This presents significant opportunities and risks alike. Companies that trade in food products are held to some of the highest regulatory standards. With globalization ongoing and a higher demand than ever for variety and niche products, companies find they need to expand the mobility of their services. They must also broaden their product choices without missing a beat when it comes to quality.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have emerged as unlikely allies in that quest. These technologies are already having a positive impact on food and worker safety in the industry.

Improves New Employee Training

Onboarding and training new employees is a costly and time-consuming endeavor in any industry. Moreover, failure by companies to impart the necessary skills, and failure by employees to retain them, can have ghastly consequences. Errors on assembly lines may result in faulty products, recalls, worker and customer injuries, and worse.

The stakes in the food and beverage sector are just as high as they are in other labor- and detail-oriented industries. VR provides an entirely new kind of training experience for employees, whether they’re working on mastering their pizza cutting technique or brewing the perfect cappuccino. Other times, “getting it right” is about much more than aesthetic appeal and immediate customer satisfaction.

Animal slaughtering and processing facilities represent some of the more extreme examples of potentially dangerous workplaces in the larger food and beverage industry. Between 2011 and 2015, this U.S. sector experienced 73 fatal workplace injuries. Excepting poultry processing, 2015 saw 9,800 recordable incidents in animal processing, or 7.2 cases for every 100 full-time employees.

Some adopters of VR-based employee training claim that virtual reality yields up to an 80% retention rate one year after an employee has been trained. This compares extremely favorably to the estimated 20% retention rate of traditional training techniques.

Training via VR headset can help companies get new hires up to speed faster in a safe, detailed and immersive environment. Food processing and service are high-turnover employment sectors. The right training technology can help workers feel better prepared and more engaged with their work, potentially reducing employee churn.

Helps Eliminate Errors in Food Processing

Augmented reality is already demonstrating great promise in manufacturing, maintenance and other sectors. For instance, an AR headset can give an assembly line worker in an automotive plant detailed, step-by-step breakdowns of their task in their peripheral vision through a digital overlay.

The same goes for food and beverage manufacturing. AR headsets can superimpose a list of inspection or processing tasks for workers to follow as they prepare food items in a manufacturing or distribution facility.

In 2018, there was an estimated 382 recalls involving food products. Augmented reality alone won’t bring that number down to zero. However, it does help reduce instances of line workers and inspectors missing critical steps in processing or packaging that might result in contamination or spoilage.

Eases the Learning Curve in Food Preparation

There are lots of food products in the culinary world that are downright dangerous if they’re not prepared properly and by following specific steps. Elderberries, various species of fish, multiple root vegetables, and even cashews and kidney beans can all induce illness and even death if the right steps aren’t taken to make them fit for consumption.

In early 2019, inspectors descended on a Michelin-starred and highly respected restaurant in Valencia, Spain. The problem? A total of 30 patrons reported falling ill after eating at El País, one of whom lost her life. Everyone reported symptoms similar to food poisoning.

The common element in each case appeared to be morel mushrooms. These are considered a luxury food item, but failure to cook them properly can result in gastric problems and worse. Augmented reality could greatly reduce the likelihood of incidents like this in the future by providing ongoing guidance and reminders to new and veteran chefs alike, without taking the bulk of their attention away from work.

Brings New Efficiencies to Warehousing and Pick-and-Pack

Consumers around the globe are getting used to ordering even highly perishable foodstuffs over the internet—and there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle. Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods is an indicator of what’s to come: Hundreds of freezer-equipped and climate-controlled warehouses located within a stone’s throw from a majority of the American population.

Ensuring smooth operations in perishable food and beverage supply chains is a major and ongoing struggle. It’s not just a practical headache for companies—it’s something of a moral imperative, too. The World Health Organization finds that around 600 million individuals worldwide fall ill each year due to foodborne illnesses.

Augmented reality won’t completely solve this problem, but it may greatly reduce a major source of potential spoilage and contamination: Inefficiencies in picking and packing operations. Order pickers equipped with AR headsets can:

  • Receive visual prompts to quickly find their way to designated stow locations in refrigerated warehouses after receiving refrigerated freight.
  • Locate pick locations more efficiently while retrieving single items or when they already have a partial order of perishable goods picked.

In both cases, the visual cues provided by AR help employees navigate warehousing locations much more quickly and efficiently. This substantially lowers the likelihood that food products are stuck in limbo in unrefrigerated areas, potentially coming into contact with noncompliant temperatures or pathogens. The FDA recognizes mispackaged and mislabeled food products as a major public health risk.

For food and beverage companies, AR should be a welcome development and a worthy investment. FSMA recognized that 48 million Americans get sick each year from compromised foods. The act required these entities to be much more proactive in drawing up prevention plans for known sources of contamination and to be more deliberate in standardizing their processes for safety’s sake.

AR and VR Boost Food, Worker and Customer Safety

Augmented and virtual reality may seem like an unusual ally in an industry where most consumers are primarily focused on the aesthetic and sensory aspects of the experience. However, there’s a whole world that lives and dies according to the speed and attention to detail of employees and decision-makers alike. Augmented realities, and entirely new ones, point the way forward.

Reference

  1. Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board. (March 2017). “Economic Contribution of the Food and Beverage Industry. Retrieved from https://www.ced.org/pdf/Economic_Contribution_of_the_Food_and_Beverage_Industry.pdf.
Augmented Reality

A New (Augmented) Reality

By Paul Ryznar
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Augmented Reality

At a time when advances in virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) have begun to move from the pages of science fiction onto the floors of factories, boardrooms and businesses—and even the hands of consumers—it is easy to see how and why innovative new technologies are being viewed as game-changing breakthroughs.

One of the most exciting technology frontiers is the field of augmented reality (AR) technology, not only for the intriguing potential that AR solutions represent, but for the practical applications that are already transforming the face of industries as diverse as automotive, healthcare and aerospace. AR is changing the way products are made and tested, the way personnel are trained, and even the way factories and facilities are designed and run. It seems clear that when it comes to AR, the future is now.

The same AR-based technology solutions that are streamlining and error-proofing manufacturing and assembly processes, and making workplaces safer, smarter and more efficient, have the potential for an equally transformative impact in food production and food service environments. From food production facilities to restaurants, AR technology can improve speed, quality and consistency in any operation. Taking a closer look at some existing examples of AR applications can provide a better sense of how AR tech can help brands and businesses in the food and beverage space effectively address persistent challenges and capitalize on emerging opportunities.

Nuts and Bolts

While the platform specifics vary from one application to the next, the basics of AR remain consistent: An emerging constellation of systems and technologies designed to provide real-time audio and visual guidance, offering hands-free functionality that is both interactive and adaptive. Regardless of the industry, the ultimate goal is to ensure tasks are completed safely, correctly and efficiently.

Augmented Reality
At National Restaurant Association Show, a “smart bar” concept allowed attendees to whip up a cocktail using their AR-guided technology.

Some AR technology solutions utilize a digital operating “canvas” as a kind of virtual overlay. This digital overlay can be projected directly into almost any workspace and onto almost any work surface. This allows AR solutions to provide prompts, pacing and direction with unprecedented clarity and specificity. It also allows AR platforms to be extremely flexible and customizable, capable of being deployed to meet the unique demands of a virtually unlimited range of scenarios, processes and work environments. The inherent flexibility of today’s rapidly expanding suite of AR tech solutions is hugely important for restaurant and food industry applications, where kitchens and workspaces vary from one facility to the next. That flexibility even extends to real-time adjustments. The best AR platforms are fully programmable, giving operators the ability to select preset sequences, programs or processes with the push of a button.

Quality and Efficiency

The promise of AR is not just the pursuit of perfection as an abstract ideal, but the potential to take substantive and meaningful steps that get far closer to an optimized, error-free operation than has ever previously been possible. AR technology can help build the perfect pizza; brew the perfect cup of coffee; cook, plate and serve extraordinary food with zero errors and higher productivity; and even ensure the right amounts of the right products are labeled, packaged and shipped correctly.

Something as simple as a lighted visual indicator projected directly onto a pizza showing exactly where every pepperoni should be placed can make a tremendous positive difference. This ensures that the right quantity is used, that every pizza looks great, and even allows those preparing each pie to move a little faster and more efficiently. Reducing waste, boosting efficiency and improving quality and presentation all in one.

Similar projection technology can ensure precise slicing and portions for a wide range of ingredients and prepared foods. In the process, workers can do away with a number of more cumbersome tools and intervening steps. Virtual solutions saving a few seconds at each step can add up to some significant time savings by the end of a shift.

The range of tools that can be integrated into an AR system is virtually unlimited. From laser tracking to precise scales, the possibilities are exciting. In the chaos, confusion and pressure of a working kitchen, anything that allows cooks, servers and other food service professionals to move faster and more efficiently is a welcome addition. Many AR systems feature integrated no-faults-forward functionality that will not allow the user to move forward to the next step if the previous steps have not been completed correctly. This virtually eliminates human error, and goes a long way toward boosting the quality and consistency of the finished product. In both a food production and a food service context, that is enormously significant.

A similarly substantive impact can be realized upstream in the food production process, as well. Part picking and sequencing technology can ensure the right products and ingredients are packed, stored and delivered correctly, allowing warehouse and delivery personnel to move faster and make fewer mistakes. Similarly, inspection and quality control processes can be more comprehensive and effective, all while taking less time.

Traceability

Traceability is a high priority in food production and preparation. Whatever the path from farm to table, knowing exactly where each ingredient was sourced is important not only in terms of food safety, but also loss control—ultimately making production and preparation processes more efficient.

AR solutions can not only help increase efficiency and facilitate error-free productivity, but they can also help identify, diagnose and correct procedural pain points. Detailed procedural records and digital imagery of each food item produced ensures that potential issues can be traced not just to individual food workers, but to the exact step in the process where things went awry. The “digital birth certificates” that can be generated through AR’s advanced and accessible tracking, monitoring and verification capabilities make it possible to quickly identify bottlenecks and other challenges, and ultimately implement improvements that streamline operations.

Training and Integration

AR technology is also extremely valuable as a training tool. In the food service industry, where relatively high turnover rates are a common challenge, systems and software that can deliver a training experience that is standardized, effective and fast, are a game-changer. Eliminating training variation and ensuring that every new employee learns the same information, in the same way, is something that can have a dramatic and sustained impact on consistency, productivity, and, ultimately, the bottom line.

The kitchen of the future will also need to interface more effectively with back office systems (BOS), and AR tech solutions show great promise here, as well. Connecting detailed data feeds with a BOS in real time allows managers and other decision-makers to make more informed and strategic decisions about everything from operations and logistics, to seating and food preparation.

Efficiency Boost (Productivity)

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of introducing AR tech platforms into the food production and service industries is that the technology has the potential to address all three major priorities that brands and businesses face: Quality, productivity and traceability. And at a time when many restaurants are addressing large-scale structural challenges like rising wages, the potential to significantly bring down costs by being more productive and having greater throughput is an appealing proposition.

To understand just how dramatic the efficiency improvements can be, we need not look further than industries where AR tech already has a substantial foothold. Studies have consistently shown that, even with experienced operators, AR platforms lead directly to significant—and in many cases dramatic—improvements in productivity. A 2017 article in the Harvard Business Review cited a Boeing study that showed AR improved productivity in assembly processes by 25%. GE Healthcare saw even more dramatic results, with workers completing tasks 46% faster. Factoring in additional examples, the “average productivity improvement” was 32%, with error rates approaching zero. Extrapolate those types of results in food production and food service environments, and it’s easy to see how and why AR technology is generating so much excitement. More than just a culinary trend or fad, AR tech has the potential to spark a fundamental restructuring of the operational backbone of food service and production facilities.