Exciting Food Manufacturing Technologies in 2024

Food Tech
June 27, 2024

Technology is transforming food manufacturing. It’s enhancing operational efficiency and safety, improving product quality, and increasing consumer engagement. It’s also enabling sustainability and food security with innovations to feed growing populations, reduce food waste and emissions, and facilitate local production at scale.

Automation, artificial intelligence, data analytics, robotics, blockchain, 3D printing, smart sensors, and IoT devices are all contributing to the digitization of our critical food systems. Not only is how food is produced changing, but also what is produced, the nutritional content, and how it’s delivered, packaged, and presented to consumers.

What are the latest trends in food manufacturing?
What are the latest trends in food manufacturing?

Technology as a Food System Solution

The global population is predicted to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, prompting the critical challenge of how to sustainably feed everyone. Food production contributes around 25% of emissions, and food systems are increasingly fragile, at the whim of climate change, geopolitical tensions, and other global disruptions, as evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Innovations that combine an array of emerging, advanced, and powerful technologies may hold the solution to many of the challenges found in food manufacturing and food systems.

Hyperlocal Food Systems

Technological innovation and the need for sustainable, secure food systems drive a paradigm shift. Distributed or decentralized food production and circularity are emerging as solutions to inefficient, arguably broken, conventional systems

Hyperlocal food systems, with localized manufacturing and distribution, take advantage of local food sources, reduce food miles, produce fresher food faster, and are resilient to national or global disruption. They also provide food producers and retailers with greater opportunities to customize manufacturing for local markets and the flexibility to respond to market issues or opportunities.

Relocalize, a startup out of Quebec, is making hyperlocal food systems possible, scalable, and affordable by building autonomous micro-factories to produce food and beverages globally. By decentralizing production or packaging, Relocalize can eliminate middle-mile transportation costs and emissions and provide resilient food supply chains. The company integrates several exciting technologies, including robotics and AI, into its technology platform and micro-factories for higher-quality products at lower costs, ready for mass production by 2025.

World’s first autonomous micro-factory for food by Relocalize
World’s first autonomous micro-factory for food by Relocalize

Trendi, from British Columbia, is developing robotic mobile processing units for farms and food processors that can turn misfit and overproduced fruits and vegetables into powdered or flaked shelf-stable products. These products can be used in food manufacturing or pet foods and prevent the need to ship perishable, heavier whole products.

Robotics and Automation

Food manufacturing processes are evolving rapidly with the introduction of robotics and automated systems that enhance precision, speed, and safety. Robots are taking up repetitive, precise tasks, ensuring quality, reducing human error, and protecting workers from tasks that often pose health and safety hazards. Siemens has been building production line robots for years, but it now integrates new technologies and uses the concept of “digital twins” to create digital factory replicas to simulate processes and improve efficiencies and, in turn, sustainability.

Automated robotic arms lifting food
Automated robotic arms lifting food

Smart Manufacturing and Quality Control

Emerging technologies combine to create smart manufacturing solutions beyond simple robots and automated processes. AI and IoT are blended into hyper-intelligent processes that use sensors and AI’s data processing capabilities and knowledge banks to spot problems, monitor moisture levels, maintain temperatures, reduce waste, and ensure efficiency. Machine learning algorithms can predict food safety risks based on storage conditions to identify and mitigate health risks or waste from degraded food. Augmented reality can be used for immersive and engaging employee training or deployed to add real-time image overlays that aid in identifying issues in food production.

3D Printing

3D printing is opening up a raft of new opportunities for intricate and customizable foods, including personalized nutrition and elaborate creations for special occasions. Food manufacturers, chefs, and even grocers can experiment with new products to engage consumers. 

Nourished uses 3D printing to create vitamin gummies to meet individuals' specific needs and lifestyles. The tiny, seven-layer stacks blend nutrients, vitamins, and superfoods and are made to order. 

Kroger began testing a 3D cake printing robot made by Beehex in 2023 that allows consumers to add custom messages to cakes and watch the process completed in minutes. Beehex plans to install 350 machines at Kroger locations in the future.

3D-printed smashed potatoes

Predictive Analytics

Beyond monitoring and reacting in manufacturing processes, AI and machine learning’s powerful data collation and processing abilities empower predictive analytics that can optimize ingredients and processes to minimize waste. They can also scrutinize and evaluate entire supply chains, from agricultural products and raw materials through to packaging and distribution, to optimize networks, predict disruptions, and forecast supply and demand. Incorporating historical data and market trends can prevent overproduction and improve production planning.

Cellular Agriculture

Plant-based products, cultivated meats, and vertical farming have been in development for some time. Cellular agriculture has received a little less coverage, yet it could mean that products like cocoa, vanilla, and coffee can be made locally rather than imported, reducing food miles significantly. Cult Food Science, an investment company in British Columbia, has launched its Cult Food Division with two products planned as sustainable alternatives that don’t impact animals or the environment. The first is a cell-based coffee beverage, and the second is a gummy made with cell-based collagen.

Laboratory-grown food

Autonomous Biosecurity

A third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted, substantially contributing to the carbon footprint of the sector with negative rather than positive benefits. South Carolina-based Epic IO is developing a biosecurity solution that can be used by farmers or food processors to extend the life of fresh foods and reduce spoilage and waste. Rather than the traditional solution of using refrigeration and chemicals, Epic IO automates micro-doses of ozone and ultraviolet radiation that make the air a disinfectant that combats bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

Integrating These Food Manufacturing Technologies

Relocalize exemplifies the integration of many of these trends, including robotics, smart manufacturing and quality control, AI predictive analytics, and disinfection technology for hyperlocal food systems. By leveraging these advanced technologies, Relocalize is revolutionizing the food manufacturing landscape with its hyperlocal micro-factories.

As we move forward into 2024 and beyond, the continued adoption and innovation in food manufacturing technologies will be crucial in addressing the challenges of feeding a growing global population sustainably. The advancements in these technologies not only promise to improve efficiency and safety but also to revolutionize the way we think about food production and consumption. The future of food manufacturing is bright, with the potential to make a significant positive impact on both the environment and society.

For more information on how Relocalize is contributing to this technological revolution, visit relocalize.com.

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