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Robotics and automation for the food and beverage industry: How to get started

A guide to the top three use cases for robots in the industry

7-minute read

The food and beverage industry is the largest manufacturing industry in Canada in terms of production value, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). Sales totalled $156.5 billion in 2022. It is also the country’s largest manufacturing employer. More than 300,000 Canadians work in the sector.

However, as demand grows and part of the workforce retires, an estimated 142,000 new employees will be needed by 2030. This will be a significant challenge considering that companies are already having a hard time finding the skilled personnel they need.

Robotics and industrial automation can help.

By handling tasks that are dull, dirty or difficult, robots can play an important role in reducing staff turnover, improving employee satisfaction, eliminating production stoppages, increasing quality and boosting efficiency. For instance, a BDC study has shown that 39% of the most productive businesses invested in automation compared to 18% of other companies.

In this article, we present the top three robots applications food and beverage companies can invest in to start automating their processes. We selected these technologies because they are among the simplest and cheapest to implement, all the while offering interesting return on investment. The applications are:

  • case erectors
  • case packers
  • palletizers

Case erectors

Sometimes called “box erectors,” case erectors are industrial machines that automatically form, fold and seal corrugated cartons from flat boxes. These machines will make your production line more efficient because you will be able to reallocate employees to higher-value tasks.

Case erectors exist in two different varieties:

  • the basic case erector, which looks more like a traditional factory machine
  • the collaborative robot case erector, which is basically an articulated arm

The basic case erector is the cheapest option. It can form boxes quickly and feed them into your production line. Depending on your needs and projects, it can be the perfect option.

Collaborative robot case erectors, on the other hand, offer more flexibility. First, they can handle different box formats and sizes that simply cannot be handled by a traditional case erector. Second, they have a small footprint and can operate in tighter spaces. Third, they can be reprogrammed to form new types of boxes, a great advantage if you are planning on growing your business. They can even be reprogrammed to handle completely different tasks, like machine tending.

Performance will vary with price. Generally speaking, case erectors can form between five and 30 boxes per minute.

Cost of an automated case erector

Here is a general price range for case erectors:

  • Traditional case erector: $45,000 to $90,000
  • Collaborative robot case erector: $120,000 to $200,000

Case packers

Case packers are machines that load your product in cases or wraps them. In the food and beverage industry, they are normally categorized as being the primary or secondary handling case packers.

  • Primary handling refers to the processing of raw, prepared and frozen food items.
  • Secondary handling refers to the processing of foods that have already been sealed, like cartons of milk or packaged salads.

The difference between primary and secondary handling case packers lies in their sanitation characteristics.

Primary packers, for instance, will use food-grade grease and integrate special materials that will facilitate and resist frequent cleaning with caustic agents. With a maximum ingress protection rating of IP69K—a rating indicating the degree of protection against dust, moisture and liquids—some of these machines can even be cleaned by steam jet. When shopping for a primary packer, look for the following characteristics:

  1. Food-grade oil: the machine must use food-grade oil to reduce the risk of contamination in case of accidental lubricant leakage.
  2. Pressurization: to prevent the ingress of microorganisms, the robot arm must be pressurized.
  3. Wash-down compatibility: Since regular cleaning is critical in ensuring food safety, the robot must be able to endure daily washes.

Secondary packers usually only require food-grade grease, if the machine’s internal components are exposed to the food, as well as corrosion-resistant covers for bolts and bellows.

Case packers are now able to handle a wide variety of products, whether they are delicate, slippery or oddly shaped. This is thanks to a number of different gripping technologies, from mechanical handles to soft grippers and suction cups.

Whether you produce bread, chicken breasts, boxes or bottles of juice, cookies or even tacos, there is almost certainly a case packer that can handle it.

Cost of automated case packers

Prices for automated case packers will vary according to your needs, but as of 2024, expect to pay from $200,000 to $400,000 to fully equip your production line.


Palletizers are machines used to sort, transfer and stack cases of goods or products onto a pallet. Like case erectors, palletizers come in two varieties:

  • conventional industrial palletizers
  • more advanced collaborative robot (cobot) palletizers

Each has a number of advantages and disadvantages.

Industrial palletizers, for instance, can work with heavier products. They also usually work faster. Furthermore, they can often handle a wider variety of products, since collaborative robot palletisers are limited to pick and place using a vacuum gripper, as most other grippers would exceed the robot’s payload.

Cobot palletizers shine when it comes to handling lightweight products at slower speeds. If space is at a premium, they will be an excellent option since they are typically on the smaller side and have a more compact footprint. They can be cheaper, too.

Cost of automated palletizers

Popular collaborative robots with a 20kg payload can be worth up to $60,000. To fully equip a production line with palletizing robots, costs can range between $175,000 and $350,000.

What is the cost of robotics integration?

A good rule of thumb is that a turnkey collaborative robot project will cost around two or three times the price of the collaborative robot itself, while an industrial robot project will cost around five or six times the price of the robot.

You don’t have to explore automation on your own

We can help you find and finance the right automation solution for your business.

Ask for one of our experts to call you back to discuss your robotics and automation projects.

Find out how we can help with financing.

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