Robotics Guru lists the next three industries to be automated

  • The automotive and logistics industries are among the most invested in automation in the US economy.
  • But there is still room for robotics in a number of other industries.
  • Jeff Burnstein, an automation industry guru and president of the Association for Advancing Automation, outlines how automation can be used in agriculture, food processing and healthcare.

A software and robotics machine called mGripAI from Massachusetts-based Soft Robotics sorts artificial chicken pieces into trays for packaging at an automation conference held by the Association for Advancing Automation in Detroit.

Michael Wayland/CNBC

DETROIT — The automotive and logistics industries are no strangers to robots.

They are among the most heavily invested businesses in automation in the US economy, using robots to sort packages, transport goods and help build vehicles.

But other industries where robotics have yet to take hold could be potential investment opportunities and areas of expansion for automation companies in the coming years.

These new areas fascinate Jeff Burnstein, an automation industry guru and president of the Association for Advancing Automation. His trade group represents more than 1,000 global companies involved in robotics, machine vision, motion control and motors and related technologies.

Burnstein, who recently received a prestigious award for his more than 40 years in the industry, believes automation and robotics can go a long way in helping to do the “boring, dirty, dangerous jobs” that people don’t necessarily want to do.

Jeff Burnstein (center right), president of the Association for Advancing Automation, after receiving a Joseph F. Engelberger Robotics Award for his more than 40-year career in the industry.

Photo courtesy of the Association for the Promotion of Automation

“If you look at what’s driving a lot of the automation in a lot of industries, it’s a lack of people,” he said on the sidelines of an automation convention last week in Detroit.

Labor shortages, led by the manufacturing industry, are the key driver of the growth of automation, he said.

Here are three industries Burnstein predicts are next for automation:

The agricultural industry is already testing or using various automated, if not autonomous, technologies to make operations more efficient and safer. It also serves to cut costs

Tractor manufacturer Deere & Co., for example, offers a variety of automated assist functions such as turning and guidance for crop rows. Deere is working on an autonomous tractor that can “see, think and work on its own, freeing up time for farmers to complete other tasks at the same time,” according to its website.

Other automated technologies for agriculture include drones that can spray pesticides over crops, remote-controlled tractors, automated harvesting systems and other data and logistics applications.

Deere’s autonomous 8R tractor


Harvesting and sorting chicken parts is exactly the kind of boring, dirty, dangerous work that automation can help with, says Burnstein.

At the automation convention, at least two companies showed off food-sorting robots whose capabilities included identifying which types of cuts fit into a tray for packaging.

In addition to efficiency benefits, there are also health and safety benefits, advocates point out.

“The machine can’t sneeze. It can’t rub its face. It can’t have hair falling into anything. So, it’s very safe. And the fewer hands that touch it, the less introduction of any disease,” said Anthony Romeo, a representative of the Massachusetts-based companies Cognex Corp. and Soft Robotics, one of the companies working on sorting food and chicken parts, which also attended the convention.

Employees of Tyson Foods

Greg Smith | Corbis SABA | Getty Images

In 2021, Tyson Foods said it would invest over $1.3 billion in new automation capabilities through 2024 to increase yields and reduce both labor costs and associated risks—ultimately delivering savings to the meat processor.

Tyson CEO Donnie King told investors last month that the company continues to “invest in automation and digital capabilities with opportunities to improve our returns.”

He said the company has 50 chicken deboning lines that are fully automated.

Pilgrim’s Pride, one of the world’s largest chicken producers, has also announced significant investments in automation, including more than $100 million it announced in 2021.

Automation in healthcare can be viable in a number of cases – from transporting goods and personal medicines to someone’s bedside, to cleaning and disinfecting tools.

“You can do it robotically,” Burnstein said. “If you have trouble finding people, it can be a good solution. There are all kinds of things like that and then drug detection, of course, and other applications.”

A notable company currently in the space is Aethon, a Pittsburgh-based robotics company that has made strides in the healthcare sector with an autonomous mobile robot called TUG. The robots are capable of navigating around a hospital independently, according to the company’s website.

TUG can be programmed to avoid obstacles and even operate elevators, according to the company.

One example is an AMR, or autonomous mobile robot: a type of vehicle that can perform several different delivery tasks, which Burnstein called “hot in automation” at the moment.

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