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An Area Ripe For Automation



August 01, 2011 – Comments (7)

So I was at the local Kroger, and was buying some things at the deli and had time to think. (Cue anxious music.) What I was noticing was how long it took to do a pretty simple order, two sliced meats and one sliced cheese. Nothing fancy. Watching the people behind the counter, there were at least 6, in an area that can't have that high hourly sales. Plus there was a lot of wasted food, as small ends and the first slice were thrown out while adjusting the machine.

So I got to wondering how hard it would be to automate the deli and have most of the work done in a big regional commisary and then have machines do the actual vending. It would definitely take some doing, robotics is not really there yet, but if you designed the food products for easy handling, you could probably make this work and still do slice to order. There would be an initial high capital cost, but it might pay for itself pretty quickly.  

I know from when I worked at the markets that the deli is considered to be one of the worst places in the market to work.  

7 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On August 01, 2011 at 3:48 PM, TDRH (96.52) wrote:

It is very labor intensive and exposes the grocer to some risk.   That said, it would have to be a high volume store to support the robotics.   At the Kroger near my house,  you can type your order in and come back when you finish your shopping.  Low cost touch screen.

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#2) On August 01, 2011 at 5:19 PM, chk999 (99.96) wrote:

They don't have the touch screen thing at my Kroger. That would be a big plus.

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#3) On August 01, 2011 at 9:11 PM, ChrisGraley (28.49) wrote:

Actually automated meat-slicers are fairly cheap. You would need a slicer for each item that you wanted to slice though and each slicer would need a scale in the base. Also all the slicers would need to be kept in a refridgerated area since meat would stay on each slicer. You would need kiosks in the front that would send the orders to each needed slicer. You would need 1 employee to package and label the product with a pre-printed label and to also replenish items that ran out on the slicers. Not fully automated, but close. You would have more accurate measurements and less waste and less labor costs, but you would need a pretty busy deli to make it viable given the higher fixed costs and low margins on deli items. Also your employee will need to know how to fix the slicer when it breaks down or you will need a few spare slicers as back-up.


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#4) On August 02, 2011 at 3:04 AM, BentMike (83.36) wrote:

I think when handling perishable products human judgement is needed.  First time someone gets sick watch out, here come the lawyers.  

Blister pack lunchmeat and poly-bagged yaya bread is the decades old deli automation.

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#5) On August 02, 2011 at 10:37 AM, eldemonio (97.57) wrote:

I prefer humans handling my meat, not robots.

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#6) On August 02, 2011 at 11:45 AM, chk999 (99.96) wrote:

I prefer humans handling my meat, not robots.

I think they're working on this in Japan. 

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#7) On August 02, 2011 at 12:09 PM, DaveGruska (91.52) wrote:

Interesting idea. I think the tech is in place to handle it (touch screen entry w/ lots of options, grapple w/ barcoding or other ID, automatic slicer, meat tester of some sort, delivery grapple), but the cost would be crazy I'm sure, and the ROI would probably take a very long time. Also, I'm not sure how much faster a robotic system could do this over a decent deli worker.

BTW, I worked in a few supermarkets when I was in high school, and didn't mind working in the deli at all - I much prefered it to being a cashier - much more relaxed atmosphere.

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