Food safety crises have become a regular occurrence, shaking consumer confidence in the food industry and prompting governing bodies to strengthen their food safety regulations. Food processors and manufacturers need to meet HACCP requirements for the analysis and control of biological hazards. A forerunner in hygienic industrial robot design, Stäubli was the first to produce an HE robot for humid and bacteria‑sensitive environments, back in 2007. In partnership with EHEDG and Ecolab—a cleaning systems specialist—Stäubli’s teams have developed robotic arms that meet the most stringent manufacturer and consumer criteria for hygiene and food safety, setting a new industry standard in the process.
In 2007, in response to food safety standards aimed at stopping the spread of enzymes and bacteria, Stäubli developed a fully hygienic robot arm that effectively eliminates the possibility of microbial contamination. Designed for the agri‑food industry, Stäubli’s 6‑axis HE (Humid Environment) robot fills, places, cuts, labels, packs and palletizes products in sensitive environments. To this day, Stäubli’s HE robot is THE reference in the food and beverage manufacturing industry.
When it comes to food safety, hygienic robot design is as important as the production process itself.
As « biological » products, meat, fish, dairy and frozen foods must be processed according to stringent hygienic standards.
Food safety crises erode consumer confidence in the safety of food products on a regular basis. For food and beverage manufacturers, products prone to microbial contamination are serious business. Recalls come at high price, both financially and in terms of image, for the company and even the industry as a whole. To restore consumer confidence, public health agencies in Europe and throughout the world have introduced tougher regulations. The agri‑food industry has responded with new systems and tools—from incoming quality control to industrial robotics to traceability systems—to deliver products that meet the highest food safety standards.
Food and beverage manufacturers are responsible for the microbial safety of their production processes. That means adhering to the principles of HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point), a system used to identify, evaluate and control food safety hazards, including microbial hazards. HACCP hazard analysis looks at raw materials, labour and equipment. Working with EHEDG (see below), Stäubli has reduced component criticality by developing equipment and components that can be cleaned safely and easily using standard industry cleaning products. Objective: Make sure all equipment is designed for optimal cleanability and meets EHEDG’s hygienic design criteria.
In 2007, Stäubli Robotics started building industrial robots with all the same technical features as their standard robots using EHEDG hygienic design guidelines. For 10 years now, they have set the standard for hygienic industrial robotics in the agri‑food industry. Together with EHEDG, Stäubli has used its position as an industry leader to improve cleaning systems for robotic arms in partnership with cleaner and detergent manufacturers. « When it comes to food safety, robot cleanability is as important as the quality of the food production process », says Arnaud Derrien, Stäubli Robotics’s account manager for major agri‑food clients in France.
Stäubli was the first robotics company to design an industrial robot with connectors and cables located inside the base and articulated arm. Building on this innovation, the company then adapted the robots to high‑humidity and splatter‑prone environments—another step forward for industrial robotics.
Stäubli’s HE Robots are designed using EHEDG guidelines for minimizing surface water retention, which helps prevent the growth of salmonella, listeria and other pathogens. The connectors are integrated into the body of the robot so that all the equipment can be cleaned. Surfaces are smooth, round, waterproof and open at the base to allow water to drain. « The arms are pressurized, which eliminates any risk of contamination », says Arnaud Derrien.
To make sure its HE robots can withstand frequent washdowns, Stäubli has also partnered with detergent and sterilization product manufacturers to make its robot arm surfaces chemically compatible with the cleaning products used in the industry.
Better still, manufacturers have capitalized on these technological advances by tasking cleanable robots to clean their own workstations and even themselves—tools, arms and all. Enter the self‑cleaning robot. As Arnaud Derrien explains, « Moving past the cleaning nozzle, the robot gets hosed down. It then takes the nozzle and uses it to clean itself and the workstation. That way, when a new batch goes into production, the tools are already clean ».
Stäubli’s HE robots—especially the SCARA 4‑axis TP80 HE robot—have even more innovative features that keep production lines hygienic. First of all, the robot arm’s position above the production area reduces the potential above‑product retention zone by a factor of 10 (from 2 m2 to 0.2 m2 for delta robots). Secondly, connectors are encased to keep them from being exposed to the production area. Robot arms can thus be used for end‑of‑line tasks like handling eggs or bottles of milk. “If a product breaks, the robot can simply be hosed down,” explains Arnaud Derrien.
Finally, the color of an HE robot is important. With its stainless steel coloring, if flakes of paint get into a product, they’re immediately visible—especially if the product is white.
As part of our work with Ecolab on hygienic robot design, we looked at a number of different areas for improvement: retention zones, the use of chemical cleaning products and methodology. So we really looked at our robot designs from every angle.Arnaud Derrien, Account Director for key Food accounts at Stäubli Robotics in France
• Hose down
• Apply cleaning product
• Rince with cold water
• Sterilize (as needed)
EHEDG (European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group)
was founded in 1989 to promote hygienic equipment and facility design within the agri‑food industry.
Equipment that is EHEDG certified is fully cleanable and meets EHEDG hygienic design standards as defined by the manufacturer (European directives EN 1672‑2 and EC 2006/42).
HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point)
is a hazard analysis system that applies management principles to food safety. The purpose of HACCP is to prevent, eliminate, or reduce biological, chemical, and physical hazards.
« Working with Stäubli, we created a hygiene management plan that optimizes the robots’ hygienic design features. »
A global leader in cleaning and sanitization systems and food safety, Ecolab works with companies in the food and beverage processing, healthcare, foodservice, hospitality and commercial laundry sectors.
Working with Stäubli, Ecolab has helped improve materials and working methods in the food industry through hygienic industrial robot design.
« Stäubli Robotics is a leader in hygienic robot arm design. Together, we reviewed the regulatory constraints to make sure our products were fully compliant with French and European regulations. At Ecolab, our job is to make sure that companies work with the right detergents and the right disinfectants. From our international product line, we carefully selected cleaning solutions that are specifically compatible with Stäubli’s robots. That meant running joint tests in our respective labs with the corrosion sensitive materials used in the robot components. We then analyzed the surfaces of the various components. We also looked at how the cleaning products would be used, how the processing and production facilities were designed, and of course, hygienic design for the robots themselves, including their connectors. Stäubli was there every step of the way to make sure the materials and equipment design were optimal. In 2015, after working with Stäubli for a year, we were able to present the results to EHEDG. »