Food processors today are facing a number of challenges that increasingly make the application of robotics both attractive financially and necessary for their survival. These challenges include foreign competition, a dwindling workforce, increasing safety regulation, demands for increased throughput, and a growing concern for quality improvement to name a few. To date however, robotics have not been successfully employed in this industry due to a number of significant technical shortcomings including speed, end-effector adaptability, environmental ruggedness, and cost. This paper describes two prototype robotic workcells designed for the poultry industry. One cell handles packaged product while a second manipulates raw chicken for cut-up. The challenges involved are described in detail as well as the preliminary results of initial designs and trial operation. From this research a number of focus areas have been identified for future research. Future plans include the development of smart sensor equipped end-effectors, visual guidance systems, force feedback control, and truly universal gripper designs.

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