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Kitchen Automation and its manufacturing challenges

Sudarshan Naik

Kitchen automation is broadly defined as the process of using robots or automated equipment that are designed for cooking food with precision while ensuring utmost quality and hygiene. In India, modern lifestyles aided by easy access to the mobile internet has changed the way people think about their next meal. This shift in lifestyle has led to newer business models such as food delivery aggregators, cloud kitchens and quick-service restaurants(QSRs) that provide a wide variety of choice in cuisines as well as the convenience of ordering food right at their fingertips.

In order to better understand the industry, it is important to know what the equipment used in kitchen automation entails. Kitchen automation uses cooking robots which execute the steps as mentioned by the chef. The benefits of this automation spans from saving time while preparing food, maintaining consistent taste and quality, adhering to safety & hygiene standards as well as being extremely cost-effective.

But why has kitchen automation emerged now and why not earlier? The reason lies in the rise of cloud kitchens.

Cloud kitchen model leads to an emergence of kitchen automation

Cloud kitchens are restaurants wherein there are no dine-in facilities and the restaurant space is utilized exclusively for prepping & cooking meals. The meal is usually home delivered after preparation or picked up by the customer. Such kind of kitchens have existed in the past wherein the orders were taken via phone, personal references, advertisements and flyers in local newspapers.

With the advancement in mobile and internet technologies, the method of communication and mode of ordering has changed entirely. The orders are placed through online applications and it has led to a rise in business via food delivery platforms and restaurant aggregators. Due to COVID-19 protocols, customers  largely preferred ordering food online & delivered to their home rather than physically visiting restaurants. This fundamental change in consumer behaviour and explosion in demand has led to a booming market wherein the cloud kitchen segment is pegged to reach $2 billion and the QSR segment $10 billion by the year 2025. Currently, India has over 3500+ cloud kitchens peppered across the length & breadth of the country.

Cloud kitchens are aiming to gain an extra edge over the traditional model by standardizing the quality & taste of food while minimizing time. In order to standardize the quality & taste as well as reduce the time taken to produce food, they need cooking robots in their facility which has led to a sizeable rise in demand of these cooking robots. Cooking robots can also help reduce the waste by predicting the exact amount of required ingredients. Guest experience can also be improved by providing food at the optimum temperature.

Cloud kitchens truly have an extra edge over traditional restaurants right now, but traditional restaurants can also deploy cooking robots to provide a helping hand to the chef. How can it become a helping hand to the chef? How can it execute tasks mentioned by the chef? It’s simple, the cooking robot works similar to the chef. Let us understand in detail by having a look at the components of a cooking robot.

What goes into making a kitchen robot?

Many start-up’s and MSMEs in India are launching a wide variety of cooking robots like dosa makers, roti makers, rice makers, curry makers & many more. The cooking robots vary extensively in design & functionality but the main components remain common across these robots. They are -

  1. Loading Unit  - Holds the ingredients
  2. Dispensing Unit - Dispenses liquids and spices
  3. Display Unit - Takes input from chef
  4. Control Unit - Converts chef’s input into mechanical and electrical actions
  5. Motors and Actuators - Used for operating components
  6. Cooking Unit - Stirring Unit + Heating Unit + Small Cooking Pot
  7. Blade Unit - Chops the raw ingredients
Components_1.jpg
Main components of a kitchen robot


So now that an understanding has been developed on how a robot can cook like a chef, we need to understand whether robots can maintain hygiene to the same standards of a chef? The secret lies in the materials used for making these robots. There is a list of specific materials which can be used for producing these robots alongside various international certifications which state that the robot can produce hygienic food under the operating conditions.

Essential requirements for producing a kitchen robot

Manufacturing services

The manufacturing operations involved in manufacturing of the components are Sheet Metal Fabrication and CNC Machining. Karkhana.io has manufactured variety of custom components for kitchen automation companies. Our manufacturing services include sheet metal fabrication, CNC machining, injection molding, vacuum casting and can helping in prototyping as well as production.

Food grade materials and certifications

Food grade materials are specific materials that are suitable to come in direct contact food & aren’t made up of toxic elements. Since these components will come in direct contact with the food, the onus is on the manufacturer to ensure that the materials used are food grade as well as food safe. The material selection must be done in such a way that the constituent elements must not leach out during the operating conditions. Leaching of constituent elements have been observed in non-stick cookware & aluminium utensils. In addition, the manufacturer needs to get their products certified as ‘food-grade’ from specialist organizations such as Food & Drug Administration (FDA) & National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). There are equivalents and counter-parts of these various agencies in individual countries.

Challenges in kitchen automation manufacturing

Many start-ups and MSMEs manufacturing kitchen automation products face persistent issues in procuring custom parts. This can strongly hamper impending product launches and eventually lead to an inevitable delay in mass production. The fragmented and unorganized supply chain that riddles India can also lead to a host of problems. These are but not limited to -

  1. Finding out the right supplier is a time consuming process: The manufacturing units in India are established in millions and it is tedious and time consuming process to figure out the right supplier for the project.
  2. No easy way to figure out right manufacturing process
  3. Suppliers are reluctant to undertake low-volume production: Manufacturing in low-volume is not economical for supplier if the customer is not able to provide high-volume orders in future.
  4. Lack of transparency in pricing: Since the manufacturing units in India are highly fragmented, there is information asymmetry which leads to lack of transparency in pricing.
  5. Low levels of trust
  6. Lack of technical depth in product manufacturing: Capacity is not utilized at its fullest by MSMEs and they don’t follow any standard for which they can be evaluated against. The above two aspects coupled with lack of technical workforce, prevents MSMEs to take up high-value new product development project.

Change is the only constant

Even with all the challenges highlighted above, many Indian start-ups and MSMEs are continuing to evolve the kitchen into a smarter & intelligent affair. The industry is new and dynamic, with many new trends appearing every year. Critical custom parts manufacturing will remain a core requirement alongside rapid prototyping and building out supply chains. This is in line with Karkhana.io’s core capabilities and strengths.

How can Karkhana.io help?

Karkhana.io’s end-to-end manufacturing services are ideal for kitchen automation start-ups and MSMEs that are looking to scale up rapidly. The company has a unique rapid prototyping-to-mass production program that is specifically designed for start-ups facing challenges in bringing their product to market. The program enables start-ups to focus on product development, core manufacturing & assembly, marketing, and sales. Karkhana.io’s digital platform, app.karkhana.io, offers an intuitive and simplified experience of ordering custom parts, project management tools, and visibility into the manufacturing journey.

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