Crop packaging robots: Benefits and limitations of automated packaging systems

Robot Tech

Packaging robot

Crop packaging robots: Benefits and limitations of automated packaging systems

Catherine Bernier
Content Manager
Content for Cobot

Dive into the world of industrial crop packaging robots and get an overview of their functionality, applications, types, advantages, and limitations.

From identifying ripe produce to packaging tasks,  automation has been trending up in various sectors, including agriculture, in the era of Industry 4.0. The incorporation of robotics into traditional farming practices will have dramatic effects over the coming years to revolutionize the industry.

This article dives into the world of industrial crop packaging robots, shedding light on their functionality, applications, types, advantages, and limitations while offering an insightful perspective on the market size and potential.

What is a crop packaging robot?

A crop packaging robot is a specialized type of automated machine employed in the agricultural industry to handle and package harvested crops. These robots represent a vital part of the post-harvest process, designed to streamline and optimize operations that were traditionally performed manually.

The primary functions of a crop packaging robot include: 

  • Identifying
  • Picking
  • Handling
  • Packaging 

These robots handle such tasks for various types of agricultural produce. They achieve this through a combination of advanced technologies, including machine vision and soft grippers - and they are increasingly equipped with artificial intelligence.

Consider an apple-packing robot. This robot uses machine vision to identify and sort apples based on parameters like size, color, and quality. The AI algorithms analyze the visual data to help the robot discern between good and bad apples, ensuring only the former make it to the final packaging phase. Then, the robot employs grippers or suction-based mechanisms to carefully pick up individual apples, prevent bruising, and place them in their designated packaging.

What are crop packaging robots’ main applications?

crop packaging robot applications


The applications of crop packaging robots extend across various facets of agriculture, enhancing: 

  • Efficiency
  • Productivity
  • Accuracy

Here are some prominent areas where these robots find their utility:

Fruit and vegetable packaging

These robots play a vital role in packaging fresh produce such as: 

  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Tomatoes
  • Strawberries

They handle the produce gently to prevent damage, sort them based on predefined parameters like size, color, and quality, and then package them for distribution. These robots benefit agriculture by offering high-speed operations and reducing labor-intensive tasks.

Grain packaging

Crop packaging robots find important applications in grain packaging. Here, they automate the process of filling and sealing bags of grains such as wheat, corn, or rice. They can manage substantial volumes, operating round the clock, ensuring minimal downtime and maximum productivity.

Dairy product packaging

In the dairy industry, crop packaging robots package products like cheese and butter. Robots handle moving finished products into crates and boxes. These machines offer high accuracy, speed, and efficiency in dairy product packaging, ensuring product integrity and quality.

Post-harvest crop handling

Automated post-harvest handling includes crops like:

  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Radishes

Crop packaging robots can sort, grade, and package these crops efficiently. This leads to a reduction in crop losses and improves overall yield. 

In summary, the applications of crop packaging robots are diverse and span various sub-sectors within agriculture. By automating packaging tasks, these robots help farms: 

  • Enhance productivity
  • Minimize waste
  • Reduce labor costs
  • Increase overall efficiency

What types or crop packaging robot exist?

Crop packaging robots are quite varied in their designs and functionalities. This diversity is key for addressing the unique needs of different agricultural tasks. The different types of crop packaging robots can broadly be categorized based on their operation method, task specificity, and mechanical construction. Here are some prominent types:

Six-axis robots

Six-axis robots have emerged as a transformative tool in the agricultural sector, specifically in the arena of crop picking. These robots, characterized by their six degrees of freedom, can replicate the complex movements of a human arm. This makes them highly adept at navigating intricate environments. 

For instance, in a fruit orchard, a six-axis robot can extend, rotate, and maneuver its arm to pick fruits that might be nestled amid dense foliage. These robots do so without causing damage to the tree or the fruit. The robot's high degree of precision and gentle handling helps maintain the quality of the produce, reducing crop loss due to bruising or dropping.

Collaborative robots (cobots)

These robots look very similar to six-axis robots. However, a key differentiator for cobots is that they are designed to work alongside humans in shared workspaces. Cobots can assist people in tasks like packaging and palletizing. They are built to be safer than industrial robots, flexible, and easy to program. 

Custom-built robots

Some applications may require highly specific functionality that isn't covered by standard robot designs. In these cases, custom robots are built to cater to specific needs. For example, the handling of young nursery plants requires special tools and specific capabilities that standard robot types aren’t optimized for. Using specialized technology enables farmers to maximize the performance of their automation systems for a particular task.

Each of these types serves different purposes and can significantly enhance crop packaging operations' efficiency, accuracy, and productivity. The choice of robot type depends on the specific needs of the agricultural process in question. Common factors to consider when selecting a robot include:

  • Type of crop
  • Scale of operations
  • Level of precision required
  • Reach requirements
  • Payload requirements

Advantages of crop picking robots

Crop picking


Integrating crop packaging robots into agricultural operations has brought numerous advantages that benefit the industry.

Increased efficiency and productivity

Crop packaging robots can operate continuously at a consistent and efficient pace. This significantly boosts productivity levels compared to manual labor. The around-the-clock operation capabilities of these machines lead to a dramatic increase in the throughput of packaging operations.

Reduced labor costs

The use of crop picking robots handles a significant portion of the post-harvesting process. This results in reduced applied labor costs. This is particularly beneficial in regions where agricultural labor is scarce or expensive.

Improved quality and consistency

Robots ensure a high level of precision and consistency in packaging, thereby improving the quality of output. Machine vision enables these robots to sort and package crops based on exact parameters, resulting in consistently high-quality packaged goods.

Reduced waste and damage

Robots can handle crops gently, reducing damage and waste. This is particularly crucial for delicate produce such as fruits and vegetables, where manual handling can often lead to bruising or other damage.

In-house packaging process

Deploying crop packaging robots allows agricultural companies to bring the packaging process in-house, moving away from reliance on external services. This allows for greater control over the packaging process, resulting in improved quality and timeliness. 

For instance, a farm that grows and packages its own produce can ensure that only the freshest items are packaged immediately after they're picked. This also allows for quicker adjustments to packaging parameters as market demands shift.

What are the limitations?

While crop packaging robots provide numerous benefits, there are also certain limitations to consider:

High initial investment

The procurement and set-up of advanced crop packaging robots can be expensive, often running into tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the complexity and capability of the machine. 

For smaller or marginally profitable agricultural businesses, such a hefty initial investment may be challenging to justify, especially given the unpredictability of agricultural returns. However, many farms are finding significant returns for the right application and successful integration.

Technical expertise required

These machines are complex and require operators with technical training for optimal performance. Additionally, the maintenance and repair of these robots often demand specialized personnel. 

For businesses in remote agricultural regions, gaining access to such skilled technicians can be a challenge. Also, any downtime due to malfunctioning robots can significantly impact productivity. Agricultural companies should have a plan or resources to support their equipment.

Lack of adaptability

Crop packaging robots perform exceptionally well in structured, consistent environments, but their performance may decline when faced with unexpected changes or variability in their work environment. 

For instance, they might struggle if there are significant variations in crop sizes, shapes, colors, or conditions. They are designed to perform specific tasks and may not adapt well to unusual circumstances or non-standard packaging requirements without changes in their programming.

Market size potential for crop packaging robots

The market size of automation in agriculture has experienced a significant surge, presenting immense growth opportunities for the industry. In 2022, the Agriculture Robots Market was valued at USD 7.07 billion, and this figure is projected to skyrocket to USD 24 billion by the year 2030, boasting a remarkable Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 15.4% during the forecast period from 2023 to 2030.

This exponential growth can be attributed to the increasing adoption of cutting-edge technologies, such as crop packaging robots, which have revolutionized the agricultural landscape. 

Last thoughts

Crop packaging robots are ushering in a new era of efficiency and precision in the agricultural industry. Despite the significant benefits, a clear understanding of their limitations is necessary to achieve a successful crop packaging robot integration. With ongoing technological advancements, these limitations are likely to be progressively mitigated. 

It's clear that the future of agricultural packaging lies in the continued integration of robotic technology. As businesses navigate this evolving landscape, the key will be understanding how to apply robots to their crop packaging processes and mitigate their limitations. In doing so, the potential for increased productivity, cost savings, and overall process improvement is immense, setting the stage for a more sustainable and profitable agricultural industry.

What’s next?

You may be ready to take the next step toward automating your harvesting process, but where do you start?

The HowToRobot platform connects buyers of automation with a variety of suppliers in a streamlined, easy-to-use environment. 

Post your project on HowToRobot today for free, and begin receiving offers from vetted and relevant automation vendors from our supplier network.