Three industries ripe for automation, according to a robotics guru

A software and robotics machine called mGripAI from Massachusetts-based Soft Robotics sorts artifical pieces of chicken into trays for packaging at an automation conference held by the Association for Advancing Automation in Detroit.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

DETROIT — The automotive and logistics industries are no strangers to robots.

They’re among the most heavily invested businesses in automation in the U.S. economy, using robots to sort packages, transport goods and assist in building vehicles.

But other industries where robotics haven’t yet taken hold may be potential investment opportunities and expansion areas for automation companies in the coming years.

Those emerging areas intrigue Jeff Burnstein, an automation-industry guru and president of the Association for Advancing Automation. His trade group represents more than 1,000 global companies involved in robotics, machine vision, motion control, and motors and related technologies.

Burnstein, who recently received a prestigious award for his more than 40 years in the industry, believes automation and robotics could greatly assist in doing the “dull, dirty, dangerous jobs” that people don’t necessarily want to do.

Jeff Burnstein (right center), president of the Association for Advancing Automation, after receiving a Joseph F. Engelberger Robotics Award for his more than 40-year career in the industry.

Photo courtesy of the Association for Advancing Automation

“If you look at what’s driving a lot of the automation in many industries it’s shortage of people,” he said on the sidelines of an automation convention last week in Detroit.

Labor shortages, led by the manufacturing industry, are the key driver in the growth of automation, he said.

Here are three industries Burnstein predicts are next for automation:


The agriculture industry is already testing or using various automated, if not autonomous, technologies to make operations more efficient and safer. It also serves to cut costs

Tractor maker Deere & Co., for example, offers a suite of automated-assistance features such as turning and guidance for crop row lines. Deere is working on an autonomous tractor that can “see, think, and work on its own, freeing up time for farmers to complete other tasks simultaneously,” according to its website.

Other automated technologies for agriculture include drones that can spray pesticides over crops, remote-controlled tractors, automated harvesting systems, and other data and logistics farming apps.

Deere’s autonomous 8R tractor


Food processing

Employees of Tyson Foods

Greg Smith | Corbis SABA | Getty Images

In 2021, Tyson Foods said it would invest over $1.3 billion in new automation capabilities through 2024 to increase yields and reduce both labor costs and associated risks — and ultimately deliver savings for the meat processor.

Tyson CEO Donnie King last month told investors the company is continuing to “invest in automation and digital capabilities with opportunities to improve our yield.”

He said the company has 50 lines for deboning chickens that are fully automated.

Pilgrim’s Pride, one of the world’s largest chicken producers, also has announced substantial investments in automation, including more than $100 million it announced in 2021.

Health care

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