Robotic sous-chef Alfred helps restaurants and food-processing kitchens boost productivity while addressing challenges specific to food service businesses. The robot operates via machine-learning algorithms to automatically prepare food. Alfred empowers kitchen staff, who control it via tablet, to manage orders and robot activity, while reducing waste through portion control. It also provides restaurants with invaluable business analytics for better menu innovation. What’s more, the robotic sous-chef helps restaurants meet ever-changing health and safety guidelines as well as compensate for labor shortages and high rates of employee turnover.
Dexai Robotics’ Alfred received the 2020 Red Dot Design Award. The robot can seamlessly work to fully assemble meals in any existing commercial kitchen with any ingredient and utensil. Alfred’s low-touch approach to accurately assembling a meal provides an innovative solution for businesses involved with food preparation, where safety and consistency are critical.
Necessity Sparks Innovation
When a friend who owns a restaurant was having trouble finding employees, Dexai Robotics Co-founder and CEO Dave Johnson got the idea for a robotic chef. “When we started the company, just four of us worked out of the Greentown Labs technology incubator using SOLIDWORKS® design software,” Johnson recalls. “But as we grew and continued to advance the technology, we realized that we would need product data management (PDM) and product lifecycle management (PLM) tools to continue to support growth.
Hardware Engineering Team Lead Justin Rooney began researching potential PDM/PLM solutions. “I was specifically attracted to the 3DEXPERIENCE® platform because it integrates so well with SOLIDWORKS and does not require additional investments.” Since adding 3DEXPERIENCE Works capabilities to its SOLIDWORKS installation, Dexai has continued to grow—increasing its staff from 10 to 25 and moving from R&D into many restaurant placements.
Technology Makes the Difference
“There are three phases in our design process—development, function, and manufacturability—in addition to user interaction with the part,” Mechanical Engineer Rana Odabas notes.
“Working on the cloud in and of itself saves you two-thirds of your design time because you can have three people working on the design simultaneously. That’s a huge improvement from the days when we were passing CAD files back and forth.”
In developing Alfred, Dexai faced additional engineering challenges that most industrial operations robots do not face. Because Alfred must operate and interface in a kitchen where many people are working while simultaneously working with food, Dexai must adhere to the National Sanitation Foundation regulations. “We began with a salad assembly task with the robot selecting romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and other ingredients to assemble into a meal,” Rooney adds. “The robot needs to use separate utensils and return them to the respective areas to avoid cross-contamination that might trigger a food allergy.” With the combination of SOLIDWORKS and 3DEXPERIENCE Works solutions, Dexai Robotics has the tools to roll out these capabilities faster and more efficiently.