Time to act: Robotics in food and beverage manufacturing

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Food manufacturing is facing a perfect storm driven by the living wage; flat line productivity and food deflation. Advanced technology and robotics can address these issues yet the UK is seriously lagging the developed world in its implementation. The Office of National Statistics recently announced that the UK has returned to recession for the 3rd time in 8 years.  A dive in productivity further underlines the challenge in the UK manufacturing sector. The UK now has a 30% lower GDP per hour than countries such as the US, France and Germany. It must be time for food and drink, the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, to act.APRIL Robotic Chef

The Impact of Robotics

In 2014, global robot sales increased by 29% to 229,261 units with the main growth seen in the automotive industry, representing 40% of all robots sold. The UK food and drink sector has a 10-year average adoption rate of just 63 robots a year!

China has expanded its leading position in the adoption of robotics with 25% of the total supply in 2014.  High productivity countries such as Germany, France and US show a strong correlation to the number of robotic installations, with the US and Germany featuring in the five countries accounting for 70% of all robot sales along with China, Japan and Korea.   France also increased investment in Robotics, while the UK’s commitment has been in decline. The forecast for robotic installations sees China looking to around 150,000 by 2018, double the 2014 levels, compared to the UK whose outlook is relatively flat during the same period.   The other industrial nations have shown steady growth during the same period.

With the food and beverage sector at such low levels of commitment and as such an important economic contributor, the use of robotics must become part of the vision for the future food factory, and the move to Food Manufacturing 4.0.

Barclay’s bank (2015) forecast that an investment of £1.2bn in automation will add £60bn to the UK economy, ultimately safeguarding 106,000 jobs.  Barclays note that the food and drink sector would be one of the primary sectors to benefit, with productivity improvements of 25% being achieved by 2025.   Early indications are proving that embracing automation has enhanced productivity and lead to job creation.

Global Centre of Excellence for Robotic Food Manufacturing

Working with the University of Lincoln we have been championing Food Manufacturing 4.0 and have developed the transformative APRIL robotic chef.  APRIL is challenging the way food production lines are set out, moving away from ‘traditional’ linear continuous production, where high volume and limited flexibility have been the watchwords.  APRIL will deliver a system that introduces a return to flexible batch systems, but with intelligent and integrated scheduling that optimises production, improves efficiency and in doing so enhances productivity – Potentially more traditional than continuous linear systems in reality?

At the successful launch of the APRIL robotic chef in April, we set out our vision to create a Global Centre of Excellence for Robotic Food Manufacturing at the University of Lincoln to:

  1. Educate the industry.
  2. Partner with visionary early adopters.
  3. Deliver disruptive change in manufacturing.

To get involved and stay up to date with the development of the APRIL the robotic chef, and to hear more about the exciting APRIL ‘cook off’  on Thursday 13th October please go to april.oalgroup.com

APRIL, InsightsJake Norman