An enthusiastic group of local food professionals had the privilege of a technical visit to the University of Lincoln National Centre of Food Manufacturing (NCFM) facilities in Holbeach on 07/02/17. The hosts were Sharon Green (Deputy Head and Lead for Apprenticeships and Business Partnerships) and Mark Swainson (Deputy Head and Lead for Higher Education and Research).
The session started with background information about the NCFM and discussion of some exciting recent developments. The NCFM will lead a pioneering project to deliver the country’s first degree apprenticeships in Food Engineering, Technical Management and Operations Management as part of a national programme to develop new opportunities for apprentices. The Centre has secured a share of the £4.5 million Degree Apprenticeship Development Fund to deliver the new courses in collaboration with Sheffield Hallam University and the National Skills Academy Food & Drink (NSAFD). Together, the organisations have formed the Degree Apprenticeship Food Industry Partnership. Designed by employers, universities and professional bodies, degree apprenticeships will deliver high-tech and high level skills and offer an alternative to the traditional degree course. Bringing together university study with paid work, degree apprentices spend part of their time at university and part with their employer.
The visit included a tour of the pilot plants which house many types of food processing equipment as well as installations put in place for specific client/partner projects, some of which have been grant funded by government organisations such as Innovate UK. There is also space allocated for start-up company production/testing facilities. The second part of the tour included the library facilities, sensory evaluation suite, and analytical and microbiological testing areas, all are fully functional and used for teaching and/or contract work.
One of the highlights of the tour was a glimpse at APRIL (Automated Processing Robotic Ingredient Loading) the ‘robotic chef’ system which has been developed by OAL, a leading provider of process and automation solutions for the international food industry. APRIL is a fully automated robotic system that can mix, load and cook ingredients in a manner similar to professional chefs, yet on an industrial scale, by using modern cooking and material handling technologies.
The visit was rounded up with a presentation outlining research projects the NCFM is currently involved in. The link with a range of departments and academics throughout the University of Lincoln, and networks with consultants and external organisations ensures depth and breadth and multi-disciplinarity. These research projects are carried out in areas such as robotics and automation, food safety and microbiology, advanced food processing technologies, and the food supply chain.
The IFST Eastern Branch would like to thank the NCFM for such an interesting and comprehensive session and we look forwards to a repeat visit soon!