IFST Webinar: Applications for Robotics in the Food Industry – Beyond Palletisation

Organised by IFSTs Food Safety Group and Food Processing Group

Robotics have had limited applications in the food industry. Widely used for palletisation and packaging fairly uniform items, they have been slow to be adopted elsewhere either because of issues with cleanability, closer interaction with humans or that the items to be handled are more complex or non-uniform, such as soft fruit and cuts of meat. 

What you will learn about: This webinar will look at some of the recent developments in handling non-uniform and complex items in the food industry.  

Target Audience: Food professionals and students

Chair: Chris Edwards, OBE, TD, FIFST, VR, Chair of Food Processing Group, Head of Quality, Muller Yogurts and Desserts

With over 30 years working in the food and dairy sector, Chris Edwards has an in-depth understanding of the challenges facing the food and dairy supply chain from primary production through to retail supply.  During his career this cereal/dairy farmer's son has worked as a supermarket manager, product development technologist, an operations manager with Milk Marque, Warehouse Operations manager, lectured in Food and Dairy Technology, had 5 years with Arla Foods as their Technical Competence Development Manager, 12 months with Tetra Pak UK processing and now works as Head of Quality with Muller Yogurts and Desserts for the past 3 years.

Chair: Andy Kerridge, FIFST, Vice-chair of Food Safety Group, Chair of IFST Midlands Branch

Andy has more than 25 years of experience in food technology/quality & safety management; working in Europe, Middle East & Africa. His career started in the meat industry and continued infoodservice. He has been involved in the development of issues 4-7 of the BRC Global Food Standard. Since 2012, he now helps companies meet demands of quality, safety & consistency. Andy is also Chair of IFST Midlands Branch.

Speaker: Simon Pearson, Director of the Lincoln Institute of Agri-Food Technology, Lincoln University

The Institute sits within the College of Science of the University of Lincoln and helps develop and run cross disciplinary research projects on behalf of the agri-food sector, with particular focus on the use and deployment of agri-food robotic systems. Prior to joining Lincoln, Simon was the CEO of a large UK farming company, worked for Marks and Spencer in a technical role, and as a scientist at the University of Reading.

Abstract: Robotic Adoption and Development Across the Agri-Food Sector

Unrelenting and ongoing cost pressures on the food industry, compounded with access to labour issues as a consequence of Brexit, and now the impacts of COVID-19 create an unprecedented drive to maximise labour productivity. Across the wider manufacturing sector robotics have been transformational. However, the agri-food sector has been relatively slow to develop and adopt these technologies. This presentation provides an overview of the key technical barriers to adoption and provides an overview of the current state of the art. These barriers include complex issues with handling and recognising biologically variable foods, a need to handle soft tissues, interoperability with legacy structures in existing factories and farms, the need for flexible manufacturing systems, data scale, speed and safe operations in environments including human operators. We show that technology is advancing at a significant rate across all these fronts and suggest how robotics could see wider application in the industry.

Speaker: Martin Howarth, Director of the National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering (NCEFE)

Martin leads Sheffield Hallam University’s food engineering research. Working closely with the food and drink sector, the National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering (NCEFE) collaborates with food companies from multi-national organisations through to SMEs. Research projects, both in the UK and internationally have led to new developments in food processing, food products, automation and energy systems. NCEFEs purpose built facility is a major asset for the sector, enabling food and drinks sector organisations to engage with the University to research, test and implement new technology. Professor Martin Howarth has a PhD in Robotics and is a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and a Chartered Engineer.

Abstract: Robotic automation in food manufacture

Robotics in food manufacture has been challenged by a number of issues, including requirements for hygienic systems, manipulation of soft, delicate and variable materials and products, high variety and cost pressures. However, the steady development of new hardware and sensor systems, along with software using AI and machine learning techniques is leading to a range of successful robotic applications which are demonstrating that wide scale adoption is in sight. This presentation will provide a review of these challenges alongside techniques which are delivering solutions for food manufacturers and processors.

Q&A Moderator: Deb Smith, FIFST, Global Hygiene Specialist, Vikan

Deb has over 35 years of food safety and research experience. Before joining Vikan she worked as a microbiologist in a poultry processing plant; in the Food Safety Division of DEFRA; and as Food Hygiene Research Manager at Campden BRI. Deb holds qualifications in Applied Microbiology, Nutrition & Food Science, Advanced Food Hygiene and HACCP. She is also a qualified FSSC 22000 Lead Auditor. Deb has authored and co-authored numerous food safety and hygiene publications, and regularly presents her work at National and International food safety events. Deb is current Chair of the CampdenBRI Microbiology MIG; has just completed work on developing GFSI benchmarking requirements for food industry suppliers; and is an active Committee Member of both the UK &IE European Hygienic Engineering Design Group, and IFST (Eastern Branch Committee Member and Events organiser for the Food Processing SIG). At Vikan Deb provides food safety and hygiene advice, training and support, both internally and to the food industry.

Live Q&A: Deb Smith, Simon Pearson and Martin Howarth