The Rise of the Robots

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Around 1/3 of all food is wasted globally, surprisingly this does not vary between regions and is not dependent on relative wealth.   These factors merely change where in the supply chain the food is wasted, with developing nations having lower ‘in home’ wastage, vs developed nations.  With rising populations there is an immediate need to address the supply chain wastage that is the greater proportion of all food waste globally, and at the same time increase productivity in food manufacturing.

Developed countries have more mechanized manufacturing processes and so are able to maximize the benefits of such technology, and as such, minimize the waste produced. 

There is however more to be done.  Industry is in its 4th revolution and our small corner of that sea change, ‘Food Manufacturing 4.0’, is enabling changes in our landscape that can help to eliminate waste. 

Robotics are a key component of this future.  Flexible robotics are being used to facilitate the shift to Food Manufacturing 4.0.  The promise of interconnected systems and dynamic feedback loops are only effective if the whole process is flexible.  This system needs to move away from production lines that are laid end to end, instead, to work in sync with multiple processes, even recipes. Robotics systems can be programmed to efficiently move the ‘work in progress’, undertake multiple operations and respond in a dynamic way to its environment. 

With robotics also the promise of greater productivity and job creation, in these uncertain economic times this is just the good news story that we need.  In 2015 Barclay’s bank 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 sector to benefit, with productivity improvements of 25% being achieved by 2025.  Premier Foods doubled capacity, with a £20 million investment in a new production line consisting of 47 robots at the Mr. Kipling Bakery.  This improvement in productivity actually created 80 new jobs to manage the increased productivity.

What next?  A Robotic Chef

Reimagining the production line under Food Manufacturing 4.0 could help move production processes to zero waste.  Peterborough based OAL (www.OALgroup.com) and the University of Lincoln https://www.lincoln.ac.uk/home/holbeach/) have been champions of Food Manufacturing 4.0 and are undertaking what might be considered a transformative, if not disruptive, development with the APRIL robotic chef.  APRIL (www.APRILRobot.com ) is challenging the way food production lines are set out, moving away from ‘traditional’ linear and continuous production, where high volume and limited flexibility have been the watch words.  APRIL is set to deliver a system that introduces a return to flexible batch systems, with intelligent and integrated scheduling, facilitated by the ‘Internet of Things’  that optimizes production, improves efficiency and productivity and does so in a minimal waste environment.  To quote John Torode and Greg Wallace – “But can it cook?”-  The proof will be in the pudding.

References

Barclays Bank 2015, “Investment in manufacturing robotics could boost British economy”.  first accessed 12/05/16 http://www.newsroom.barclays.co.uk/r/3273/investment_in_manufacturing_robotics_could_boost_british

Author

Steve Osborn BSc (Hons), M.Phil., CSci, FIFST
Food Technology Scout, The Aurora Ceres Partnership Ltd
Steve.osborn@auroraceres.co.uk
Tel 07956144188