Productivity Gains In Ingredient Handling With Robotic Technologies

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018 | 1048 Views

University researchers from the UK and two major food industry firms have teamed up on a project aimed at transforming food preparation by automating the handling of raw materials.

Olympus Automation Limited (OAL), a supplier of engineering solutions to the food industry, is leading the an industrial research and development project in collaboration with researchers from the UK-based University of Lincoln, and English Provender Company, a producer of condiments, dressings and marinades.

The collaboration is part-funded by a UK government grant of almost £900,000 (US$1.25 million) from Innovate UK through its ‘Materials & Manufacturing’ research fund funding stream.

The project aims to address the unique complexity of food manufacturing ingredient variability. In a given day, food manufacturers can deal with over 200 different raw materials with different states (solid, liquid, frozen, ambient and chilled), packaging format (bag, sack, box and drum), allergens and handling difficulties. It is this complexity that to date has led to high manning levels, waste and inefficiencies in the industry.

Using OAL’s robotics material handling modules as its toolset at the University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing Centre, the research team is exploring how to integrate robotics and automation at each step of the production process. The research will examine how processes such as product handling and weighing, can be streamlined and made more efficient through new robotic technologies.

Andy Riches, group operations projects director, Billington Group, said: “The processes involved have a direct effect on food safety, product quality and factory efficiency. We believe that the use of increased automation and technology to provide enhanced control, accuracy and repeatability will have a massive positive effect on all three of these critical factors within this core business function.”

One of the robotics technologies that will be used in the project is a micro-ingredient weighing station that uses a collaborative robot to weigh out free flowing and non-free flowing powdered ingredients to an accuracy of one gram.

Mark Swainson, deputy head at the University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing, explained: “To unlock improved value, quality and sustainability, the food manufacturing sector needs a game-changing, innovative reinvention of its production processes. The goal is to produce a full technological solution which provides proof that robotics and automation can be the catalyst for much-needed productivity gains in the food manufacturing industry.

To learn more about ingredient handling and preparation automation, you can join OAL and the University of Lincoln for their Food Manufacturing 2030 event. The event will combine expert guest speakers with demonstrations, so you can learn how robotics is changing the way we handle and process raw materials. Learn more and sign-up here.