A new industrial R&D project aims to fully automate the preparation and handling of raw materials in the food manufacturing industry.
As much as 5% of a food manufacturer’s turnover is associated with the costs of raw material handling, weighing and preparation, says specialist engineering firm OAL.
Working with English Provender Company and researchers from the University of Lincoln, OAL is leading a project that 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,” the company explained. “It’s this complexity that to date has led to high manning levels, waste and inefficiencies in the industry.”
Using OAL’s APRIL Robotics technologies at the University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing, the research team is exploring how to integrate robotic and automation solutions at each stage 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.
Among the equipment involved in the study is a micro-ingredient weighing station that uses a collaborative robot to accurately weigh out free flowing and non-free flowing powdered ingredients.
“Weighing out powders is a common task across the industry that presents accuracy and health and safety challenges when undertaken by people,” said Jake Norman, innovation and marketing manager at OAL. “By using a collaborative robot and smart algorithms from the University of Lincoln, we can quickly weigh out powders, to a recipe, to an accuracy of 1g with zero cross contamination.”
The researchers are mapping out English Provender Company’s production processes and analysing the potential for optimisation at each step.