German companies showcasing equipment at the Anuga FoodTec in Cologne this week said that they envisage that turnover for this year could match results for 2008 but that this forecast is dependent on stability returning to the financial markets in the coming weeks.
Last year manufacturers of food production machinery and packaging equipment in Germany achieved a five per cent increase in turnover; however, they noted that the number of orders in the last quarter of 2008 was ‘extremely low’, citing a decline in orders coming from abroad.
Professor Herbert Buckenhüskes, the head of food technology at the German Agricultural Society (DLG), said that the equipment manufacturers are hoping to drive sales based on machinery that can improve efficiency and reduce consumption of water and energy.
Set against the backdrop of contracting European economies, the professor’s comments reflect a growing need for production line innovation that bolsters margins.
Meanwhile, a UK consultancy group maintains that with a hike in energy bills having a considerable impact on the food industry, processors should cut energy consumption of processes by better use of existing equipment.
The Resource Efficiency Knowledge Transfer Network claims that the more effective employment of refrigeration equipment and ovens in particular can reduce energy demand and deliver cost savings.
And the group points to new food heating processes based on infra red or radio frequency technology that could be more efficient in terms of energy use and process time.
Benefits of automation
Robotic technology as a way of delivering greater efficiencies in the food sector has also featured largely at the Cologne trade show this week, with a modular designed fully automated processing and packaging line on display that demonstrates a production run on mini burgers that eliminates the human element.
Rolf Peters, managing director of Bremen-based K-Robotix, who set up the Robotik-Pack-Line with a network of technology partners, claims the food industry is being forced to expedite the automation of its plants:
“Robots increase the safety of processes and decrease the chances of downtimes or production shortfall thanks to their reliability and availability.”
And he maintains that the development of different grippers for specific foods of different shapes and sizes is a key factor in the latest success in robot technology.
However he said that the food industry is still a new market for robots, and does present certain challenges for automated equipment suppliers and designers: “This is because many products, whether sausages, fish fillets, cheese slices or chocolate bars vary in quality and size.”