According to OAL, in any given day, food manufacturers 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 and it is this complexity that has led to high manning levels, waste and inefficiencies in the industry.
Weighing out powders
“Weighing out powders is a common task across the industry that presents accuracy and health and safety challenges when undertaken by people. 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 1 g with zero cross contamination,” said Jake Norman, head of innovation, OAL.
“In this project, we’re working with EPC to map out their processes and crunch a year’s production data to analyse what the best solution is, looking at the potential for optimisation at each step.”
The project deploying OAL’s suite of APRIL Robotics Material Handling modules is part-funded by an approximate £900,000 ($1.25m) UK Government grant from Innovate UK Materials & Manufacturing research fund funding stream.
The research team, based at the University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing Centre, will explore how to integrate robotic and automation technology 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 robotic technologies.
One of the APRIL Robotics technologies that will be used in the project is a micro-ingredient weighing station, using a collaborative robot to weigh out free flowing and non-free flowing powdered ingredients to an accuracy of 1 g.
This technology was developed under a separate Innovate UK project between OAL and the University of Lincoln.
National Centre for Food Manufacturing
Mark Swainson, deputy head at the University of Lincoln's National Centre for Food Manufacturing (NCFM), is an expert in the field of industrial food processing technology. He will lead the research team, which also includes specialists in robotics, automation and process control from the University of Lincoln’s School of Engineering.
"To unlock improved value, quality and sustainability, the food manufacturing sector needs a game-changing, innovative reinvention of its production processes,” said Swainson.
“We want to push the practical and scientific boundaries of food process technologies, robotic materials’ handling, machine learning and computer vision systems. The goal is to produce a full technological solution that 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, join OAL and the University of Lincoln at their Food Manufacturing 2030 event in May. Click here for details.