UK food and drink manufacturers have been attacked for failing to invest in the latest high-efficiency equipment, unlike their counterparts overseas.
At the Foodex Meatex show, Graham Hayes, group chairman for packaging equipment supplier Bradman Lake, criticised companies for not doing more to raise their very low line efficiencies which, he claimed, were on average just 45%.
"I don't think people realise how inefficient the UK is," said Hayes, who also chairs the Engineering and Machinery Alliance lobby group. "Some production managers don't really know what the true efficiency of their lines is."
He added: "Despite being the UK's largest manufacturing sector, food and drink companies here invest less in robotics and automation than they do overseas." Companies such as Cadbury had very high levels of efficiency but they were in the minority, he said.
"It is incredible that customers will argue 5% on the cost of a new machine and yet not even ask the supplier what kind of efficiency he is prepared to guarantee."
Hayes said operators also needed to monitor packaging lines continuously "because the problems that affect efficiency vary from day to day, shift to shift and product to product"
He also predicted that robots would be adopted more widely.
"In particular, watch out for developments in the handling of raw food, such as meat, pizza, cheese and fish, and look out for robots starting to appear on the process side as well."
The UK manufacturing sector as a whole had cut its net capital expenditure by 42% since 1997, said Hayes. He accepted that retailer pressure on margins meant cash available to food manufacturers for investment had also been reduced.