UK trails Continental Europe in robotics investment

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food manufacturers, Uk food manufacturers, United kingdom, Investment

UK trails Continental Europe in robotics investment
UK food manufacturers are trailing well behind their Continental counterparts when it comes to investment in robotics, according to robotics supplier...

UK food manufacturers are trailing well behind their Continental counterparts when it comes to investment in robotics, according to robotics supplier RTS Flexibles.

The Germans used more than 300 robots in food applications in 2005, five times the number used in the UK, said RTS md David Bradford.

“We won’t get the 2006 figures until June, but I suspect the trend will not have changed," said Bradford. "There are many reasons for this, one being that tax rules in Germany are more favourable, with German manufacturers able to get tax relief on 100% of their capital expenditure in this area [compared to 25% in the UK]. Given that wages are often higher in Germany, the payback is also quicker if labour savings are key to the business case.”

However, the power of the major UK food retailers helped explain the reluctance of manufacturers to invest, with long-term thinking difficult when your business could be easily terminated, said Bradford. “People have been forced to focus on the short term. In Japan, manufacturers would consider a robot that gave them a return on investment in 10 years. In the UK, any more than two years and you are probably wasting your time.”

Many food manufacturers were using the wrong tools when building a business case for automation. They placed “too much emphasis on labour savings and not enough on things like increased throughput, reduced waste or improved yield on raw materials”, he claimed.

Meanwhile, a flexible tool has been launched integrating robots and vision systems into an automatic system capable of packing poultry pack configurations, including combinations of chicken thighs, legs and wings, simultaneously.

The Robot ScanBatcher from Scanvaegt, which is working with an unnamed continental meat processor to develop the technology, will be unveiled at the IFFA meat processing trade show in Frankfurt this month (May 5-10). However, the technology is unlikely to be available for sale until next year.

Scanvaegt business manager for portioning Johan Enevoldsen said the development would substantially reduce ‘give away’, while enabling other significant savings through reduced labour involvement.

“It can position to the same high quality as human,” said Enevoldsen, speaking at a packaging forum event on case-ready packaging organised by Sealed Air Cryovac.