Demand for food manufacturing robots soars

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

I Robot: Interest from food and drink manufacturing firms has soared
I Robot: Interest from food and drink manufacturing firms has soared

Related tags Drink manufacturers Food Robotics Food and drink

Food and drink manufacturers' interest in using robots has soared, according to the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA).

After previously lacklustre demand, BARA reports that food and drink manufacturers accounted for nearly a third of applications for government funding over the past year.

The organisation based its comments on applications for funding made during the first year of the government-funded Automating Manufacturing programme.

BARA received a total of 156 applications – 50% more than was expected. Of those, 45 came from food and drink firms – significantly more than any other manufacturing sector.

Mike Wilson, BARA chairman, told FoodManufacture: “Over the past few months we have seen a steady growth of applications for manufacturing reviews from the food sector and this now forms the largest group.

Ready meals

“The companies cover a very wide range of food products including; ready meals and sandwiches, bakeries, jams and sauces, confectionery, desserts, fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and also pies. Company sizes are also quite varied ranging from £1M turnover to individual sites within large food groups.”

Under the scheme, firms can apply for a free confidential review of the suitability of robotics for their manufacturing business. A second consultation is then available, which is 50% funded by government.

“Reviews have been conducted for all stages of the food preparation process,” said Wilson. “Those included distribution operations and also companies which produce the packaging for the food manufacturers.”

Wilson confirmed the UK’s slow uptake of robotics. “The UK is one of the nations within Europe that has been slow to adopt the use of automation with a mere 25 robots per 10,000 employees as opposed to 127 per 10,000 employees in Germany.

“One of the keys to success in addressing the UK’s budget deficit is increasing the export output from the UK and the way to do this is by making UK manufacturing as efficient as possible.”

Absolutely delighted

Grant Collier, head of marketing with the PPMA group which promotes the automation programme, said: “We are absolutely delighted with the uptake from food and drink manufacturers. Applications continue to look very positive for year two.”

Collier added that the high level of uptake from food and drink firms revealed the pent up potential to adopt robotics. “Food manufacturers are definitely interested in robots but some don’t know what to do with it. That compares with the automotive sector, which has already made widespread use of robotics.”

About £300,000 of government grant money remains up for grabs, said Collier. For more information about the Automating Manufacturing programme, click here​.

To discover how Danish robots, designed for SMEs, could make an impact in this country, click here​.

To watch our exclusive video interview with Wilson, filmed at Foodex, click here​.

For our video debate on the future of robotics in food and drink manufacturing, click here​.

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