The project, which is part-funded by a grant from the government’s Innovate UK scheme, sought to reduce the costs involved in raw ingredients handling through the introduction of robots.
OAL claimed the introduction of automation in the handling of raw materials, weighing and preparation would reduce operating costs for food manufacturers.
The University of Lincoln is using OAL’s Automated Processing Robotic Ingredients Loading (April) machinery to explore the integration of robotic automation solutions at each step of the production process.
Commenting on the project, Andy Riches, operations project director at EPC owner The Billington Group, said the ability to accurately and efficiently prepare, weigh and batch ingredients in its product portfolio was critical to its business.
‘Direct effect on food safety’
“The processes involved have a direct effect on food safety, product quality and factory efficiency,” said Riches.
“We believe the use of increased automation and technology to provide enhanced control, accuracy and repeatability will have a massive positive effect on all three of these critical factors within this core business function.”
One of the April Robotics technologies involved in the project was a micro-ingredients weighing station, which used a collaborative robot to weigh out free-flowing and non-free-flowing powdered ingredients to an accuracy of 1g.
Robotic micro-weighing removes the health and safety challenges associated with manual weighing, according to OAL.
Jake Norman, innovation and marketing manager at OAL, added: “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 an accuracy of 1g with zero cross-contamination.”
Project lead Mark Swainson, deputy head at the University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing, said his goal was to prove that robotics and automation could be the catalyst for much-needed productivity gains in the food manufacturing industry.
“The industry needs a step-change. All the low-hanging fruit has gone. This project is not about marginal gains, it is about identifying a game-changer that can turbocharge productivity in food manufacturing processes,” said Swainson.
Meanwhile, automation could threaten up to 3.6M jobs in Britain by 2030, with warehousing forecast to be one of the worst-hit sectors, according to policy research unit Centre for Cities.