BY STEVE OSBORN
AURORA CERES PARTNERSHIP
The Office of National Statistics recently announced that the UK has returned to recession for the third time in eight years. The challenge in the UK manufacturing sector is further underlined by a dive in productivity, with the UK showing more than 30% lower GDP per hour than countries such as the US, France and Germany. It must therefore be time for food and drink, the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, to sit up and listen.
The impact of technology, and specifically robotics cannot be ignored. In 2014, global robot sales increased by 29% to 229,261 units with the main growth seen in the automotive industry, representing 40% of all robots sold. The food and drink sector accounts for less than 10% of the number installed in the automotive sector.
China has expanded its leading position in adoption of robotics with 25% of the total supply in 2014. High-productivity countries such as Germany, France and the US show strong correlation to the number of robotic installations, with the US and Germany featuring in the five countries accounting for 70% of all robot sales along with China, Japan and Korea. France also increased investment in robotics, whilst the UK’s commitment has been in decline. The forecast for robotic installations sees China looking to around 150,000 by 2018 – double the 2014 levels – compared to the UK, whose forecast is fairly flat during the same period. The other industrial nations show steady growth during the same period.
These are worrying patterns of behaviour that could threaten European food and drink manufacturing.
With the food and beverage sector at such low levels of commitment and as such an important economic contributor, the use of robotics must become part of the vision for the future factory, and the move to Food Manufacturing 4.0.
Barclay’s bank has forecast that an investment of £1.2bn in automation will add £60bn to the UK economy, ultimately safeguarding 106,000 jobs. Barclays note that the food and drink sector would be one of the primary sectors to benefit, with productivity improvements of 25% being achieved by 2025. Early indications are proving this to be case with reports of enhanced productivity leading to job creation in facilities where automation is being embraced.
Peterborough-based OAL and the University of Lincoln have been a champion of Food Manufacturing 4.0 and are undertaking what might be considered a transformative if not disruptive development with the April robotic chef. April is challenging the way food production lines are set out, moving away from “traditional”, linear, continuous production, where high volume and limited flexibility have been the watch words. April is set to deliver a system that introduces a return to flexible batch systems, but with intelligent and integrated scheduling that optimises production, improves efficiency and in doing so enhances productivity – maybe more traditional than linear, continuous systems in reality?
At the extremely successful launch of the April robot in April (when else?) there were many challenges raised that OAL are now rising to and demonstrating why the robots are really coming:
This is a technology push, by OAL and the University of Lincoln, who are leading the way in Food Manufacturing 4.0 and robotics. But there needs to be greater recognition of the significance of the situation and manufacturers and retailers alike shouting about their need to improve their productivity, recognising that Food Manufacturing 4.0 is here, and that to be part of that journey, they need to invest appropriately and incorporate robotics within their manufacturing environment.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020