Businesses utilising 4IR in the food and drink industry

Ahead of the return of the nation's favourite show, The Great British Bake Off, and as food and drink exports reached a record high earlier this year, TM looks at businesses who are utilising 4IR technologies in the food and drink industry.

Three quarters of manufacturers are expecting revenue growth after Brexit - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
In the first half of 2018, food and drink exports hit a record high of £10.6bn – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

In the first six months of 2018, food and drink exports hit a record high of £10.6bn – up 4% on the previous year.

British food and drink businesses are now selling their products to over 200 global markets, and according to government, in the first half of the year, 64 million litres of ice cream and over 500 tonnes of strawberries were shipped to foreign shores.

Naturally, to celebrate both this and the return of the nation’s favourite TV show, The Great British Bake Off, The Manufacturer has looked at four interesting examples of 4IR technology in the food and drink industry.

Coffee: ABB’s barista cobot

ABB’s collaborative robot, YuMi, is currently stationed in London retailer Selfridges serving coffee to customers.

Compact robotics can reduce safety issues, business flexibility and agility, and are a rapidly improving technology.
The cobot’s technical ability includes a mix of functional and safety features, from motion control software to an ergonomic, lightweight design.

The dual-arm cobot, whose name is short for ‘You and Me,’ will take on a barista role in the popular store. However, brewing and serving coffee is just one of the many tasks that YuMi can handle according to ABB, as the cobot was originally designed for small parts assembly applications.

Examples of this include high accuracy tasks like putting together smart phones, packaging wrist watches, or handling fine electronics that go into EVs.

The cobot’s technical ability includes a mix of functional and safety features, from motion control software to an ergonomic, lightweight design.

YuMi can also be equipped with vision systems, dexterous grippers and sensitive force control feedback which enable it to essentially see and feel the objects it is handling.

Raw materials: OAL’s APRIL Robotics Material Handling 

British university researchers and two major food industry firms have teamed up on a project aimed at changing food preparation by automating the handling of raw materials.

A joint university-food industry project has set out to tackle the area of raw material handling through automation and robotics – image courtesy of OAL.
A joint university-food industry project has set out to tackle the area of raw material handling through automation and robotics – image courtesy of OAL.

Olympus Automation (OAL) a supplier of engineering solutions to the food industry, is leading the new industrial R&D project in collaboration with researchers from the University of Lincoln, and English Provender Company, a producer of condiments, dressings and marinades.

The project aims to address the unique complexity of ingredient variability in food manufacturing.

Every day, food manufacturers can deal with over 200 varying raw materials with different states – solid, liquid, frozen, ambient and chilled – different packaging formats – bag, sack, box and drum – allergens and handling problems.

This complexity has therefore reportedly led to high manning levels, waste and inefficiencies in the industry.

Using the robotics as a toolset, the research team is exploring how to integrate advanced automation into each step of the production process.

Gin: G&J Distillers liquid filling facility

Cheshire-based G&J Distillers are utilising advanced liquid filling machines in their two high-speed production lines, which can fill up to a quarter of a million bottles of spirit each day.

Cheshire-based G&J Distillers are utilising advanced liquid filling machines in their production lines, which can produce up to 400 bottles of spirit per minute and 160,000 every single day.
Cheshire-based G&J Distillers are utilising advanced liquid filling machines in their production lines, which can produce up to 400 bottles of spirit per minute.

The production lines run 24 hours a day, five days a week and can fill up to 400 bottles a minute.

Unlike a conventional liquid filling facility, G&J Distillers technology grips the bottle throughout the entire filling process, whereby normally the bottle is rinsed and then handed back to be filled.

Comparatively, a conventional machine may take two to three hours to change the parts and enable a different production line to run. However, this machine can do the same process in just 20 minutes.

The company made an important strategic decision to only produce certain types of products on the two high-speed production lines. These products include 20cl volume bottles up to 1.75L, and include bottle shapes such as flasks, rectangles, round bottles and squares.

16 different products are able to run on the lines, but within that number there is then the numerous different sizes. The third and last line is more complex, and can fill over 40 different types of bottles.

Bakery: Macphie arctic robot

Aberdeen-based bakery manufacturer, Macphie invested in arctic KUKA robot, Cookie, last year - image courtesy of Macphie.
Aberdeen-based bakery manufacturer, Macphie invested in arctic KUKA robot, Cookie, last year – image courtesy of Macphie.

Aberdeen-based bakery manufacturer, Macphie, invested in KUKA robot ‘Cookie’ last year. The robot stacks cookie dough pallets in the freezer at the Scottish factory, working in temperatures as low as -30 degrees celsius.

The investment in automation was necessary, operations director, Neil Freckingham, said to The Manufacturer, as previously an employee was working in the sub-zero conditions, which was just not practical, safe or productive.

Prior to the robot’s introduction, an employee would work for 10 minutes in the freezer before having to leave, this meant the freezer door was opened and closed more frequently, which led to moisture and ice forming and this resulted in hazards.

Freckingham said the robot works 16-hours a day in the harsh conditions, has removed manual handling, upskilled the workforce and has enabled a safer working environment.