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Automation and Robotics in the Food Industry: The New Generation of Food Manufacturing

The food industry is one of the biggest industries in the United Kingdom, contributing over 43.7 billion pounds to the country's economy. More than 450,000 employees are working in this sector and this industry is facing a looming crisis currently. Alongside the economic pressure due to the application of Wage regulation, they are expected to lose a lot of factory staff because of the ongoing situation with BREXIT. The majority of the staff and workers working in the food industry are from the European Union. The food industry is expected to lose around 140,000 workers by 2024 and this gap must be filled by the minimum wage workers from the UK, which is a daunting task on its own. This will add more financial pressure on the food manufacturers and food processors, given the high wage requirements. The food manufacturers can't increase the prices of their products so they will have to sustain most of the pressure within themselves.

But there are some proposed solutions. Automation of the food industry is being considered as an ideal way out of this crisis. With the current pandemic of COVID-19, we saw how hard it is for food manufacturers to function without workers. Automation will likely reduce the requirement of human presence in the food industry. The main goal of this automation is to reduce the economical strain on the food manufacturers and food processors by limiting the need for the employees and adding efficiency to the assembly line. The market for automation right now in the UK is not that impressive, given it only has 85 robots per 100,000 people. Moreover, these robots are being used in the latter stages of food manufacturing, majorly in food packaging. The robots are often bottlenecked by the production rate due to the lack of robots and automation in the earlier stages of food manufacturing, such as primary processing stages where raw food is cleaned, sorted, inspected, and measured to secondary processing stages where these raw ingredients are mixed, prepared, cooked and chilled, etc.

The packaging is the easiest of them all and to some extent, it explains why food manufacturers tend to use robots for these applications as they are cheap and not complex. But we are taking leaps forward in robotic technology with the help of sensors and the internet, as these things are smart enough to have efficient applications in the primary and secondary stages of food processing. Building on that, the costs of robotic technology is decreasing and it is easier for the food manufacturers to afford and make their process automated, thereby reducing the overall costs of food manufacturing. Several programs in the UK are trying to focus on the shift in the food manufacturing industry. There are programs where small food manufacturers with less turnover can use these new automation technologies on a rental basis. This system shift can be benefited by the use of Food ERP which will help the food manufacturers to apply the change to their facilities.

This article is made possible with the help of information being provided by New Food Magazine.

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