Automation equipment specialist OAL and the University of Lincoln have launched a new £448,850 government-funded research project into the use of robotics in food manufacturing, which hopes to replace labour-intensive industrial food preparation operations.
The one-year project is tasked with developing innovative robotics material handling systems for food manufacturers. It will focus on automating the processes of handling, weighing and transporting raw ingredients.
Another key objective of the research is to develop hygiene and food safety features that will be crucial when using robotic production systems within food manufacturing.
The project is supported by science and technology funding body Innovate UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems research fund.
“Food manufacturers are facing rising costs and with little opportunity to increase their prices, they are seeking new and effective ways of improving productivity,” said Harry Norman, MD of OAL.
“Throughout the project, we’ll be taking a step-by-step approach, working our way through common operations found across the food manufacturing sector, such as weighing, sieving, and moving ingredients around."
“One criticism of automated systems in the past has been the lack of flexibility, but we will aim to develop flexible robotic systems that can handle some of these tasks and take the pressure off food manufacturers.”
By automating the handling and movements of raw ingredients, the researchers hope to make advances in efficiency, quality and quantity in the production of food products such as sauces and soups when compared with traditional processing technologies.
The University of Lincoln already works closely with OAL, supporting both the latter’s recently developed Automated Processing Robotic Ingredient Loading (APRIL) robotic chef development and two other Innovate UK projects focused on steam infusion high-speed cooking and cryogenic cooling of food products.