22 Jul 2024

AUTOMATION FOR MANUFACTURING

£450,000 project will develop robotics for the food industry

Peterborough-based Olympus Automation (OAL) and the University of Lincoln have been awarded a £448,850 grant by Innovate UK and the EPSRC’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems programme to develop robot-based materials-handling systems for food manufacturers. During the one-year project, they will focus on automating the processes of handling, weighing and transporting raw ingredients. The aim is to bring about a step-change in the adoption of robotics and automation in the food and drink industry, and thus to enhance productivity.

The researchers will also work on ensuring hygiene and food safety which are crucial for using robots in food manufacturing.

“Food manufacturers are facing rising costs and, with little opportunity to increase their prices, they are seeking new and effective ways of improving productivity,” explains OAL’s MD, Harry Norman. “We’ll be taking a step-by-step approach, working our way through common operations found across the food manufacturing sector.”

OAL has already developed a robotic food preparation robot called April (Automated Processing Robotic Ingredients Loading). The new project will draw on some of the lessons learned so far. “One criticism of automated systems in the past has been the lack of flexibility,” says Norman, “but we will aim to develop flexible April robotic systems that can handle some of these tasks and take the pressure off food manufacturers.”

“The time is right for robotics [in food production],” adds OAL’s lead automation engineer on the project, Stephen White. “There have been a couple of false dawns but the industry needs a productivity boost and the technology is now available at the right price point.”

The project will be based at the National Centre for Food Manufacturing, at Lincoln University.