Doing more with less 05/11/2021 by Sarah Pursey
Manual operations have long proved a bottleneck to efficiency across the food supply chain. However, various pandemic-induced constraints imposed on F&B businesses over the past 18 months or so have served to open minds about what benefits automation could deliver – from boosting productivity and minimising waste, to creating safer operations, increasing process data visibility, assuring quality and enhancing sustainability.
In tandem, robotic technologies not so long ago considered experimental are set to become viable to SMEs within the next
three years, as a result of the cost and complexity of such tech coming down and the number of suppliers shooting up. Such research comes from HowToRobot (p32) – a revolutionary online platform connecting robot buyers with over 16,000 suppliers worldwide, whose mission is to empower F&B players to understand and leverage upon this brave new world of robotics.
No segment of the food industry (or arguably even industry more broadly) has been as heavily impacted by Covid-related restrictions and lockdowns as Hospitality. And finally re-emerging from the gloom has only served to reveal the vulnerabilities of foodservice businesses, with enormous staff shortages today blighting such operations like never before. In response, advancements in robotics precision and cost, coupled with software advancements in AI, can now help to deliver lower operating costs and boost profits in the traditionally low-margin foodservice sector. The innovative ‘Flippy Wings’ cobot kitchen fryer, for instance, is designed to “cook more food with less waste, and save staff for higher-value contributions”, says the smart machine’s developer (p13). Beyond this, the new invention helps to create a safer kitchen environment by eliminating several hot touch-points and drastically decreasing spillages, according to manufacturer Miso Robotics – one of the most successful crowd-fund stories in history, with nearly 12,000 individual investors.
Elsewhere, stagnating sales of more premium F&B products over the pandemic period brought to the fore the need for manufacturers to trim the fat from potentially wasteful processes – and soaring raw material prices have merely served to strengthen such resolve. In the labelling machinery segment, for example, ‘lightweighting’ by reducing label thickness and surface areas can allow manufacturers to cut costs and also improve their carbon footprint. However, addressing such factors without sacrificing product quality is absolutely key, notes Artem Krukov of packaging tech giant Sidel (p6). Indeed, Krukov says it is more accurate to call what machinery companies like his are striving for in their innovations as “rightweighting” – that is, ensuring that the materials and processes required to make the package are minimised, while retaining the technical performance and high consumer appeal of such formats.
Naturally, new machinery whose operation can achieve a reduction of required inputs – be it energy, water, or raw materials – will also deliver intrinsic sustainability benefits, creating a win-win situation. In Brazil, for example, Krones’ technology has helped a leading brewery outfit to develop its facility following the pillars of Industry 4.0 – aimed at maximising productivity, minimising the generation of industrial waste, and respecting the best water and energy consumption practices (p12). Meanwhile in the UK, L&G Engineering has developed an innovative range of fryers – underpinned by highly efficient gas burner technology – that can achieve fuel savings of up to 50 per cent when compared to competitor machine models, thus slashing costs and emissions alike for food manufacturers (p60).
On a macro level, with the world’s population set to exceed 10 billion by the century’s mid-point, the need to do more with less could not be clearer – and in this respect, nascent tech like cellular agriculture holds clear promise as a way of fundamentally rewiring our food production systems. In Switzerland, technology giant Bühler’s new tie-up with major flavour company Givaudan and leading retailer Migros is focused on advancing this highly prospective market space (p19). Boasting expertise across the value chain, such collaborations will arguably be more important than ever in the years ahead, drawing down on deeper insight in order to better innovate the machinery and infrastructure that will transform our industry – for the sake of both productivity and planet.
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