Interpack 2017

OAL: ‘You don’t need to have robots in cages any more’

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OAL proved manufacturers don’t need to have ‘robots in cages’ on the factory floor by introducing visitors to its APRIL Robotic Weighing Station at Interpack.

The Automated Processing Robotic Ingredient Loading (APRIL) Weighing Station automates the preparation of ingredients in food manufacturing.

Transporting raw ingredients

OAL and the University of Lincoln recently won £448,850 ($578,92) funding from Innovate UK and the EPSRC's Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) research fund to further develop APRIL robotics material handling systems for the food and beverage industry.

It currently has three systems; APRIL Cooking Kitchen; APRIL Weighing Station and APRIL A to B Logistics.

Jake Norman, sales and marketing manager, OAL, told BakeryandSnacks, the project focuses on a step-change in the adoption of robotics and automation to improve productivity.

The one-year project will look at automating the processes of handling, weighing and transporting raw ingredients. As well as developing hygiene and food safety features.

“Food manufacturers are looking for new and effective ways of improving productivity,” said Norman.

“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 APRIL robotic systems that can handle some of these tasks and take the pressure off food manufacturers.”

Sauces & soups

The researchers will conduct an in-depth study of the processes currently used in the industry and will then develop automated raw material handling systems to integrate with OAL’s existing technologies.

By automating the handling and movements of raw ingredients, the researchers expect to make major advances in efficiency, quality and quantity in the production of food products such as sauces and soups when compared with traditional processing technologies.

The research will take place in the Robotics & Automation Zone of the National Centre for Food Manufacturing at the University of Lincoln's Holbeach Campus in South Lincolnshire, UK.

The University of Lincoln recently supported OAL’s APRIL robotic chef development and two other Innovate UK projects focused on steam infusion high speed cooking and cryogenic cooling of food products.

Interpack 2017 was held in Dusseldorf, Germany, May 4-10.

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