The £22 billion Welsh food and drink industry is to get a productivity and sustainability boost from the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), following a £2 million award by the Welsh Government to build a Food and Drink Packaging Sustainability Centre.
AMRC Cymru has secured the BITES (Business, Innovation and Tourism Escalator Scheme) funding to develop an emerging technology demonstrator specifically for the food and drink sector that will accelerate the adoption of waste-reducing eco-innovations by integrating Industry 4.0 technologies in the packaging industry.
The aim is for the sustainability centre to become a hub for the uptake of emerging technologies and materials in the food and drink packaging supply chain. Beyond that, Welsh Government want the AMRC to take a lead on the adoption of waste-reducing eco-innovations in the sector that work towards increased productivity and lower Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).
The demonstrator will exhibit the AMRC’s capabilities in advanced automation, collaborative robotics, additive manufacturing and visualisation; there will also be prototyping and functional test equipment for new packaging solutions and ideas.
“These technologies are widely used in other industries but don’t really exist within food and drink. There are new challenges for us as food and drink packaging companies work in a high-speed, low-cost environment, so the demonstrator will display how the technologies can be implemented in a different manufacturing set up,” said Bobby Manesh, AMRC Cymru’s Food and Drink Technical Lead.
The £2 million funding will be used in two key areas at AMRC Cymru: the development of an emerging technology demonstrator that comprises a re-configurable, modular system for prototyping production processes; and equipment infrastructure that supports the progress of new designs, materials and processes.
“The hub will have a central demonstrator based on a conveyor system which will be linked together with collaborative robots, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and our own engineers wearing exoskeletons. Everything will be visualised and tracked through cameras so we will have a digital twin of the process that can be viewed on a screen in real time,” said Bobby.
Welsh Government, in partnership with the Food and Drink Wales Industry Board (FDWIB), have set out a vision to develop Wales as a ‘food nation’. A key part of this plan is a commitment to innovate the food and drink sector across Wales, the UK and internationally.
Objectives of the Food and Drink innovation programme include reducing single-use plastics and replacing them with environmental-based alternatives, data capture, real-time monitoring and introducing Industry 4.0 technologies.