Productivity is a key challenge for the food industry

Andy MacPherson, National Team Manager, Food & Beverage Sector at Festo reflects on the key themes and trends for the food and drink industry during 2015 and looks forward to what lies ahead in 2016

Two of the biggest challenges currently in food and drink manufacturing are productivity and the skills gap. To remain competitive and profitable food manufacturers are under increased pressure to improve uptime while reducing costs, which has led to a growing demand and for increased productivity. This was also one of the key themes echoed at the PPMA show, which attracted all the major players in the world of processing and packaging machinery and automation. Lord Digby Jones, who opened the show, highlighted that the food and beverage manufacturing sector has many concerns around operational efficiency, production flexibility and sustainability – that productivity is the biggest challenge for engineering.

With consumers wanting higher quality at lower cost, the industry will have to embrace technology to stay ahead of the game and identify the steps needed to deploy the latest automation technologies. Companies are taking many different approaches towards increasing productivity. For example, for RMGroup, productivity is centred on flexible machinery that is easy to use and change without the need for a highly skilled workforce. Whereas, for machinery manufacturer T. Freemantle, it means space saving, rapid changeover and increased flexibility for the end user.

We see four main pillars to productivity: efficiency, security, simplicity and competency. Together these ultimately lead to increased profitability for food and drink manufacturers, helping to improve their bottom line.

The efficiency pillar is demonstrated by T. Freemantle’s approach. Manufacturers should not only benefit from efficiencies derived from the product itself, but from the efficiency of the wider process, throughout the life cycle including specification and purchasing of equipment. Reducing time and energy spent on ordering parts, and lengthy requests for quotation and layout of systems means manufacturers can focus on their core roles. For example, we recently launched a powerful software application called Handling Guide Online (HGO) which makes the design, ordering and configuring of handling systems a quick and easy experience.

Within the security pillar, increasing machinery safety delivers improved productivity. Machines designed in a way that protects people, property and the environment from harm improve overall operating efficiency. In addition, being able to easily access downloadable software and data files enables compliance to all relevant directives and standards and can make a big difference to operational productivity. Having documentation in a digital format makes it easier to implement tablet supported maintenance regimes.

Furthermore, when we are all facing increasing complexity it takes a clarity of vision and hard work to keeping processes simple. Manufacturing suppliers can ensure that customers select the right products first time, there is order and convenience in the purchasing and delivery processes and the products are easy to set up and use. 

Competency is the final productivity pillar. Manufacturers that work with supply partners that have expertise in industry specifics and relevant knowledge about their manufacturing processes will be able to stay ahead of the game. For example, in the food and drink industry, equipment must be fit for purpose in the relevant area, whether it is a food zone, splash zone or non-food zone. An understanding of the different demands for each area is crucial to ensuring productivity remains high.

There has been great progress over the last 12 months with the inaugural students on the UK’s first degree for food and drink manufacturing – MEng Food Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University – completing their first year. The course is a partnership between the university, the National Skills Academy for Food & Drink and the Food and Drink Federation and supports the Government’s vision for the food and drink industry to grow by 20% by 2020.

In addition, the National Skills Academy’s new Trailblazer apprenticeship programme has been enhanced with a specific focus towards challenges in the food industry. There is considerable investment in this area to make sure we are preparing the next generation of engineers with the appropriate skills to take the industry forward.  

For more information about Festo, please visit: www.festo.co.uk or call Festo directly on: 01252 775000.

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