Welsh food and drink packaging industry set for boost with new funding
The sustainability centre at AMRC Cymru will have a central demonstrator based on a conveyor system, which will be linked together with collaborative robots, automated guided vehicles and other Industry 4.0 technologies. Image credit: AMRC
A rising star of the Welsh economy – the ￡22bn 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.
Lesley Griffiths, minister for Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs, said: “Our ambition is to raise Wales’ international profile and proactively market our innovation in quality food and drink to the world. I believe the innovations we are exploring at AMRC Cymru can deliver a range of measures to future-proof the industry in Wales.
“We want to see the food, drink and packaging industry reducing its reliance on manual labour and increase skill levels within the sector so we are extremely interested in exploring innovation in processes. This will drive forward the industry into a new era of green growth in the Welsh economy and it is vital the sector responds to these high potential opportunities. This can only be achieved by urgently developing new processes and incorporating the new technologies to tackle single-use plastic and recycling.”
Food and Drink Wales believe the sustainability centre will 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 ￡2m 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 Manesh.
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.
Situated on the Deeside Enterprise Zone and opened in November 2019, AMRC Cymru is a ￡20m state-of-the-art research and development facility paid for by Welsh Government. The first High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult centre in Wales, AMRC Cymru operates a 2,000 square meter open access research area.
Airbus is the first major tenant and will have a platform to develop their next generation wing technologies aligned to its Wing of Tomorrow programme, which is part of a global Airbus investment in research and innovation.
AMRC Cymru’s Operations Director, Jason Murphy, said: “The conversion of our facility to producing medical ventilators since March has unfortunately delayed the completion of the Food and Drink Packaging Sustainability Centre. However, that delay has given us the time to model the demonstrator virtually and consider how we can best set it up so that visiting SMEs can gain the most from it.
“This will hopefully be one of our key strength areas at AMRC Cymru and nearly all of our engineers here in Broughton will be working on aspects of the demonstrator. Ideally, we would like to be able to invite visitors in to see it sometime in 2021.”
The food and drink industry is a rising star in the Welsh economy and in 2014 the Food and Drink Action Plan stated an ambitious target to achieve growth for the sector of 30% by 2020. The latest figures show the food and drink supply chain in Wales employs 229,500 people and has an overall annual turnover of ￡22.1b.
Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, Ken Skates, said: “North Wales has the operational capabilities to maximise the opportunities to deliver and drive forward innovation in the food and drink sector.
“The successful delivery of the Food and Drink Packaging Sustainability Centre will create a more resilient Welsh economy which helps develop companies that are profitable and sustainable. The state-of-the-art facilities at AMRC Cymru will be key in developing unique technological solutions which will enhance the global competitiveness of Welsh firms, reinforcing our food and drink sector’s world-leading reputation.”