On 9th September, at the MTC in Coventry, we were finally able to host the Appetite for Engineering event, following its postponement due to the ongoing pandemic.
Every year Appetite for Engineering aims to inspire and inform about automation and technology solutions that can help solve the engineering challenges facing the food and beverage industry.
Now, more than ever we feel that there is a need for our industry to come together to share insights, to learn lessons from the events of the past 18 months, and to discuss how to move forward through greater adoption of automation technologies.
That is why we were so excited to finally be able to put on the event this year, to offer a much-needed networking opportunity to allow both old and new challenges to be openly discussed; to showcase how solutions are being found; and to demonstrate how the food industry can apply technology to help increase productivity and efficiency while also helping to ensure product safety – another more recent challenge is to do all of this in a sustainable way.
Once we had all decided whether we were shaking hands, or bumping fists or elbows, the day began with a keynote presentation from Ian Wright, CEO at the Food & Drink Federation, whose enthusiasm for engineering technology is well-known within the sector.
He highlighted the importance of the industry embracing the opportunities offered by modern technology and reiterated that it was necessary for everyone in the sector to get involved in order to help accelerate adoption of technology and ensure continuing success.
Ian pointed out some of the great achievements of the sector through the pandemic – the industry continued to work at full capacity with colleagues in food factories going to work every day even during periods of lockdown, to ensure there was always food on the supermarket shelves. Ian believes that the dynamics of the industry changed during the pandemic, with retailers gaining even greater dominance across the food sector. It must be hoped that retailers will now want to future-proof supply chains which will hopefully be an accelerator for the adoption of automaton and robotics amongst suppliers so it is vital that food manufacturers seize the moment and make the most of the opportunities that are available to them by partnering with retailers who may now see the benefit of longer-term investment in their supply chain partners.
Industry 4.0 journeys
Nik Watson, associated professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Nottingham, gave the first presentation which set the scene for the day – he talked through the barriers and benefits of Industry 4.0 for food manufacturers and went on to focus on the important role played by in-process sensing and machine learning technologies in providing cost-effective digital solutions which will enable the digitalisation of the food sector.
Other presenters in the first session, which was entitled ‘moving forward with automation technology,’ included Gavin Clafton, global technology manager at Unilever, and Richard Morris of the Bury Black Pudding Company. Both spoke about the importance of setting out on the Industry 4.0 journey, and talked us through their experiences so far.
After lunch the focus shifted to ‘moving forward with sustainable food factories.’ Emma Piercy, head of climate change at the Food & Drink Federation opened the session with a presentation to explain the role that the FDF is playing to help its members achieve carbon reductions and highlighting the role that the manufacturing process can play in a more sustainable food sector.
Chris Fielden, group supply chain director at Innocent Drinks, then took to the stage to give a truly inspirational speech about the organisations journey to zero carbon at its port of Rotterdam facility. “To achieve a more sustainable future we needed to look at reducing our energy consumption, we looked at new ways to approach production. We must strive to do better as manufacturers to realise our net zero goals,” he said. The new factory has been designed to be future-proof. It recycles excess heat from processes and repurposes it and produces its own energy supply.
The final session of the day was devoted to ‘moving forward with the necessary skills’. Chris Edwards, head of quality at Müller Dairy (Yogurts and Desserts), talked about the need for the food industry to bridge the engineering skills gap as technology advances at pace.
He was followed by Daniel Minto, mechanical maintenance engineer and David O’Brien, a maintenance technician at Nestlé, who discussed the apprentice’s journey, talking about some of the highs and lows experienced by both the apprentice and the trainer and Daniel explained why he chose to work in the food sector. The day closed with a skills panel discussion and lots of audience participation.
Feedback from those who attended the day was positive. Many said how pleased they were that they had made the effort, with many delegates and speakers saying the event had made them realise how much they had missed the opportunity to have face-to-face discussions during the pandemic and that they had left the event with ideas and inspiration for their own facilities.
We will be issuing a news alert very soon with confirmation of the date for next year’s event.