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What value can the smart food factory add to the digitalised food chain?

01 February 2019

A three-year EPSRC project called the ‘Internet of Food Things’ was established to attempt to take forward debate and research around the ways in which the Internet of Things, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) can be harnessed to develop the digitalised food chain.

The smart factory could play a hugely important role in this transformation. At a simplistic level, food factories could transform from manufacturing a small range of products and then using advertising channels to encourage consumers to purchase them, to becoming knowledge-rich libraries of consumer preferences, able to respond with personalised products. In other words, infinite customisation at scale. But, how might this be achieved? 

The most successful companies to achieve this so far have amassed huge amounts of data – about the world and our preferences within it, allowing them to deliver recommendations and products that are well attuned to our tastes. The smart factory takes these digital service models and marries them to an environment where sensors, actuators, and robots, supported by clouds, AI, machine learning and other facets of data science, can steer and control manufacturing processes with similar degrees of granularity.

Of course, all of these technological transformations will not happen at once, and will not result in the erosion of jobs. New jobs will be created, new skills will be demanded. Perhaps the biggest challenge for the smart food factory will be the gradual retraining of the workforce as they embrace data science techniques, new technologies and approaches to harnessing the power of data. Supplementary skills in communication, leadership, and inter-disciplinary critical thinking will become essential. The smart food factory is a key component of the digitalised food chain, with data flowing back up the chain from the consumer to the grower offering potential to refine and optimise the physical supply chain that leads to the consumer. This has tremendous potential to add a great many more values to the chain in terms of helping address global warming, reducing food waste and managing our collective health concerns.

The Internet of Food Things Network Plus will be running workshops, organising conferences, and will be funding pilot projects to help take forward concepts like the smart food factory, the digitalised food chain, all with the intention of adding values, and drawing together the broadest coalition of ideas and voices into the Network of Food Things. The Network is led by Professor Simon Pearson of Lincoln University, who delivered a keynote talk at the 2018 Appetite for Engineering conference.

For more information about the project go to: https://foodchain.ac.uk/ 


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