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Online learning is key to fast food production

30 September 2011

Lean manufacturing is the buzzword as the UK’s food and drink industry modernises in the drive for a sustainable future where companies can compete effectively in world markets

Lean manufacturing is the buzz word as the UK’s food and drink industry modernises in the drive for a sustainable future where companies can compete effectively in world markets.
Food is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, worth over £80billion, but it had been the slowest to recognise the advantages of automation.

However, the initial reluctance to embrace new technology is changing rapidly as firms seek to boost profit margins and reduce their carbon footprint by introducing more productive and effective processing methods.

Investing in new efficiencies is vital if the food industry is to tackle environmental and sustainability issues head on, but the quick payback demanded for upgrading food production processes may not materialise if equipment is left standing idle because staff do not possess the relevant skills to operate the new machinery safely.

According to The UK Food Supply Chain Report published by research group Improve, there are already significant skills shortages across all sectors of the food supply chain, which if not tackled could result in damaging the competitiveness of the industry.

To overcome these skill gaps and ensure the successful implementation of new technology, investment and time is needed in training to ensure an adaptable and skilled workforce that will get the best out of the equipment.

This training can be done in-house, as part of a ‘learning on the job’ scenario, but this has drawbacks due to the possible ad-hoc nature of the programme resulting from the availability of staff, pressure of work and even the passing on of flawed operating procedures if the teachers are not totally familiar with the technology themselves.

The alternative is enlisting outside industry experts to organise a guaranteed training regime. Calling in independent training providers is sometimes perceived as the expensive option, however, there are cost-effective internet-based schemes which can be tailor-made to suit companies’ requirements – like the online learning initiative offered to food manufacturers by the Centre for Food Robotics and Automation (CenFRA Ltd).

CenFRA’s unique programme of e-learning courses has been developed in close collaboration with the National Skills Academy (NSA) and is aimed at raising the understanding of automation and robotics within food and drink manufacturing environments by encompassing a wide-ranging number of subjects.

Hosted by Core Learning Services and the NSA’s Food and Drink Skills Sector, CenFRA’s e-learning syllabus is available at entry and advanced level, each of which includes 12 comprehensive modules covering areas such as food unit operations, instrumentation in food manufacturing, open and closed loop control systems, process automation and management of automated food manufacturing systems.

Designed to work as a standalone programme for strengthening existing skills or for more complex studies connected to engineering and production management, the courses can also be used in conjunction with Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) levels 3 and 4. At the end of the course learners will receive certification from CenFRA Online Learning Ltd, in recognition of the work completed.

Unlike many other online courses, CenFRA’s e-learning modules can be completed at a learner’s own pace. A typical course runs over three months, but this can be easily extended to suit individual learning requirements.

The UK food and drink industry is a major growth area for the application of automated systems and CenFRA’s collection of e-learning courses has been painstakingly developed to be comprehensive enough to meet the specialist needs of this diverse industry, while benefitting from the accessibility of an online course.

Both individuals and groups can easily monitor the progress of learning, which is ideal for tutors and line managers wanting the flexibility to manage programmes of single learners. All the course modules are available with downloadable worksheets, step by step tutorials and response feedback from accredited CenFRA professionals.

Since its 2009 appointment as the NSA’s UK Strategic Champion for robotics and automation within food and drink manufacturing, CenFRA has experienced unprecedented demand for delivering high quality, food sector specific learning tools.

Its role as a network champion for the NSA has complemented the company’s ability to offer impartial advice, quality training and project management solutions for the food and beverage manufacturing sector and CenFRA is now recognised as one of the best providers of training programmes to the industry.

A key part of the NSA’s programme of work is its industry leading cohort of training organisations located across the UK. CenFRA is extremely proud to be playing a vital role within this network in supporting, developing and delivering training to the food and drink industry.

Investing in the training of staff not only provides personal development for individuals and makes them feel valued by their employer, but offers companies a highly motivated and well-trained workforce with the know-how needed to meet future challenges, boost production and help the UK remain at the forefront in delivering innovative food manufacturing processes.

Prices for CenFRA’s online learning programmes start at £110 per individual learner. Packages are available for larger companies and contracted licences can be arranged for companies wishing to train 100+ groups.

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