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Appetite for Skills: A youngster's perspective

10 April 2012

One of the young attendees at Appetite for Skills, which took place on 27 March at the Holbeach campus of the University of Lincoln, has written to Food Processing about his experience of the day. Here are his thoughts:

My visit to The National Centre for Food Manufacturing

On 27 March I went to an open day at the National Centre of Food Manufacturing with my mum. It is part of the University of Lincoln's specialist food campus at Holbeach. The day was about showing people from different schools what sort of things engineers can do in the food industry. There were five speakers and then there were some demonstrations and stands to look round. Some of the UK's best-known food companies were promoting career opportunities for young engineers.

An Engineering Manager told us there is a shortage of engineers and this is causing problems in the food industry because there are a lot of big machines that need engineers to look after them. The Engineering Manager from Bradgate Bakeries in Leicester showed us pictures of what his engineering apprentice does as part of his job.

I have looked at the website for Holbeach and it says: "The National Centre for Food Manufacturing (NCFM) based at Holbeach Campus is an internationally-recognised provider of education, research and technical business support for the food industry.

''Strategically situated in South Lincolnshire, the NCFM serves the UK's largest concentration of food manufacturing businesses. The facility is fitted with state-of-the-art food manufacturing equipment, sponsored by industry, which includes automated fresh food weighing and packaging lines with robotic case packing.

''Around 2,000 staff from 200 different employers study at Holbeach each year. They include employees of major international companies such as Moy Park, Tulip, Bakkavör, Premier Foods and the Produce World Group".

The campus works with people from abroad too like Ishida whose head office is in Japan and I could see all of the times around the world on the TV screen in main reception. It was 17.52 in Japan when it was 10.52 at Holbeach.

I had a extremely fun day and I'm going to tell you why. One of the main reasons is there was a company called Festo and the thing that thrilled me the most was that they made a robotic penguin that can fly and swim under water all by its self. They also made a robot hand to pick food up and it doesn't bruise the object its holding.

I even got to hold it and have a go with it on their stand. The hand has been designed like an elephant's truck, they have copied how a jellyfish moves by making a robotic one and even a bird that can work all by itself without any remote controls, it's so fantastic. I can't believe that they can do so much with gadgets like this and it would be great if I could design something that cool.

There also was a company called Britvic and they were telling us how fizzy drinks like Mountain Dew and Pepsi are made and they gave out free samples to us too so that was one of my favourite bits of the day. Some children had a go at filling bottles to see how long it would take them; they didn't go as fast as the machines.

The machines go really fast that take all the cans and bottles along the lines and we saw a video of the factory where the drinks are made.

There was a very important man called John Quinn who came from M&S and told us how soup was made in a factory and the big vats that the soup was made in were BIG. He also told us what it is like to be a retail technologist for M+S. He has a very busy job and he eats food every day to make sure that it tastes nice before M+S sell it in their shops.

There was another presentation by Rockwell which helped me understand how our lives use engineering on a daily basis. For example the alarm that wakes us up in the morning the shower that gives us hot water manufacturing that makes the food we eat. Even rollercoasters at the fun fair need engineers to design and build them.

The equipment we saw looked really complicated so I now know that engineers have to be trained to know how to look design, build and look after it. I got some sweets, a pen and a laser key ring too from the Rockwell stand.

The Ishida line was really big and was made of stainless steel. It is used to make ready meals and to pack other types of food that we see in supermarkets. The big silver thing you can see behind me is called a multihead weigher because it has lots of different weighing parts on it.

Mike told us that it can be used for crisps, meat, pasta, sweets and anything else that needs to go into packs of bags. Mike has been a Production Manager in the food industry and he knows a lot about how machines work.

Did you know that they use robots in the food industry because I didn't until I went to Holbeach? The robot that I stood next to is made by ABB and it can pack slices of meat in a factory instead of having people packing on lines. Lots of people think if you work in the food industry that you only stand on a line packing all day but these robots can do that job for you so you can have a tea break or do something else.

The ABB robot has a perspex guard around it so people don't put their hands in. It can go really fast when it moves and looks a bit like a spider spinning a web. The robot was on a line made by Marel. Kevin and Jack showed us how the robot can pick up chewing gum packs and we got some more chocolate too.

One robot we saw has to be in a cabinet as it goes really fast and could injure you if you got in the way. It can pack and move boxes of things and it looks a bit like a giant arm.

GE is a very big company that does lots of different things. They get involved in everything from energy saving light bulbs to more efficient jet engines; they talked about career opportunities and gave us free pens too so I needed a carrier bag to take everything home.

I really enjoyed my day at Holbeach because I learnt about lots of new things, I didn't know that engineering could be that exciting and you need lots of skills to make machinery work so that companies can make all of the food we eat. I don't know what I would like to be when I get older but if I can't play rugby for England, I might like to be an engineer and design things that are as clever as the Festo robots.

I saw my friend Jack there too and I took a goodie bag from Britvic home for my brother.

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