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Revealing the secrets behind food engineering

08 August 2014

The most recent Appetite for Skills took place at the University of Nottingham, where students were excited to learn about the importance of engineering in the food industry.

As part of the University of Nottingham’s Summer School in Food Sciences, 47 GCSE pupils from around the UK sat through lectures and practicals, lived on a campus and took part in factory visits as they found out more about what studying a food-related degree would entail. Appetite for Skills, the student workshop hosted by Food Processing, took place on Thursday 3 July in two sessions for the students within the week-long programme.

One of the key messages that the event conveys to the students who attend is to simply make them aware of some of the career opportunities that are available to them within the food industry. During the introduction to the day’s events, students were shown the various opportunities that exist within the branch of engineering, and how Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is important for those looking for a  career within Engineering. 

Three stations were positioned for the students to visit in three groups of eight students for 25 minute intervals. At Station One, sponsored by Festo, students were shown how problem solving is needed in the food industry and the ways in which scientists can solve problems. Students were shown a video with links to nature-inspired engineering design, given a demonstration of how this applies to the food industry and pupils were then given a range of problems to solve with hands-on activities. The company demonstrated their pneumatics, hydraulics and robotics solutions for the food industry.

At Station Two, sponsored by Martec, a specialist hygienic pigging systems company, pupils were asked to look at some of the challenges in food manufacturing, such as looking at how a product can work well in a kitchen and how that can be upscaled to making the product big enough that if a supermarket wants to sell a certain amount of units every day, they can do so. Students were given four different substances to move with straws, and how this relates to problems of contamination, viscous liquids and blocked pipes.

At the third and final station, sponsored by Rockwell Automation, their aim was to show how scientists can creatively solve problems by asking students to imagine making their favourite food products, and then try to list what could go wrong. Rockwell Automation would then show how automation exists to solve these problems, such as sensors and x-ray machines. The idea behind the station was to show how scientists plan for problems and can then design equipment with readymade solutions inside. 

Schneider Electric has launched StruxureWare™ - a part cloud-based software solution – to enable manufacturers to do just this. Using StruxureWare™, food manufacturers can access data from multiple locations in real-time. By storing vital information off-site, manufacturers can be confident that the information is also stored securely, reducing the risk of tampering by a third party.

Of course, digitalisation will also vastly improve the traceability of the food being produced. For example, some supermarket customers can now trace the exact location of where their tuna was caught simply by scanning a code on the side of the tin into their smart phones. This can then be traced through the manufacturer’s cloud based system, all the way back to the source of the product. This type of technology is becoming more and more appealing to discerning consumers who are interested in the origins of the food they are eating. 

How important is reliability when it comes to traceability tools and systems?
Reliability is a growing issue within the UK in general at the moment, as the trend for what is being called ‘big data’ takes a hold. Users want the assurance and confidence that the systems won’t let them down. As StruxureWare™ is hosted on Ethernet or IP platforms, the data is always delivered in real-time, providing users with the reliability they need to view a snapshot of their plant and processes at that exact point in time, enabling them to rectify any issues immediately. 

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