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Review: Appetite for Engineering

12 December 2016

Suzanne Gill reviews some of the content of this year’s Appetite for Engineering event. This informal one-day networking forum provides a good opportunity for industry to come together to discuss today’s challenges and to gain a better idea, from the positive examples discussed by presenters about how these challenges might be addressed and overcome. 

This year’s speaker line-up included Jonathan Fairholm, a Moy Park project engineer, who took the opportunity to discuss a project he has been involved in which has helped a chicken processing plant to drastically reduce its energy costs and reduce emissions by 2,761 tonnes of CO2 by readdressing the plant’s thermal requirements. Impressive energy cost reductions have been achieved through the installation of a closed-loop heat recovery system which utilises the heat produced by the plant’s refrigeration system in other areas of the facility. “Why burn fuel for process heat when you are already discarding heat from your refrigeration system,” argued Fairholm.

Keith Gorf, engineering manager at S.A. Brains & Co spoke about the importance of getting the fundamentals of maintenance right to ensure a sound platform from which to move further forward with maintenance and asset care, helping companies to get maximum return from their investment in manufacturing plant. “In my experience there has always been more of an appetite for manufacturing and making money and less of an appetite for maintenance and this is an issue that need to be addressed,” he said.

Gorf gave his views on best practice for implementing a planned plant maintenance strategy. “If it’s not broken don’t fix it, is a saying that should never be heard in a food plant,” he said. “Waiting for something to break is foolhardy. It is vital to monitor equipment to understand when it is going to break down so you can pre-empt this and avoid unnecessary plant downtime.” 

Professor John Gray of the University of Manchester spoke about the conclusion of the PickNPack EU research and innovation project which set out to find an automated solution for the food industry’s need for greater flexibility. 

Three types of modules were developed that are able to cope with the typical variability of food products and the requirements of the sector regarding hygiene, economics and adaptability. “What turned out to dominate everything during the project was the need for systems integration,” said Prof Gray. 

The finished PickNPack line sees product enter the system on a conveyor belt. A smart 3D camera system, that is able to cope with natural product variation, guides the robot to the product, using a human-like hand to gently grasp it, regardless of shape or fragility. The gripper can be easily replaced and software switches seamlessly to allow for fast change overs to handle different products. The system is also able to completely clean itself between batches.

Craig Leadley, new technologies specialist at Campden BRI, gave an overview of emerging preservation technologies. He talked about how technology can help food processors to make more with less, while extending product shelf life and maintaining quality and he explained how these new preservation techniques can help companies to differentiate their product offerings.  We will be covering this subject in more depth in the February issue of Food Processing.

In the afternoon, during the skills section of the event, Grant Jamieson, PPMA Chairman expressed concern about what he termed a ‘leadership vacuum.’  He puts this down to the fact that in the 1990s many Government and industry apprentice schemes were halted, which has led to a situation today where almost no one under the age of 45 now has a solid engineering apprenticeship education behind them. “This absence of new people coming into the system has led to a shortage of skilled and qualified leaders who are ready to take over leadership roles from those now reaching retirement age.

Jamieson is calling on industry to consider how to reskill middle aged workers from other industry sectors. He said: “We need new middle-aged entrants into industry so need to be more creative to entice them into the sector from other, less healthy, industry sectors where skills may be transferrable.” 

We are already starting to plan the programme for next year’s Appetite for Engineering. If you have a success story that you want to share with your food industry peers, to help spread knowledge about best-practice, please do get in touch. We would be delighted to have you join us at next year’s event. Contact me at

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