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'Automation is key to survival'

17 July 2009

Can you afford not to automate? Chris Buxton, CEO of PPMA, asked the food and engineering companies of the East Midlands at the FP Faraday’s event ‘Faster, Leaner, Cheaper: A journey to world class changeovers in the food industry’

There is no escaping the growing need and use for technology in the 21st Century. Emerging technologies are all around and consume our everyday lives; where humans were once the experts the knowledge and capability held by the computer chip is taking over.

The food industry isn't exempt from the requirement for technology and cannot escape the debate of human versus robot.

Can you afford not to automate? This was the hard-hitting question Chris Buxton, CEO of Process and Packaging Machinery Association (PPMA), posed to the food and engineering companies of the East Midlands at the Food Processing Faraday’s event ‘Faster, Leaner, Cheaper: A journey to world class changeovers in the food industry’, held on Tuesday 7 July and Rockingham Race Circuit.

The event was part of the East Midlands Development Agency (emda) funded programme Championing Innovation between the Engineering and Food Sectors (ChIEFS).

Chris made the plea that in order to succeed it was vital that we open our minds to new technology and embrace it. He emphasised the future was to be digital, automotive and robotic and this was something the food industry could not afford to ignore. Constant growth is being shown in automation globally but such growths are not being so readily adopted by the UK, meaning we are falling behind competitor countries such as Germany.

Andy Deutsch, of VION UK, advised that caution was key when considering the issue of automation for our business. He warned it was vial to address operational strategy before diving head first into moving your business away from human to machine production. Chris and Andy took a devil’s advocate role around the debate on automation, but one resounding message was that we cannot afford to stand back and do nothing if we want to stay ahead of or competitors.

This was not the only thought provoking topic of the day. ASDA’s Senior Technical Manager David Mainon, warned that in order to survive in this current climate we need to step back and think about our business. Lean processes need to be adapted and it is vital to cut costs by using new knowledge to improve. He showed even the ‘top dogs’ were adopting cost cutting methods, with ASDA challenging staff to save £1 a day through their working methods, resulting in a £58 million saving per year.

The ChIEFS project, led by the Faraday and Food and Drink Forum, focuses on the collaboration between the food and engineering sector, encouraging companies to participate in more external thinking. Both David Walklate, of the Faraday and leader of the ChIEFS initiative, and Andy Spooner, Business Development Director of Suiko, spoke of the importance in having quick and efficient change-overs as well as adopting new technologies for increasing productivity and effectiveness.

A Formula 1 pit-stop challenge, the ultimate change-over experience, injected a lively, fun and engaging way to demonstrate the lessons spoken about throughout the day. Andy Spooner pointed out that Formula 1 typifies the essence of lean processes; everyone has a job to do, the right equipment is there for the job to be carried out and most importantly the teams continuously practice to get their process right. The same principles need to be applied to the food industry; if they want to stay ahead and win the race they must improve and speed up their change-over process, in turn increasing their profitability.

For those inventive minds out there Michael Moore, from Keltie, gave great insight into Intellectual Property and how protecting an idea is paramount to protecting your business. Innovation and the process of constantly producing new products, processes and equipment is the lifeblood of survival for all businesses. The process of patenting details the inventor’s method, in turn allowing others to enhance their innovation in the future.

The event echoed the huge success of the project and Mike Mountain from Samworths commented ‘’ This event provided both the opportunity for excellent networking and also a chance to keep abreast of the emerging technologies. I thought all the presentations were excellent and I took real benefit from attending’’

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