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Use more robots in packhouse, industry urged

Panel of automation experts claims UK uptake of robotics in areas such as palletising is lagging behind rest of Europe

Use more robots in packhouse, industry urged

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Producers should look at maximising the use of robots in the packhouse and redeploy staff in more value-added areas, a panel of technology experts has said.

Speaking at the Foodex event in Birmingham, Mike Wilson, UK & Ireland business development manager at ABB Robotics, said that Britain lags significantly behind the continent when it comes to uptake of robots, pointing out that the UK has 39 robots per 10,000 workers in general (non-automotive) manufacturing, compared to 131 per 10,000 in Germany.

“In food we don’t use as many robots as we should,” he said. “We are using people like robots, so let’s use robots like robots and people to add value to the products.”

Wilson, who is also chairman of the British Automation & Robot Association, said a major reason for lack of uptake of robots was a tendency for producers to “stick with what they know” rather than invest in new processes and machinery. 

There are areas where packers can make simple investments such as with palletisers. “We still have people putting boxes on pallets. Start at that level and then work up to more difficult things later,” he advised.

That view was echoed by Simon Rune Sorensen, chief operating officer at DAN-Palletiser, who said it is a problem that humans are still undertaking pallet-moving work which is both unhealthy and takes staff - which are hard enough to recruit as it is - away from other roles. 

Wilson added that with the developing concept of Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing, companies are starting to take a more long-term look into the future when it comes to investing in technology.

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