Material Handling in the Food and Beverage Industry

What is the Role of Material Handling in the UK within the Food and Beverage Industry?

In Handling & Equipment, Material Handlingby Nathalie DrewelloLeave a Comment

According to the food and drink federation, the food and beverage sector is worth £28.2bn annually which makes it the largest manufacturing industry in the UK.  In times of uncertainty, the good news is that this isn’t going to change. This means for material handling providers; it is very desirable to be connected to this sector.

So, what can material handling offer to the food and drink sector? Here are 3 decisive factors for the bigger role material handling can play.

  1. Food and beverage still rely a lot on manual workers. Unfortunately, accidents happen quite often which has a negative impact on a worker’s life and tarnish the reputation of the industry overall.  Also, recent Covid-19 incidents at meat plants have highlighted issues there. In addition,  the industry is facing a significant shortage of low and unskilled labour according to a survey made in 2018 by the association of labours providers (https://www.foodmanufacture.co.uk/Article/2018/01/26/Skills-crisis-highlighted-by-latest-research). Material handling can help to reduce the amount of manual work as well as make the work processes safer.
  2. Due to increased price and cost pressure whether it is caused by EU tariffs or by cheaper competitive products from low-level playfield countries (e.g. USA), the industry will seek to work even more efficiently. 
  3. AI and further automatisation will also get into the food and beverage sector. 

Make sure you are COVID-secure with this equipment!

What can material handling offer to the food and beverage sector? 

Material handling can provide solutions to make workstreams more efficient and safer. It is already used in the food and drink industry, but given the above-mentioned factors, a re-set is recommended.

1. Re-assessment of the production and storage streams

Efficient materials handling is the organised motion of materials in the correct quantities, to and from the correct place, achieved with a minimum of time, labour, waste of money and with maximum safety.  

This requires a potential re-thinking of production streams, where material handling tools are combined with human involvement to achieve the optimal results. One of the aspects to be considered is as to whether already present material handling tools are still state of the art or should be replaced by new technology or solutions.

Stainless steel pallet trucks, weighing pallet trucks and stainless steel work tables are corrosion-resistant and are thus great for food and drink industry.

2. Integration into the latest technology

Modern food processing and packaging plants have already in place all kinds of different machinery such as cutting and forming machines, automated ovens etc and highly automated automotive assembly lines are present as well. 

Industrial robotics have been increasingly integrated into material handling within the food industry. Robots can work around the clock, apart from small periods of downtime for maintenance, with high levels of consistency.

Robotic material handling refers to robotic arms moving production parts, generally on or off a conveyor belt or to hold a part in place for production. In combination with AI, robots aren’t only able to conduct repetitive mechanic functions but can also conduct more intelligent functions. It can include image and video recognition and more complex and sophisticated functions. 

AI in the food and beverage industry isn’t science fiction. It is already dubbed at the fourth manufacturing revolution or Industry 4.0.

Material handling solutions need to be designed to be integrated into AI solutions. Here, a previous article we wrote about AI.

A standard AI material handling solution is palletizing robots, used not only successfully in the food industry, but everywhere in larger warehouses.  

Also, automated guided vehicles or automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) have found their way into the food and beverage sector for replacing manually operated forklifts. 

3. Flexibility with material handling tools  

Conveyors are traditionally used in all food processing industries. They are essential for the movement of solid materials, within unit operations, between operations and even for food inspection. Stainless steel food conveyors are often the preferred choice of the food industry for obvious hygienic reasons.

Many manufacturers have set up their processing plants and may hesitate to revisit a reorganisation. Consequently, the processing workstream remains the same and becomes increasingly inefficient.

However, there are “roller flexible conveyors”, highly mobile, extremely flexible conveyors.  They can be moved, stretched out or bent and positioned in minutes. This means that processing can be adapted very quickly and flexibly whether it is because of higher or lower production volumes or to make the workplace COVID-protected. Click here for more information on flexible conveyors and to get a quotation.

For your needs within the food supply chain, the material handling team of design engineers offer a wealth of expertise and skills where they can manufacture food conveyors to suit your current and future demand.

4. Intelligent solutions

Competitive material handling solutions are not just about using AI. They can also be tailored to specific problems. 

Engineered Solutions, for example, have developed a trailer unloading conveyor that penetrates 10 metres into the trailer or container. This conveyor can also be linked to a flexible conveyor enabling unloaded items to be directed to multiple storage locations or directed to an area for palletisation.

telescopic conveyor
Trailer Unloading Conveyor

Conclusion

Material handling is an important cog in the food and manufacturing industry. The increased pressure in terms of efficiency will require changes in the production and storage processes. For material handling, this means to provide expertise and to provide solutions that can be part of wider AI processes or are ‘just’ flexible and intelligent solutions that make the difference for food and manufacturing clients.

We work with design engineers and manufacturers of handling and storage equipment. If you require any help or advice choosing the right product for your needs, please give our partners, Engineered Solutions, a ring at 0333 005 0323 and one of the engineers will make sure you get the right tool for the job.

Feature Picture Credit: Envato Elements