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11 March, 2016 - 09:54 By Tony Quested

Robotic chef to speed food production

APRIL robot

A Peterborough business is seeking to change food manufacturing with robotic chefs.

Its prototype robot, branded APRIL, suitably makes its mechanical bow at a special event next month after pioneering development work by Olympus Automation Ltd (OAL) in Orton Southgate and the University of Lincoln. Technology from former Cambridge business PDX technology, which was acquired by OAL, forms a key module within the system.

OAL sales chief Jake Norman says robotics and automation have prospered in many manufacturing industries but there has been limited progress in food production because of a lack of enabling technologies leading to islands of automation.

When focusing on ready meal manufacturing, the finished product can often be over-processed and costly due to the inefficiencies of traditional cooking and processing methods, he says.

The patented APRIL robotic chef developed by OAL uses state of the art cooking and material handling technologies to process ingredients with real care on an industrial scale.

A launch event will be held on Thursday April 28 at the University of Lincoln’s Holbeach campus, the National Centre for Food Manufacturing.  Speakers include OAL, University of Lincoln and Kuka on the use of robotics in food manufacturing. The day will also include a full scale demonstration of the APRIL system, which includes a five-tonne industrial robot recently installed at the test centre.

APRIL allows users to scale up how chefs prepare restaurant food using flexible robotic cells. Analysis of existing chilled food plants indicates a 7-14 per cent bottom line improvement following adoption of the technology.

The flexibility of the systems is critical in allowing soft reconfiguration to accommodate evolving consumer tastes. Previous attempts at achieving automation have often missed this key component resulting in costly white elephants, Jake Norman says.

He adds: “For a real £19 million turnover chilled food production business, in-depth modelling demonstrates annual savings of eight per cent (£1.5m) achieved (by order of importance) through labour, product losses, asset return, footprint reduction and energy. Upscaling the technology to the UK’s £10 billion turnover convenience market would realise huge savings with further upsides of varying markets/ global opportunities.
“Manufacturers will be able to improve product quality based on the ability to better emulate a chef. The APRIL robot chef doesn’t pump or pass product through pipework enhancing taste, flavour and particulate integrity.”

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