The ‘chefs’ will ‘boost production, efficiency, and improve the quality of food produced’.
Introducing robotics into the manufacturing process
Harry Norman, managing director, OAL, told BakeryandSnacks, it identified a gap in the market to make food production more efficient by introducing robotics into the manufacturing process.
He said to date there has been little progress in automating food manufacturing in this area due to the lack of enabling technology.
With the funding, OAL, based in Peterborough, UK, will design and manufacture APRIL (Automated Processing Robotic Ingredient Loading) patented technology; a fully automated robotic system that can mix, load and cook ingredients in a manner similar to professional chefs yet on an industrial scale.
"Winning the grant from the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative involved presenting to an expert panel who assessed our revolutionary robotic technology. The expert’s feedback, encouragement and 100% backing was really appreciated by the OAL team and gave us all a big lift," he added.
The APRIL system will kick-start the industry’s move towards fully automated production lines, allowing food to be produced quicker, with less waste and greater precision.
Dry materials, soups, sauces & ready meals
Speaking to BAS in October last year, Jake Norman, business development manager, OAL said APRIL, developed in partnership with a global robot manufacturer and the University of Lincoln, had seen interest from the bakery sector for handling and mixing dry materials, along with soups, sauces and ready meals.
Taking principles from car manufacturing, it links cooking and materials handling technologies with automated robotic ingredient loading to create ‘food manufacturing cells’ to emulate professional chefs.
It will integrate and enhance two existing technologies being researched under Innovate UK collaborative research projects into cryogenic cooling and rapid heating and mixing (Steam Infusion).
“By creating gravity and removing the need for all pipework, pumps and valves, APRIL systems will produce more consistent and better quality products, faster than current processes with significantly reduced ingredient wastage and energy costs, whilst taking up to 80% less factory space,” said Norman.
The Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative is run by the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership (LEP) with support from New Anglia LEP, Norfolk County Council, Cambridgeshire County Council, and the local authorities covering this area.
It has two funds available for businesses; the Agri-Tech Growth Fund, (£10k-£150k) to support improvements in agricultural productivity and the R&D and Prototyping Fund (£10k-£60k) to support innovative technology.
Grants are available to organisations looking to invest in specialist equipment, new market and supply chain development, ways to improve productivity and efficiency, and the application and commercialisation of Research and Development.