Rising stars of the food industry saw and tasted the future when they visited the University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing (NCFM) as part of their graduate development programmes. The graduates, who are currently part of schemes at Marks & Spencer and Bakkavor, visited NCFM for dedicated training days to experience the technologies that will shape the future of food production.
As a national centre of excellence for food manufacturing, the facility in Holbeach, Lincolnshire, is home to a range of pioneering robotics and automation systems that are set to play a key role in driving productivity and innovation in the sector.
Sharon Green, Deputy Head of NCFM, said: “We are dedicated to supporting the next generation of food manufacturing talent so it is a pleasure to welcome the M&S and Bakkavor graduates to our campus. In the coming years, the projects and technologies we are developing here will transform the sector. By demonstrating the APRIL robotics system and a new steam infusion cooking method at NCFM, we are able to provide a valuable insight into how the future of the industry will look.”
With M&S serving more than 32 million customers online and in-store every year, the company runs a number of different graduate schemes to support retail management, head office, and food manufacturing careers. Colleagues on the organisation’s Graduate Food Technology Scheme visited NCFM to learn how technological advancements could enhance their industry.
Bakkavor is a leading international manufacturer of fresh prepared foods. It currently produces more than 5,000 products and supplies these to global grocery retailers such as M&S, Waitrose, Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, as well as international organisations including McDonald’s, KFC, Starbucks and Pizza Express. NCFM welcomed graduates currently enrolled onto Bakkavor’s Graduate Scheme, which is designed to equip individuals with the skills they need for higher level management.
On their separate development days at NCFM, the graduate trainees were introduced to APRIL (Automated Processing Robotic Ingredient Loading) – a ‘robotic chef’ that combines cutting-edge food processing technologies with proven robotic systems to produce high-quality food on an industrial scale.
Developed by OAL, APRIL is a fully automated robotic system that can mix, load and cook ingredients in a manner similar to professional chefs but in high volume. By using modern cooking and material handling technologies, APRIL is designed to boost production and efficiency while also improving the quality of food produced. APRIL is the first robotic system of its kind and is tipped to transform the food manufacturing industry.
The graduates also learned about advanced steam infusion cooking techniques being developed at NCFM, comparing this to other preparation methods.
Jake Norman, Innovation & Marketing Manager at OAL, said: “These sessions represent a great opportunity for us to learn what future sector leaders expect from food manufacturing, and allow us to demonstrate how robotics and automation will play a key role. We will soon see digital natives driving the move to paperless systems across the food factory, simply because it’s what they are used to.”
Jane Phillips, Graduate Agronomist at M&S, said: “The graduate away day at the National Centre for Food Manufacturing was a fantastic opportunity to explore the future developments within our industry alongside the experts that are at the forefront of these projects.”