Published on 29 March, 2022 in Operational Excellence
By Stuart Coulton, Market Development Manager, OMRON UK
As we exit the constraints of a global pandemic, the rate of change in UK manufacturing seems to be accelerating at an unprecedented rate. From the war in Ukraine causing shortages of key ingredients to the impact of government legislation on food labelling and sugar content, it is fair to say that the challenges faced by the UK food and drink sector are as diverse as they are severe.
However, despite the rapid changes, one issue that continues to plague the industry with the consistency of a well-oiled machine is the shortage of labour required to staff food processing and packing lines. We continue to see record levels of job vacancies throughout the manufacturing sector and with the diversity of short-term issues requiring significant human intervention, the tension between skilled and unskilled tasks is every tightening.
In particular, end of line scenarios present a challenge (or an opportunity) as the tasks involved are generally very repetitive, quite physically demanding and mentally taxing. With absences on the rise due to workplace injuries and employee churn at an all-time high, as a manufacturing community it is vital we start to lay the foundations to create a more sustainable production environment.
The first step to achieving this is to identify the right areas for automation. At the end of the production line, secondary packing (for example, case packing), end of line palletising and finished goods transportation are all prime examples of important, but repetitive, tasks that can easily be automated.
That being said, the temptation to recognise a need and invest huge sums of money can lead to manufacturers jumping the gun and achieving sub-optimal results.
By creating and evolving a holistic implementation strategy, manufacturers can prove that automation is right for their business in a relatively risk-free environment. The flexible nature of cobots, for example, enables multipurpose deployment fulfilling multiple tasks throughout the working day. Proof of technology is vital to gain the buy in of the staff who can then take on more higher value activities. At that point, scaling becomes much more viable and the results infinitely better.
In summary, whilst short term issues are plaguing the food and drink sector, the need to automate end of line tasks has never been greater. OMRON Electronics has partnered with Reeco Automation to provide a holistic, low risk approach to automating those repetitive processes that can be a drain on resources across the factory. Visit industrial.omron.co.uk/en/home or reeco.co.uk/ to find out more.