North West food firms are among the UK businesses to sign up to the Made Smarter initiative, which is helping companies to invest in digital technologies under what has been called the fourth manufacturing revolution, or Industry 4.0.
The manufacturing businesses in the north-west of England are seeking to introduce advanced manufacturing into their businesses and will work with the GBP20m (US$24.1m) Made Smarter Programme, which aims to help them expand through investment in new digital technologies. They join nine small- and medium-sized enterprises that were part of the debut project in the region.
Penrith-based Bell Mount Farming, which produces eggs for the Lakes Free Range Eggs brand, is one of the food producers, with the other four being: Blends Holdings (flavours and colourings), Lancashire Farm Dairies (yogurt), Bells of Lazonby (bakery), and Len Wright Salads (fresh vegetables).
Investment through the programme is expected to boost productivity and revenues for the participants, increase exports and jobs, bring better integration with supply chains and reduce their environmental impact.
Bells of Lazonby, the family bakery and supplier of cakes, scones and artisan bread wanted to automate its portioned cake with a bespoke solution featuring robotics.
Michael Bell, Managing Director said: “We have invested heavily in new products and our new brand Bells and Whistles. Our sales have grown tremendously in the last 24 months and are in danger of having to turn new customers away due to the inability of our production facilities and processes to cope with any increased throughput.
The robot installation would improve the speed of production and move staff from the cutting area to other areas in the bakery.
“The new technology will improve processing time and reduce wastage leading to increased profitability, enabling the company to become more competitive.”
Bell Mount Farming produces eggs for the Lakes Free Range Eggs brand and Owners David and Helen Brass (pictured above) wanted to adopt big data and analytics technology to boost egg production by ensuring the conditions are optimal for free range hens.
This would result in increased sales and profit, improved welfare for the hens, and a host of savings in terms of waste, energy use, travel and environmental impact.
David commented: “At present, there is no real time data collection system in place across the UK laying flock to monitor egg laying hens.
“The matched-funding from Made Smarter will enable our ambitions to invest in a free-range egg management system to monitor the health of hens using sensors to optimise welfare and egg production.
“This will provide a first step in the collection of a unique data set that will be shared by industry stakeholders, improve performance, welfare and aid research into the industry’s most pressing problems.”
Eggbase is a software specialist innovating in the collation and sharing of data from the egg and poultry industry.
It wants to increase the quantity and improve the quality of that data using digital technologies such as sensors connected through Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence to create a new cloud-based platform.
Anne Fleck, Managing Director, said: “The impact of this project will be to improve bird welfare, decision making, innovation and transparency through the sustainable use of digital technology.
“Agri-IT will play a major role in being able to feed the world’s growing population through efficiency of production.
“Made Smarter matched funding will allow us to create the platform in an agile sprint which is necessary as technology is changing at a rapid pace.”
Len Wright Salads, the Lancashire based firm has invested in a factory which will harness revolutionary digital technology to improve productivity and reduce waste.
Made Smarter means they will soon have access to tools such as data analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), 3D-printing and robotics.
In a statement, Nadhim Zahawi, the UK government minister for business and industry, said in a statement: “The Made Smarter Programme is enabling manufacturers across the north west to access advanced digital technologies with the aim of driving growth and increasing productivity while reducing costs – all part of our ambition to make the UK a global leader in shaping how the modern world does business.
The statement continued: “Made Smarter includes match-funding opportunities and the provision of dedicated technical and business support for SMEs adopting digital technology, to support advanced manufacturing.”