The Broughton-based demonstrator will exhibit the capabilities of advanced automation, collaborative robotics, additive manufacturing, and visualisation
The University of Sheffield is going to build a sustainable food packaging hub in Wales, following a £2m ($2.5m) funding award by the Welsh Government.
The university’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) has secured Business, Innovation and Tourism Escalator Scheme funding to develop an emerging technology demonstrator specifically for the food and drink sector.
It aims to accelerate the adoption of waste-reducing innovations by integrating “Industry 4.0” technologies in the packaging industry.
The Broughton-based Food and Drink Packaging Sustainability Centre is designed to help boost the £22bn ($28bn) Welsh food and drink industry.
Minister for environment, energy and rural affairs, Lesley Griffiths said: “Our ambition is to raise Wales’ international profile and proactively market our innovation in quality food and drink to the world.
“I believe the innovations we are exploring at AMRC Cymru can deliver a range of measures to future-proof the industry in Wales.
“We want to see the food, drink and packaging industry reducing its reliance on manual labour and increase skill levels within the sector so we are extremely interested in exploring innovation in processes.
“This will drive forward the industry into a new era of green growth in the Welsh economy and it is vital the sector responds to these high potential opportunities.
“This can only be achieved by urgently developing new processes and incorporating the new technologies to tackle single-use plastic and recycling.”
Demonstrator will test equipment for new sustainable food packaging solutions and ideas in Wales
The government-run organisation Food and Drink Wales believes the centre will become a hub for emerging technologies and materials in the food and drink packaging supply chain.
It wants the AMRC to take a lead on the adoption of waste-reducing eco-innovations in the sector, working towards increased productivity and a lower Life Cycle Assessment — a method of measuring a product’s environmental impact throughout its lifespan.
The demonstrator will exhibit the capabilities of advanced automation, collaborative robotics, additive manufacturing and visualisation.
Alongside this, there will be prototyping and functional test equipment for new packaging solutions and ideas.
AMRC Cymru’s operations director, Jason Murphy, said: “The conversion of our facility to producing medical ventilators since March has unfortunately delayed the completion of the Food and Drink Packaging Sustainability Centre.
“However, that delay has given us the time to model the demonstrator virtually and consider how we can best set it up so that visiting SMEs can gain the most from it.
“This will hopefully be one of our key strength areas at AMRC Cymru and nearly all of our engineers here in Broughton will be working on aspects of the demonstrator.
“Ideally, we would like to be able to invite visitors in to see it sometime in 2021.”
In 2014, the Welsh government launched the Food and Drink Action Plan, which aims to achieve growth for the sector of 30% by 2020.
The latest figures show the food and drink supply chain in Wales employs 229,500 people and has an overall annual turnover of £22.1bn ($28.1bn).
Minister for the economy, transport and North Wales Ken Skates said: “North Wales has the operational capabilities to maximise the opportunities to deliver and drive forward innovation in the food and drink sector.
“The successful delivery of the Food and Drink Packaging Sustainability Centre will create a more resilient Welsh economy which helps develop companies that are profitable and sustainable.
“The state-of-the-art facilities at AMRC Cymru will be key in developing unique technological solutions which will enhance the global competitiveness of Welsh firms, reinforcing our food and drink sector’s world-leading reputation.”