CenFRA, a not-for-profit collaboration between North of England regional development agencies, food industry professionals and experts in robotics and automation at the University of Salford, is aiming to provide an impartial source of robotics and automation expertise to UK food and drink processors. "The food and drink processing industry is under real pressure and if UK processors are going to survive on the global marketplace, we will have to restructure our operations. We need to be multi-skilled, leaner and efficient. Robotic and automation solutions can increase capacity and bottom line," chairman of CenFRA, Michael Taylor, told FoodProductionDaily.com CenFRA was established following the identification two years ago by the UK Government's Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform of the need for increasing automation in the food and drink manufacturing sector to ensure long term profitability. Productivity gainsTaylor, operations director for Fosters Bakery in Yorkshire, is speaking from personal experience. He has applied a robotic solution to the oven section of the plant's production line and claims the benefits are significant: "You get the maximum out of your equipment following automation. The robotic element we have integrated into our oven-loading system has resulted in an extra eight hours of productivity per shift as we now have simultaneous loading in and loading out of product.""Automation has enabled us to keep our machinery operating all the time with the resulting impact on productivity such that we anticipate a net gain of £5m this year," added Taylor. Technology audits CenFRA said that it will conduct technology audits (free-of-charge for processors in the North of England) for individual companies and then liaise with researchers to deliver a bespoke robotic solution for a plant within about two months. The Centre said that it will also assist small and medium sized food processors interested in automating sections of their production lines to secure funding towards the cost of implementation. Staff trainingAutomation does not always mean a reduction in staffing levels but can eliminate repetitive jobs for plant employees and offers them the chance to develop new skills, claims Taylor. CenFRA said that it will also offer staff training packages to food manufacturers to ensure employees are qualified in the use of any software that automation requires.