The company identified the labour challenges facing the $500bn food assembly industry where manual workers still assemble burgers, pizzas, salads and sandwiches by hand globally and where manufacturers are no longer able to afford, retain or recruit the workers.
The company decided that it would develop an innovative low-cost robotic solution capable of identifying, picking and placing individual food ingredients to assemble meals fully autonomously at below the costs of current manual operators.
This state-of-the-art solution would help the company become the global market leader in the provision, sales and integration of robotic vision picking and placing solutions for individual unprocessed food ingredients within the global prepared food industry.
As a result of a KTP with the University of Essex, the company developed a break through solution to this challenge which has been patented and as a result of which the company has secured a first customer in the UK Food manufacturers of the Year Raynor Foods Ltd.
"The Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the University of Essex has been critical in the development of a break-through product for which there is already global demand but which has eluded food manufacturers, robotic developers and integrators for over 30 years"
IRS partnered with Essex through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) to develop a transformative robotic gripper and vision system that enables the robotic assembly of food ingredients. As an SME, the company have benefited from 67% of project costs being covered by Innovate UK.
Prof. Klaus Macdonald-Maier and Dr Vishwanathan Mohan have been using their expertise to integrate cutting edge technology into an inherently unsophisticated production operation, and both academics are world leaders in the design and implementation of robotic vision guided grasping solutions for the soft fruit, lettuce and asparagus industries.
The project team recruited a talented robotics engineer to lead on the development of a new method of approaching the challenge without using suction cups or robotic fingers, the two standard grippers that are used in all robotic applications but are ineffective in picking up individual food ingredients. Within the first 6 months of the project, a new solution was developed, tested and patented and Raynor Foods who are one of the UK’s leading sandwich manufacturer was on-boarded to install the system in their Essex production line in Q1 2023.
The IRS robotic food gripper and vision system opens the door to food manufacturers globally being able to assemble meals robotically thereby reducing their costs, increasing their profitability and allowing food preparation industry to move from being a low-tech manual industry to a high-tech industry with higher wages, better working conditions and better recruitment prospects.
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