002. New trends in the material handling for food applications

“Welcome to “I LIKE TO MOVE IT,” the Rulmeca podcast that explores the latest trends and innovations in the world of material handling. I’m your host, Mr R, and today we have a special guest, Mr Peter Uttrup, Industry Manager Food, the Rulmeca expert in the food sector.
Welcome, Peter, thank you for being with us today.

Let’s jump right into the first question: what are the current food application material handling trends?

  1. Automation is absolutely the biggest mega trend in the food processing industry. Automation brings so many benefits economically and energy savings alike, that these technologies are now a standard in modern plants.
  2. Other trends are consolidation of smaller processing plants to enormous plants. The economy of scale is having a real and powerful impact here. For example, the newly inaugurated processing plant Cibex in Spain has an annual capacity of 300.000 pigs.

Automation is definitely a huge trend in the food processing industry and I’m curious to learn more about that. I suppose there are several regulations.

  1. Food processing is governed by several regional legislations and de facto standards. As for materials, in Europe, we must comply with the EC 1935/2004 directive which stipulates which materials are accepted for use in contact with foodstuffs. In USA, there is a very similar legislation, the FDA. Most other regions may have a local regulation like in the case with China and Australia. However, these local regulations are often very similar to the American FDA.
  2. When it comes to mechanical design, then USA has some de facto standards USDA, NSF and 3A.
  3. In Europe we have the Machinery Directive and also an independent organization called EHEDG which supports the Food Processing machine builders with comprehensive guidelines on how to design and build processing equipment that is safe and easy to clean.

Regarding the regulations you have listed, we understand that the issue of hygiene is fundamental.

Hygiene is viewed as the single most important factor in the food processing. It has all to do with food safety: hygiene means that you, as a producer, are processing your food products in a clean environment. This clean environment minimizes the risk of contamination of the food stuffs with harmful microorganisms that, in the worst case, could lead to death of the consumers, us.

Does this also apply to system components?

Typically, the components used in open food processing have to be watertight and rust free and easy to clean. For example, in Rulmeca, we use only the high-quality stainless steel grade AISI 304, and we provide IP 69 Ingress Protection for a safe and easy-to-clean component.

In addition to the theme of automation, I suppose that digitization is also one of the main trends in this area. Blockchain and IoT are two burning issues. I image they will help transparency and traceability across the food supply chain.

Blockchain technology continues to make inroads to the food processing industry. The obvious use case is traceability for which a blockchain technology with a built-in ledger is perfect. However, gathering all this information also can be used in developing new and more efficient farm and food processing. The use of IoT in the processing equipment facilitates the easy implementation of, for examples, block chain technologies.

Thanks for the explanation. I change the subject for a moment and I cannot fail to mention what we have all experienced in recent years. How has the pandemic impacted the food logistics industry sector and what steps are companies taking to ensure supply continuity and mitigate future disruption?

  1. Under Covid, we saw severe disruption of the food supply chains. From transport of live animals to the food processing plants to the transport of finished goods to the supermarkets. Every supply chain was hit with food shortages and increased prices as a result.
  2. Companies use just-in-time inventory to reduce excess supply and create a lean production process, while just-in-case inventory is used to avoid running out of stock due to a sudden increase in demand. After Covid we have seen more and more food processing plants adapting to the just-in-case model to avoid running out of stock if a new crisis should happen.

In the last episode, we also talked about sustainability. What role does reverse logistics play in the food industry and how are companies managing the increasing demand for food waste reduction and sustainability?

  1. As we all know, handling food products has a lot to do with packaging. We buy our food products as a packaged solution. So, one part of the sustainability equation is to capture the used packaging materials for safely recycling. Here, for example, Switzerland is on the forefront: all supermarkets are obliged to receive used packaging materials from the consumers. Many customers actually unpack the food products in the supermarket and leave the used packaging materials in the supermarket.
  2. The other part of the equation is the actual food stuffs. Here many food processing plants are optimizing the meat trimming: this means they catch more of the meat on the bone, reducing as much as possible leftover meat on waste materials.
  3. And lastly, big data is used in supermarkets to predict consumer behaviours. By doing this the supermarket can identify high and low rotation products and reduce inventory of the low rotation products and therefore reduce waste due to expiry dates.

Thank you, Peter, for sharing your valuable insights and expertise with us today.
We listened that the two most significant trends in the food industry are automation and consolidation of smaller processing plants to enormous ones for economies of scale. We understand the importance of compliance with regional materials and mechanical design regulations, especially for hygiene and food safety. We discussed how technological advancements like blockchain and IoT are leveraged to improve transparency and traceability across the food supply chain. We discussed the role of reverse logistics in reducing food waste and increasing sustainability in the industry. These are specific topics that affect all of us.

We trust to have you with us again for further information.
That’s all for now!

Thanks again for listening, we’ll see you next time on “I LIKE TO MOVE IT“, the Rulmeca podcast.
Thank you for your attention and I look forward to seeing you next time to explore together again the most interesting new trends and developments in the world of materials handling.
Take care and keep being awesome.”