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March 29, 2018

Food Island Partnership hosts Atlantic Canada’s First Food Automation Conference


Maritime food business owners, entrepreneurs, engineering students and food industry leaders gathered in Charlottetown on March 21st for a one-day conference focused on food automation. Hosted by Prince Edward Island’s Food Island Partnership (FIP), it was the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada.

“When we reached out to over 40 food processors over the past year it became very clear that productivity improvement is a key priority of Island businesses,”  Bryan Inglis, CEO of FIP, said. “As such, this is the first in a series of initiatives that Food Island Partnership will be leading to connect the industry with expertise and funding opportunities in areas such as automation, productivity, and food waste reduction.”

FIP, with funding partners, ACOA and Innovation PEI, brought in leading industry experts for the conference. All focused on highlighting technologies and methods in food automation and food waste control to improve and propel food processing businesses.

After opening remarks from Inglis and Pat Dorsey, ACOA vice-president, PEI, Dale Arndt from Fanuc spoke. Fanuc creates robotic systems for factories, with over 100,000 robots sold globally in 2017. Arndt began his presentation with a simple statement that summed up Fanuc’s philosophy, “If you do something more than 10 times, you should automate that.” 

Robots are becoming a vital part of mass production and the food world is no exception. Arndt spoke of using robots in an overall manufacturing plan, not just as labour replacement, but as a strategic asset, an advantage that Darrin Peuterbaugh with Elettric80, also agreed with.

Based in Italy with offices worldwide, Elettric80 focuses on full systems integration, creating automated material flow systems in factories. Much of Elettric80’s work is with laser guided vehicles, used in plants to automate movement of raw and finished materials. With 59 percent of their business concentrated in the food and beverage industries, they have developed solutions worldwide.

After hearing from these large international players, regional companies shared their expertise. Andre Pelletier, RPC-Science and Engineering in NB, Austin Roberts, RWL Holdings, PEI, Jordan Sampson and Dylan MacIsaac, from Island Aquatech, PEI and Louis Degrace, Cube Automation in NB all spoke briefly about their companies before a Q & A session.

RPC offers research services specializing in food and seafood, along with engineering and manufacturing. RWL Holdings is a high-speed potato washing facility, using new technology and methods, including an optical sorter to separate product from foreign materials. Apparently rogue golf balls sneaking into potato piles are a real issue in processing plants!

UPEI Engineering students Sampson, MacIsaac and Brett McDermott formed Island Aquatech and developed an oyster cage flipper to reduce labour on oyster farms. Rounding out the panel, Degrace spoke of his company’s focus on automation in seafood processing plants.

After a light lunch and networking opportunity, the conference continued with a presentation by Lukas Lackner, representing Insort from Austria. Insort creates cutting edge technology for the food industry like chemical imaging technology, using near infrared spectroscopy. With this technology, Insort produces equipment to sort loose products such as potatoes, nuts, seed and leafy greens, determining what is foreign material within milliseconds and discarding it.

Beyond automation, the conference’s focus was on food waste and loss (FLW). Doug Alexander, shared the efforts of Ippolito Fruit & Produce to reduce the waste within their plants in Burlington, Ontario. Incorporating simple changes to automated systems, creating partnerships with experts to evaluate their waste, and using camera technology similar to that which Insort develops allowed Ippolito to modify their production lines to reduce waste.

One partnership Alexander featured was with Provision Coalition. Cher Mereweather, executive director, founded Provision Coalition to work with food and beverage companies in Canada to reduce their food waste. They provide companies with assessment tools and resources and will be doing 50 FLW assessments across Canada this year. Mereweather is actively seeking applicants for the program and expressed desire for Atlantic Canadian companies to participate.

Kyla Pierik from Perennia Innovation Centre in NS was the final speaker. With their focus on product development and innovation, Pierik spoke about using “rescued food”, including a line of pet products using discarded blueberries, capelin, lobster shells, and other ingredients destined for compost piles. Like Mereweather, Pierik spoke of the massive FLW that occurs within Canada yearly and the need to work with systems development to reduce those numbers.

Attendees at Food Automation Atlantic walked away with a wealth of information, contacts with the food automation industry and information about potential funding for innovation within their companies. “It has been a great opportunity to be at Food Automation Atlantic to tell our story so that Island businesses can become more aware of the support that is available and to discuss our success with automation in the potato industry,” Roberts, RWL Holdings said.

 Written by Cheryl Young, Salty. 


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