Rugged tablet for processing and manufacturing environments

Backplane Systems Technology has released Winmate’s M133K rugged tablet, a 13.3-incd device with an Intel Kaby Lake Core i5-7200U processor, plentiful I/O ports and wireless connectivity options, as well as a built-in kickstand that allows for variable positioning on any surface.

It has a 13.3-inch 1920 x 1080 pixel display that offers a viewing angle from all directions and shows no colour or contrast shifts. It comes with 350 nits and a 600 nits option available for outdoors deployments. The capacitive multi-touch display can be optimised for use with gloves, in the rain, or with the supplied narrow-tip stylus.

Onboard connectivity includes USB 2.0 and 3.0, HDMI, LAN and serial, all in standard size versions as well as USB Type-C port. The device has optional RFID, an industrial-grade integrated 1D/2D Imager or Smart Card reader, and cameras suitable for documentation tasks and other applications.

The PC+ABS/die-cast magnesium construction and protective rubber overmoldings, allows for the M133K to be extremely solid and can handle a good deal of strain. IP65 sealing allows protection from dust and liquids. The tablet also has a wide operating temperature range, from -10°C to 50°C.

Features include:

  • 3-Inch tablet with 1920 x 1080 wide viewing-angle display
  • Intel Core i5-7200U Kaby lake processor
  • Magnesium alloy housing with all-around elastomeric rubber
  • Fanless thermal design
  • MIL-STD-810G certified
  • IP65 waterproof and dustproof
  • Optional hot-swappable User-replaceable battery
  • Rugged design: anti-shock, vibration, and transit drop
  • SOTI MobiControl compatible
  • With optical bonding to increase optical clarity and readability.

Cobots – a much-needed shift in productivity

Australia has some of the highest labour rates in the world, so naturally, optimising processes and using skilled labour where they are most valuable makes sense. While some are still of the opinion that automation is costing jobs, automation is in fact creating jobs and enhancing productivity.

As production increases, it requires more people to manage the up and downstream of the process increase and allows businesses to make more profits. This gives businesses more time to train and upskill their team members in areas more useful to the company.

Adding to the complexities of manufacturing is the need for stringent health and safety requirements which remains a key focus for food and beverage manufacturers of all sizes, as well as those processors in similar industries.

Universal Robots recently helped a global healthcare brand, Sanofi to free up time where it was needed most.

Seven UR10 collaborative robots (cobots) were deployed at Sanofi’s Tours site in France. The integration into packaging lines was used to meet new productivity requirements, that optimised the organisation and reduced load carrying and operator movements in palletizing boxes with tablets and capsules. Thanks to the installation of the UR cobots, Sanofi has increased its production and improved health and safety related to the reduction of MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders) of its operators. These employees are now able to focus on higher value-added tasks.

Darrell Adams, head of South-east Asia Oceania for Universal Robots, believed that the same level of success can be experienced in our local markets, including food and beverage manufacturing and processing.

“Sanofi wanted to reduce the load carried by the operators working on the line. While one cardboard box wasn’t very heavy, lifting a total of around 300 to 700 kg per person per day quickly added up!”

Compact, safe and flexible
Used for palletising, these seven UR10 cobots offer a payload of 10kg and a reach of 1300mm. According to Sanofi Tour’s new works manager, Giles Marsal, these compact cobots were ideal for this application where an arm needed to be installed between two pallets.

“The team were pleased with the ease of programming and the cobots’ flexibility, making it possible to add various sized grippers in just a few seconds,” said Adams.

“The cobots continue working hard, loading and unloading pallets at the end of the line with no strain at all. The application also offers the possibility to change pallets next to the palletising robot safely”.

Sanofi also noted that the integration of these cobots has brought ergonomic benefits in terms of load carrying, travel and a notable reduction in the work time one the line for its operators.

Marsal was quoted saying that thanks to ‘cobot discovery days’, Sanofi employees have now bought in and the cobots are well received. They now look to these cobots as a good collaborator rather than a threat. They are easy and safe to work with and have helped avoid long-term health risks for Sanofi’s employees.



Meatless Farm Company arrives in Australia

UK plant-based meat company, Meatless Farm, has announced its arrival in Australia, following the brand’s explosive growth in the United States, the United Kingdom, and throughout Europe since their founding only four years ago.

The Meatless Farm is excited to be entering Australia at a time when Australians are leading the global trend towards plant-based eating.

Australia is the world’s third fastest growing market for plant-based foods, as growing awareness of environmental sustainability, animal welfare, and a focus on healthy lifestyles drive Australian consumers towards increasingly plant-based and ‘flexitarian’ diets.

Roy Morgan has estimated that the number of Australians who eat ‘all or mostly vegetarian’ rose from 1.7 million in 2012 to nearly 2.5 million in 2019. And then there is the growing number of Australians who simply want to reduce their meat consumption by having one or two meat free nights each week.

For these reasons Australians are projected to increase their spending on plant-based meats from AUD $150 million a year currently, to as much as AUD $4.6 billion by 2030.

Meatless Farm spent over two years blending, researching, experimenting and trialing different recipes and ingredients to create their range, which includes sausages, mince and burgers. Now it has become a serious player in the global plant-based market, alongside US groups Impossible Foods and Beyond Burger. The global plant-based market is expected to be worth $US 27.9bn by 2025[3].

The UK brand will begin its voyage into the Australian food service market in Sydney via Bidfood Botany, and will be available to other areas of Australia through Decade Foods.

Morten Toft Bech, founder of Meatless Farm, said, “We’re committed to creating plant-based meats that deliver on taste, texture and nutrition. We’re thrilled to be entering Australia in partnership with Decade Foods. More and more Australians are looking to reduce the amount of meat they’re eating, for both health and environmental reasons, and this shows no sign of slowing down.”

Sydney burger restaurant Suburgia, which is operating a takeaway and home delivery service during COVID-19, is one of the first burger restaurants to bring Meatless Farm Co to Sydney-siders. The Meatless Farm patty will feature in Suburgia’s May Burger of the Month, and Suburgia is also making Meatless Farm sausages available on their gourmet hot dogs.

“The look, cook, taste, and quality of their plant-based meats make Meatless Farm a good fit for us. Adding their burger patties and sausages to our menu lets us expand the fun, fresh, and quality menu that we provide to our customers.” said Mike Jefferies from Suburgia.

A spokesperson for Decade Foods said, “We’re excited to be offering one of the world’s leading plant-based meat brands to our customers. It’s a challenging time for the food services sector but the move towards plant-based eating is a long-run trend, and our customers continue to plan for the future.”

“Decade’s sole focus is bringing plant-based foods to Australia that consumers will embrace on taste grounds alone. We started with a global search for the tastiest plant-based meat range that was yet to arrive in Australia, and Meatless Farm was the clear winner. They’ll make a strong addition to Australia’s plant-based meat market.”

Strong domestic cattle market to counter global pandemic

Opposing forces will dominate the Australian cattle market in 2020, with limited supply and strong local demand driving prices, but tempered by the global COVID-19 disruption, according to Rabobank’s Australian Beef Cattle Seasonal Outlook.

The just-released report, titled The Battle of the Bulls versus Bears, outlined that despite the market being seriously tested by contracting global economic growth and COVID-19 containment measures, domestic forces would emerge victorious, keeping cattle prices high.

Rabobank senior animal proteins analyst Angus Gidley-Baird said widespread rain had buoyed local restocking motivation among producers, reducing cattle sales and adding buying competition in an already supply-constrained market, with Australia’s cattle inventory reportedly at a 30-year low.

“We estimate the Australian cattle slaughter will fall 14 per cent in 2020 to 7.29 million head, with a further decrease of two per cent in 2021,” he said.

Production was expected to drop to 2.1 million tonnes – among the lowest volumes seen in 15 years – with seasonally-driven increases in slaughter weights failing to offset reduced numbers. While price-positive for graziers looking to sell livestock, Gidley-Baird said low cattle availability would create challenges for producers, processors and feedlots, forced to manage their businesses with lower livestock numbers and high cattle prices.

Low slaughter numbers were also expected to contribute to a dramatic decline in Australian beef exports, forecast to drop 17 per cent in 2020 to one million tonnes. The significantly decreased cow slaughter – reducing Australia’s production of lean manufacturing beef – was also expected to result in a shift in volumes between export markets, Gidley-Baird said.

“The US is a large market for lean manufacturing beef – 62 per cent of exports to the US are manufacturing beef – and, all other things being equal, we expect exports to the US to drop in 2020,” he said.

Forecasts suggest a dramatic contraction in global economic growth in 2020 resulting from COVID-19 that will be worse than experienced in the global financial crisis (GFC) of 2009, with large economic declines expected in key Australian beef markets such as the US, China and Japan.

As a high-priced protein, Gidley-Baird said, beef would feel the impact of reduced consumer expenditure, with overall beef demand – particularly for premium products sold through full-service restaurants – expected to decline. Heavily reliant on foodservice trade, Australia’s beef exports would also be hit by COVID19-led social restrictions, particularly in China, where more beef was eaten out of home.

“This disruption to food service and slowing economic conditions is expected to place downward pressure on Australia’s beef export prices, creating a difficult price squeeze for those in the beef supply chain managing high cattle prices in a softer global market,” he said.

At the same time, Gidley-Baird said, a weaker Australian dollar, China’s reduced pork availability due to African swine fever, and the US-China trade deal were all positive offsetting factors.

Domestic price outlook Despite countering global and domestic forces at play, the report forecasts the average annual Eastern Young Cattle Indicator (EYCI) to increase by 30 per cent in 2020, to equal the annual average record set in 2016 at AUc632/kg. Based on the last reported EYCI price of AUc741/kg on March 19, this would mean prices were expected to ease but still remain strong over the remainder of the year.

However, given the forecast dramatic reduction in economic activity, uncertainty remained surrounding global beef price performance. Australian regional outlook With climatic conditions taking a toll on northern cattle herds in past seasons, breeding inventory across Queensland and Northern Territory was estimated at a 20-year low in late 2019.

Gidley-Baird said breeding numbers in some areas of southern Queensland were expected to be 75 per cent below normal, yet, despite tough conditions, well-priced sales had generated solid returns, placing producers in a strong position to start the recovery. As such, the report tipped Queensland would emerge as the “colosseum” of the Australian cattle recovery.

“Producers, feedlotters, processors and live exporters are all vying for a very small pool of cattle, and prices in Queensland may see some of the strongest gains across all states given this fierce competition,” Gidley-Baird said.

Breeding cattle numbers were also significantly down in central and northern New South Wales, while higher breeder numbers and calf availability out of the south of the state remained closer to normal.

He said Victorian producers remained well-positioned to capitalise on national restocking demand and higher prices, with most areas – east Gippsland excluded – maintaining close to normal breeding numbers.

In South Australia, producers could also look forward to a positive year, despite 2019’s dry conditions and reduced cattle inventory in the northern pastoral country.

“There may be slightly softer demand by local producers for replacement cattle, compared to NSW and Queensland, but these markets will still provide strong buyer interest for South Australian producers looking to sell cattle,” he said.

Dry conditions across much of Western Australia’s cattle-producing regions had driven increased slaughter rates, and would curb 2020 production, Gidley-Baird said, however upward price pressure would come from east coast demand. In Tasmania, current breeding cattle on-farm numbers were similar to early 2019, reflective of normal levels, yet increased competition from the mainland could see the movement of cattle out of the state.

Enmin Hopper Feeders optimise food production process

When the accurate delivery of product is required or a controlled method of introducing a secondary product onto a production line, Enmin electromagnetic vibratory hopper feeders provide a proven reliable solution. 

These robust, yet compact units hold bulk dry food products and ingredients and consistently deliver the product at a metered rate.  The hopper has a manual gate on the front that controls the product bed depth, and the controller speed adjustment provides very specific product rate accuracy.

The Hopper Feeder is suitable for a variety of food production facility needs. Designed for mobility and to take up minimal floor space, it can be used as a stand-alone unit or as part of an integrated-modular turnkey system. The Hopper Feeder significantly reduces manual handling and food wastage by hygienically storing and accurately delivering product to a secondary process.

Designed and built in Australia, Enmin’s Electromagnetic Hopper Feeder range can be customised to meet customer specifications, require minimal maintenance, and are built to withstand the demands of food production and handling. The units are fully constructed with 304 stainless steel, providing excellent durability and reliability.

An example of Enmin’s custom design skills in this area is a recently built unit for one of Australia’s leading contract manufacturing and packing companies. The requirement was for a unit that would accommodate two position dosing of dry ingredients into a cup filling line using twin vibratory feeders. This company has been purchasing equipment from Enmin for over 25 years.

One of the requirements was to enable production line staff to access the hopper easily and safely. To facilitate this, Enmin designed a mobile unit with retractable operator steps. When not required these steps can be folded out of the way quickly and with very little effort thanks to pressurised struts on each side.

Another feature of this unit is that the controls are integrated within the existing master control system for simple line integration. The unit features Enmin’s proven LD3 electromagnetic drive in conjunction with a multi-function controller that tunes to accurate frequency bands, enabling high speed filling coupled with pinpoint accuracy.

All of Enmin’s electromagnetic drives offer low maintenance combined with minimal power consumption.

“Coming up with custom designed engineering solutions to solve a customer’s particular issue is something that we excel at and why so many of our customers return to us time and time again,” Enmin general manager, Anthony Gallaher said.

“Our compact electromagnetic hopper feeders are engineered to optimise a company’s food production processes. Our ability to custom design units to customers’ exact specifications ensures that production efficiencies and staff productivity is maximised,” Gallaher summed up.

Enmin’s extensive range of product handling and vibratory equipment includes the revolutionary Mi-CON modular conveyor – the first ever hygienically designed full wash down system to offer multiple standardised components – plus an extensive range of hopper feeders and screeners, spiral conveyors, conditioning conveyors and more.

AFGC welcomes federal government’s manufacturing initiatives

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has welcomed moves by the Federal Government to strengthen the nation’s domestic manufacturing capabilities and shore up supply for the future.

While the $122.1 billion food and grocery manufacturing sector remains Australia’s largest manufacturing sector, conditions have put businesses under pressure. The sector employs more than 273,300 Australians, representing almost 40 per cent of total manufacturing employment, and is also the lifeblood of many regional and rural communities, where 39.3 per cent of these jobs are based.

The AFGC welcomes the opportunity to work with the government to strengthen global supply chains as well as providing a strong and stable economic environment for domestic manufacturing to grow. This will increase jobs across our cities and regional communities, boosting local economies.

AFGC Acting CEO, Dr Geoffrey Annison, said that while the COVID-19 crisis had reinforced how strong and reliable Australia’s food and grocery supply chain was, all moves to strengthen and support the sector were welcome.

“Drought, bushfires, rising input prices, seven-years of consecutive supermarket price deflation and now COVID-19 have put significant pressure on the sector and the AFGC welcomes the opportunity to work with the government to determine ways the sector can remain a powerhouse and support increased domestic manufacturing,” Annison said.

“During this crisis our food and grocery manufacturers continue to work around the clock to ensure Australians have access to the essential products they need. This has meant ramping up operations to 24/7 to ensure products are making it to supermarket shelves.

“In Australia we are lucky because most of our food is grown and produced here. We produce enough food to feed 75 million people – enough to feed our entire population three times over. We have a very safe, reliable and efficient food supply chain.

“We need to make sure that it is optimised by taking a whole of food system approach – literally from paddock to plate – in a manner which secures key agricultural production of key inputs such as rice, honey and horticultural products for domestic food processors.”

Performative excellence for aseptics

Sliced bread, BBQ sauces, drinks – the portfolio of the food and beverage producer Spitz in Upper Austria is highly diversified. Demand for energy drinks, juices and ice tea is particularly high at present. Too high for the company’s only aseptic line, which at times was even running in four shifts. Which is precisely why the people responsible at Spitz decided to upsize their filling capacities. Thanks to the fine performance of the existing wet-aseptic technology, they opted once again for Krones – but this time for dry-aseptics featuring a Contipure AseptBloc DN.

The new line began operation in August 2019, and is meanwhile running in three shifts. In each shift, one employee looks after the aseptic block, one supervises the labeller and the packer, and one is responsible for the palletising zone and supplying the line with new preforms.

Prior experience with Krones’ aseptics
Although Spitz was already familiar with Krones’ aseptic technology, in terms of process technology the new line differs from the existing wet-aseptic variant: the Contipure AseptBloc DN sterilises the preform’s entire surface in dry mode, using gaseous hydrogen peroxide. “This enables us to do without a rinser, which means we’ve been able to significantly reduce our water consumption and also the amount of wastewater created in the production operation,” says a gratified Markus Kröpfel, Technical Director at Spitz. Blow-moulder, filler and capper are in fully aseptic design and directly block-synchronised with each other. This guarantees not only a compact layout but also a high level of microbiological process safety.

Currently, Spitz is mainly using this line to bottle different variants of ice tea at a rating of 24,000 containers per hour in up to six different bottle formats. But by investing in the new aseptic line Spitz demonstrated farsighted receptiveness to entirely new product groupings. Because the Contipure AseptBloc DN will then in future also be able to handle innovative beverage types from the low-acid category: “We most definitely believe that the trend is towards naturalness: meaning no preservatives and as many natural ingredients as possible. There, aseptics are without a doubt the first choice, because that means we can bottle freshly brewed teas or still sports drinks, for example, to the very latest state of the art,” avers Walter Scherb jun., who heads the company in the third generation. “At the same time, by investing in a new line we wanted to keep our options open for new product categories. Krones won us over with its Contipure AseptBloc: now we are in a position to not only bottle pH-neutral beverages, but also to dose coconut or aloe vera into them, for example. This combination of a block-synchronised dry-aseptic line with an option for also handling fruit-chunk products is unique in Europe.”


Why CO2 production is vital to food and beverage industry

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) gets a bad rap in the larger scheme of things. It is the bogeyman of the climate change world. Yet, without it, the way people consume food and beverages – even how food is packaged – would not be the same.

Air Liquide is an industrial gas-producing specialist, and one of the key ingredients it supplies to the food and beverage industry is carbon dioxide, in all its forms.

Frank De Pasquale is the business unit manager for CO2 and Hydrogen (H2) for the company in Australia. He has been with Air Liquide for 15 years and has been in charge of its CO2 production for the past 12 months and is well versed in its place within the sphere of the food and beverage landscape.

There is an increasing amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, but as of today this is generally not economic to recover, so industrial gas companies need to identify a suitable CO2 emission source and give it a second life by purifying it to food or industrial grade for commercial use.

“Unlike some of our competitors, we never produce additional CO2 from burning natural gas; we recycle and purify existing CO2 emissions from others. We are proud of this commitment which is part of our Corporate Climate Objectives.”

All CO2 emissions are a mixture of CO2 and various impurities, but it is what makes up those impurities that matter when it comes to commercialising the product.

“It could be 99.99 per cent CO2, but has 20 parts per billion of benzene in it, which at parts per billion level is not very much,” said De Pasquale. “However, such a little amount of this kind of impurity means that the CO2 is not suitable for the food industry.”

And how does Air Liquide source its CO2? There are several avenues it utilises. Currently it sources feedstock CO2 from seven different industrial processes, all of which emit CO2 as they make their products – three produce ammonia, one is a power station, one is a steam boiler (both are combustion flue gas sources), while there is one that produces ethylene oxide and another is from a natural gas producer. Each feedstock source has its own set of impurities that has to be dealt with, and then the gas has to be collected so it can be made commercially viable. Take ethylene oxide as example.

“We can get CO2 from a chemical process, such as ethylene oxide production,” said De Pasquale. “When ethylene is reacted with oxygen, it makes ethylene oxide and CO2. The process then requires CO2 to be removed, which we can capture, then purify for the food industry.

“However ammonia plants are definitely the best feedstock source; CO2 produced this way has the least amount of impurities in it.”

The reason for this, said De Pasquale, is that to make ammonia you need to have a reaction between hydrogen and nitrogen which results in a relatively clean stream of CO2 containing less impurities than other emission sources.

“As you go from ammonia to ethylene oxide to natural gas processing to flue gas – you get different levels of purity for CO2 and different impurities that you will need to deal with,” he said.

The cost of production varies greatly because it’s based on the processes used within the different disciplines to ensure food and beverage grade quality. In most processes, there are a few steps.

“Typically, there is some level of compression – there is also, as a general rule, a degree of filtration and drying, followed by liquefaction and distillation,  to purify the feedstock to the required quality,” said De Pasquale. “The process produces CO2 in liquid form, which is approximately -22˚C and 20 bar pressure. Not only does producing liquid aid in the purification process, it also allows us to transport it more economically than you would if it was in a gaseous form.”

Once it is trucked to a customer’s site it is loaded into a bulk tank, and the customer typically uses it in a gaseous form, which is made possible using a simple air-heat exchange system to vaporise the liquid CO2.

Dry ice is another specialty of Air Liquide’s, which is the solid form of CO2 that typically sits around -79˚C. One of the special properties of dry ice is that it sublimes from its solid form directly to its gaseous form. This is important in the food and beverage industry, when dry ice melts into a gas it does not leave a residual on the food.

“Airlines use dry ice to keep your drinks cool and to transport fresh produce from Australia to export markets. The Red Cross use it when they transport blood and other human specimens such as plasmas,” said De Pasquale. “We have a large number of meat and poultry processors that have bulk liquid storage vessels on site. The liquid CO2 is piped to their processing equipment where it converts to dry ice, which chills the meat to prevent biological or bacteriological development and facilitates product forming into beef patties or chicken nuggets.”

CO2 is a product with highly sought after properties. This explains why it is used in the food and beverage industries in its liquid, solid and gaseous forms across a range of applications.

Quality and the supply of a safe product to these industries is paramount, so how do they carry out quality control?

“We continually test the quality of our CO2 in real time,” said De Pasquale. “We have a detailed and audited food safety management system known as FSSC 22000, which is a systematic approach to controlling food safety hazards within our production and distribution activities. This ensures that we provide a safe product to the food and beverage industries. It covers everything from plant design right through to pest control and waste disposal.”

According to De Pasquale, from the process aspects, it covers everything from the feedstock CO2 stream and process conditions,  through to final product testing and distribution to the market. It is not just testing the final product, it’s about assessing, monitoring and controlling all risks, all of the time.

“We produce and test CO2 in batches; we test it online and send samples to external labs; and we also monitor process conditions,” he said. “We know if the process conditions vary, then something could be impacting on our product quality. These are real-time variables, and the last part of the system involves testing of the final product.

“If we don’t have these systems in place, by the time the final  product is made, it is typically too late. We test the final product to confirm that everything else in our system is working. It’s not a catch-all last measure – the important part is making sure the processes are in place from the beginning.”

Another major and ever-growing market for CO2 is water and waste water treatment where it is used for pH control and remineralisation. Every Australian capital city’s desalination plant uses CO2. The plant is a critical water supply source, especially as drought takes hold.

“CO2 is also one of the most humane way to process animals like chickens and pigs,” said De Pasquale. “It is used in MAP (modified atmosphere packaging) as a bacteriostatic agent, thus extending the shelf life of chilled and ambient products. Australian supermarket shelves are packed with trays or packs of MAP products ranging from meat and poultry to dairy products such as cheese and milk powder to pasta and bakery products. CO2 is used with all these products and is a key component of the system that extends shelf life.

“Another application that I should mention is glasshouse enrichment. You can grow crops in a field, but to increase the yield of your crop and also the growing season, you grow them in a glasshouse where you control the temperature and you can control the CO2. The glass house operates at a slightly elevated CO2 level, which improves crop production.”

De Pasquale is also keen to point out that he doesn’t see the production of CO2 – in the context as to why Air Liquide makes it – as an industrial process.

“The way that we run our CO2 production plants is driven by the requirements of FSSC 22000, which is strictly a food and beverage industry standard,” he said. “Our CO2 plants have this certification because the food and beverage industry is our major market and CO2 is used by this market as an ingredient or as a processing aid. So these production plants are not industrial production plants, they are food ingredient production plants.”

And when it comes to the general public, the bottom line as far as De Pasquale is concerned on the merits of CO2 in the food industry?

“Take soft drinks, sparkling water – everybody wants drinks with bubbles in it,” he said. “And what about beer and soft drinks on tap? Pubs and bars use CO2 to dispense these beverages. At the end of the day, no CO2, no beer, no soft drinks.”

Wide Open Agriculture experiencing strong sales

Wide Open Agriculture (WOA) has announced that while the COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving, it has not materially impacted its business operations and the company is experiencing continued sales momentum. This is due to the Australian Government’s commitment towards supermarkets remaining open, along with increased ordering via the Company’s online portal Dirty Clean Food.

Online and retail sales growth
Preliminary revenue guidance has highlighted strong momentum in sales through the quarter, with an acceleration in recent weeks as demand from supermarkets and consumers purchasing online increased. Online sales volume grew by over 600% month-on-month from February to March 2020, with March revenue from online sales estimated to be the highest in the company’s history. Monthly online sales orders increased from 51 in February to 388 in March 2020.

Relationships with retailers remain strong, with over 30 independent retailers showing continued and strong demand for Dirty Clean Food products. Q3 FY2020 revenue is now expected to exceed Q2 FY2020.

Food Service orders from restaurants and cafes have declined significantly and are expected to decline further in the coming months. However, this has been more than offset by growth in the retail and online sales channels, positioning the company well for sustained sales from all three channels once the COVID-19 emergency subsides.

Sales and supply chain remain unaffected
Dirty Clean Food’s supply chain continues to remain open and unaffected, with farming partners currently meeting demand for our regenerative beef and lamb products, along with the ability to increase deliveries required to match future growth. The Company is also seeing increasing interest from regenerative farmers seeking to supply the brand and is identifying new product lines to diversify the online product range.

Dirty Clean Food online portal experiencing growth and products continuing to be stocked in independent supermarkets

The company remains well placed to continue sales momentum during FY20, with current operations and sales setting an important commercial foundation for Wide Open. Refining operational efficiencies, diversifying product lines and growing distribution channels are key growth objectives.

Despite COVID-19, revenue growth initiatives are still being implemented across the business, with the company’s online portal and logistic capacity ready for new product launches into the Western Australian market. Wide Open is also looking at initiatives that will enable the company to increase sales and marketing activity in WA and launch in other states domestically.

Whilst revenue performance to date has been encouraging, there is an increasing level of uncertainty arising from COVID-19. On this basis, the Company will implement a revised remuneration structure, whereby the board of directors and CEO have volunteered to reduce their salaries and receive shares instead. This new structure will assist in reducing Wide Open’s short-term operating costs and increase incentives to create sustained shareholder value across the year.

Wide Open Agriculture’s Managing Director Ben Cole said, “Our role in tackling the COVID-19 crisis is simple, we aim to offer people with continued access to safe, healthy food through supporting local farmers that are committed to regenerating their farmland.”

The Board has agreed to accept a 20% fee reduction, with the balance paid in equity in lieu of cash. Ben Cole, Managing Director has voluntary accepted a 30% pay reduction resulting in a $115,500 per annum salary package. These two agreements will be compensated in shares and continue for a 3-month period, whereupon they will be reviewed.

Seafood industry buoyed by Federal support

Seafood Industry Australia (SIA) has welcomed the Federal Government’s $110 million International Freight Assistance announcement.

“We’d like to thank the Federal Government for helping to keep Aussie jobs and Aussie seafood on the table,” SIA CEO Jane Lovell said. “The Australian seafood industry has been in turmoil since orders to China evaporated on 24 January. We asked the Federal Government for financial support and coordination assistance to reopen export markets; today we can tick that box.

“Seafood Industry Australia was created for moments like this. As the voice of the Australian seafood industry we asked our members what their needs were, how we could keep the industry afloat, and we took that message to Governments right around the country.”

The assistance will help the Australian seafood industry restart exports to global markets, including China. This means not only securing Australian businesses and jobs in the seafood industry, but further downstream in processing, freight and beyond, according to Lovell.

“For the Aussie seafood businesses who have effectively been without an income for nine weeks, for their employees, and for their families this marks the beginning of a return to normal. There’s no better stimulus than getting back to work. We have orders waiting, and we now have a way to confidently go fishing to fill those orders,” she said.

“We asked for government fees and charges to be waived, and the Federal Government heard that request and has waived fisheries management levies under the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, saving our industry more than $10 million this year. This waiver is welcome news for our struggling industry and will provide a slight reprieve to many.

“We look forward to welcoming more good news over the coming weeks as other states assist industry by waiving their fees and charges. We understand there are many challenges for Governments across the country right now, but as an essential service, who provide more than one billion meals to families here and overseas, it is critical that we’re able to keep working.

“We have worked closely with the Federal Government, and particularly Assistant Minister Jonathon Duniam and his office. We thank John and Danielle for responding to our calls for help – and we look forward to continuing to work with them to deliver on challenges we continue to face. We’d also like to acknowledge the hard work of Seafood Trade Advisory Group’s (STAG) Nathan Maxwell and Jayne Gallagher.”

BSC committed to maintaining customer uptime and keeping supply chain open

In a time of uncertainty, it’s good to have a constant, especially if that constant helps keep Australia’s food and beverage supply chain open. BSC are making sure their clients know  they are open for business in this vital cog of manufacturing and processing.

With food and beverage companies ramping up production, at some stage they will inevitably need their plant and machinery to be maintained. The supply chain is only as good as the products that are being moved, and the amount of products being moved is reliant on plant and machinery being in tip-top shape.

National accounts manager for BSC, Jeff Mrak, knows how important having products available on demand is for food and beverage manufacturers and processors.

“If one of these plants has a bearing, seal, chain, electric motor or gearbox fail, then their production plant will stop,” he said. “We’re lucky because our supply chain is sourced from various high-quality, multinational manufacturers that have the capability to help keep plants open. We are very well hedged against any issues, without supply chains becoming affected significantly.

“We have access to a further supply chain for parts through the Motion Industries business in the US, which is a massive distribution network that we can utilise. They’re open for business because they have the essential services classification.”

Just as important is the availability of staff to support clients and make sure products arrive in good time if urgent maintenance is required.

“We’ve checked with some of our larger national corporate organisations to ensure we’ve got them covered on critical stocks and we’re all good,” said Mrak. “Our supply chain is well spread, and we have multiple products at multiple locations – all our teams are available 24/7.

“As production ramps up, the need for our products will increase. Where food-grade products are required we will supply those products.”

And while the company is assuring its clients and potential clients that they are open for business, it is treating the coronavirus situation with the respect it deserves.

“We have our engineering team available and we can deploy people to a particular site; we’re lucky that our engineering solutions teams are situated in every state to go to a site,” he said. “We are taking into account the protocols of COVID-19 and what is required at each level.”

Mrak’s comments are backed up by CEO Nick Kerwin who said his company has large stock holdings and its supply chain remains under constant review.

“You have my commitment that even in these difficult times, we are an organisation that will always be here to provide reliable, efficient, local and yes-can-do service,” Kerwin said.

As COVID-19 threatens to grind businesses to a halt, BSC remains committed to maintaining customers’ up-time and productivity.

To read more articles about BSC’s resources and activities go to:


Unilever ramps up food production 24/7 in wake of coronavirus

Unilever has announced a wide-ranging set of measures to support global and national efforts to tackle the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. The company’s actions are designed to help protect the lives and livelihoods of its multiple stakeholders – including its consumers and communities, its customers and suppliers, and its workforce.

Consumers and communities Unilever will contribute $182m to help the fight against the pandemic through donations of soap, sanitiser, bleach and food. This includes:

• A product donation of soaps and sanitiser of at least $91m to the COVID Action Platform of the World Economic Forum, which is supporting global health organisations and agencies with their response to the emergency. In addition to the supply of soap, Unilever will adapt its current manufacturing lines to produce sanitiser for use in hospitals, schools and other institutional settings.

• Product donations, partnerships and handwashing education programmes, delivered through national health authorities and NGOs, to support local communities most at need.

In Australia and New Zealand, Unilever’s factories are operating 24/7 to help keep shelves across Australia and New Zealand stocked with essential food, personal care and cleaning products. As the situation evolves in Australia and New Zealand, Unilever will continue working closely with its partners, customers, industry groups, government and the wider public to offer timely support wherever possible.

For example, Unilever responded quickly to donate Dove soap to the NSW Department of Education for distribution to schools experiencing shortages due to stockpiling. Unilever has also provided funding to help Foodbank NSW and ACT employ paid casuals in lieu of corporate volunteer groups that have been cancelled due to new social distancing rules.

This will help Foodbank continue supporting Australians facing hardship, particularly as a result of the coronavirus. Customers and suppliers Unilever will offer $912m of cash flow relief to support livelihoods across its extended value chain, through:

• Early payment for our most vulnerable small and medium sized suppliers, to help them with financial liquidity.

• Extending credit to selected small-scale retail customers whose business relies on Unilever, to help them manage and protect jobs.

Workforce Unilever will protect its workforce from sudden drops in pay, as a result of market disruption or being unable to perform their role, for up to three months. We will cover our employees, contractors and others who we manage or who work on our sites, on a full or part-time basis. This will apply to workers not already covered by government plans or by their direct employer.

Australia’s wild prawn fishers demand sustainability

Australia’s wild prawn fishers are inviting the community to ‘get on board’ by promoting the sustainable practices that make the Aussie prawn on your plate as guilt-free as it is delicious.

A project funded jointly by the Australian Council of Prawn Fisheries (ACPF), and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC), is harnessing novel technology, such as augmented reality, to bring the community on board with fishers, without having to leave their lounge rooms.

Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries, Jonno Duniam, said Australia’s wild caught prawn industry had great story to share with Australians.

“Australian’s love wild prawns, and for good reason,” Assistant Minister Duniam said. “Wild prawns are not only synonymous with occasions like Christmas, but they are renowned for being safe, high quality and environmentally sustainable

“This is a great story to tell, and one that the industry should be proud of. I’m sure Australians will love the chance to ‘Get On-Board’ with wild prawn fishers, and continue support for the fishery.

“The hard-work and investment that the wild prawn industry has put into this initiative is outstanding, and I encourage other fishing sectors to follow their lead.”

Annie Jarrett, chair of the ACPF says Australians love their seafood and they want to know that the people who catch it are doing the right thing by the environment, their people and their practices.

“Our prawn fishers are proud to catch Australian wild prawns and are proud custodians of our fisheries,” said Jarrett. “We are continually improving our fishing and work practices. Our ‘Australian wild prawn’ stories will help us share our journey with the community”.

“Far from simply making empty promises, Australia’s wild-harvest prawn sector has been investing over many years to reduce bycatch and to minimise its environmental footprint.”

“Last October, we launched a project to scientifically identify the trace element fingerprints of Australian prawns to ensure consumers confidence in where the Aussie prawns they buy come from,” said Jarrett.

“Australia’s prawn fisheries have been proactive towards improving their environmental footprint using research and development,” said FRDC’s general manager of research and investment, Crispian Ashby.

“When the Northern Prawn Fishery trialled a new bycatch reduction device in 2017-2019 with enormous success, the news went viral among fishers, now other prawn fisheries are keenly trialling the device too

“By bringing science to the industry and theory to the practice, the Australian wild prawn industry is enacting positive change,” Ashby said.

Is that hissing noise the sound of money going up in smoke?

One thing that never fails to amaze Greg Gillespie is the amount of times he walks into a manufacturing or processing plant and hears hissing. It immediately tells him that they are running an air compressor or a bank of air compressors. It also tells him that the company is throwing money down the drain. That hissing sound is either one, or a series of leaks, coming from the compressed air system.

Gillespie, who is the national sales manager for air compressor manufacturer ELGi, said that in some cases companies are literally throwing thousands of dollars down the drain every year. Not only that, but when he hears that tell-tale sign of hissing, he knows that doesn’t include the ones he can’t hear.

“I’ve walked into a lot of different places – and to be fair my ear is tuned for it – and I immediately hear all the air leaks,” he said. “And I’ll say to the person on site, ‘you’ve got a few air leaks’. They generally reply, ‘no we don’t’. They don’t hear them because it is background noise to them.”

What he encourages people to do is stay back for five minutes after the work day when everything is quiet. He’s confident that they will then hear the noise.

“And the thing is, if you can hear an air leak, it’s a large one. There will be quite a few air leaks you’ll never hear without ultrasonic equipment, especially if they are inside a piece of equipment,” he said.

Gillespie said the culprits in these leaks are usually the same range of suspects – hose clamp connections, seals failing, and worn fittings. And he’s not saying that maintenance managers have to fix them all at once. He knows that, especially in the some of the bigger food and beverage manufacturing and process plants, it can be a big job. A maintenance plan is needed and such a plan is not something whereby a leak is fixed once and then forgotten about. It will depend on the size of the factory and plant and how many compressors are working. He acknowledges it would be a big task to do it all in one go, so maintenance managers would set about a plan to go and rectify the leaks starting with the biggest one first. Then they would just do a constant, weekly check. But what is the cost?

“If someone has an air audit done then they start to realise that ‘holy heck, we’re leaking thousands of dollar per annum’,” he said. “The more plant and machinery you have in place, the more the leaks are going to cost your bottom line.

“If you have a small place with a 2.2kW compressor, then that cost isn’t going to be that high. But if it is a larger factory with 100kW of installed compressor power, then it will cost a lot.

“I know of a place that has three 55kW machines. One of those 55kW machines pretty much services air leaks. If they fixed their air leaks they can turn one of their compressors off. Do the maths of 55kW of power running all day. They operate 24/7 – not at full capacity – but they are aware of it. I’m sure if you put all the numbers down in front of the people running the place, suddenly it wouldn’t be too hard to fix.”

Education is also a key ingredient. A lot of places he visits think the air is free. Quite often Gillespie will see people “sweeping” the floor with an air gun. It’s convenient, it’s quick, but it does come at a cost.

“Some think it is quicker doing it that way because it reduces the labour cost involved,” he said. “I routinely see people cleaning down their areas using air. It’s not a safe practice to do it.”

But what causes the leaks in the first place? The leak itself is being caused by faulty equipment, but what caused that equipment to become faulty in the first place? Gillespie believes that not only does the factory need the right air compressor for the right job, but it is also the type of air distribution network that is being used that can be a problem. This includes not only the size of the pipe that is distributing the air, but what it is made out of, too.

“I talk to people about becoming efficient, which starts with the right compressor and the right distribution network,” he said. “That is where things like the pipe size, pipe type (poly, aluminium, copper) and how you articulate it comes into play.”

A good distribution system will be one that will be less likely to leak over time – what sort of pipe and the distance over which it is set up are important considerations to limit pressure losses.

“The type of pipe is important because with some piping temperature changes can cause it to expand and contract, and start to bend and twist, so I much prefer people investing in rigid pipe,” said Gillespie. “Depending on the type of rigid pipe system you go for – if you go for something like a braised copper, or stainless steel or even aluminium/copper pipe with fittings – these are going to be less leaks than some other methods.”

If it is the wrong size pipe it will put unnecessary load on the compressor under pressure, which can induce something called artificial demand. This can be magnified if there are multiple compressors in the system, which can be very costly, he said. Gillespie also pointed out that there are also lots of government grants that can help companies become more energy efficient. They change on a regular basis. At the moment there is grant that finished recently that was available for companies that were replacing existing equipment with more efficient equipment with variable speed drives.

“I helped a customer do that and they got nearly 50 per cent of the price of the compressor rebated,” he said. “There is another grant available at the moment which is up to $5,000 rebate for people to put permanent monitoring equipment in to their plant so they can monitor the efficiencies of their compressed air system. Compressed air systems account for about 30 per cent of all industrial power.”

As part of the government’s push to increase energy savings and reduce emissions, they are encouraging industry to work in a more economical way and an area to do that is air compressors, said Gillespie. A lot of people think these things revolve around lighting and solar power. However, quite often there are grants going around to make more efficient compressed air systems.

For the bigger companies that are setting up a new system or refurbishing an older system, Gillespie said putting some budget aside for a monitoring system is also a good idea.
“I have a company I’m dealing with at the moment and they are going to need about 300kW of power. It’s going to be a couple of hundred thousand dollars’ worth of equipment and I’m putting monitoring equipment in my quote – $6,000 worth. To me, it would be absolutely crazy not to do it. The advantages are a no brainer on a system that size.”

Gillespie also cautions against overthinking too much about what to do. An air audit is a simple thing to do and that will give a clearer indication of what a company’s needs are and how they can be remedied.

“I would try not to oversell it because sometimes you can take somebody down that rabbit hole and they can become overwhelmed because they have been inundated with the information and data,” he said.

“You have to find that balance. There are instances where you might spend $10,000 to modify pipework and save yourself $1,000. There’s no payback.”

There are lots of things going on with flow and thermodynamics, you could easily make someone’s head spin.

“At the end of the day, a well-designed and maintained compressed air system is going to be more efficient. And that will save money every day of operation.”

Report highlights opportunities in food and beverage sector

Despite strong domestic and global economic, political and social headwinds, Australia’s food, beverage and grocery manufacturing sector remains resilient. It is a key national employer, a trade powerhouse and contributes billions to the national economy.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council’s latest annual industry snapshot, State of the Industry Report 2019, highlights where the strengths of the industry lie, identifying the greatest opportunities for growth, and reinforcing the ongoing challenge of staying competitive in a country with high costs and low margins. Areas of focus include:
• Industry turnover.
• Employment.
• International trade.
• Capital investment.

The report found the sector injected $122.1bn into the economy in 2017-18, with 4.5 per cent real growth largely due to increased exports totalling $34.4bn. Food product manufacturing was the largest sub-sector, with a turnover of $90.1 billion. The major sources of production were meat processing, cheese and other dairy manufacturing, and human pharmaceutical and medicinal products.

Jobs are central to the success of the Australian economy and the food the grocery manufacturing sector is Australia’s largest manufacturing sector, representing 32 per cent of all manufacturing jobs. It is also one of the biggest employers in the country, providing more than 273,300 jobs, of which 39.3 per cent – just over 107,000 – are in regional and rural communities.

Regional and rural communities rely on the sector not just through direct employment, but also because of the multiplier effect it has in boosting and sustaining local economies. This filters right along the supply chain through the sector’s sourcing of not only agricultural inputs but also other goods and services used in food and grocery production.

Similar to employment, the number of businesses in the Australian food and grocery sector increased by 1.4 per cent year-on-year to 15,325, driven largely by the growth of the business count in the grocery sector. New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland are the dominant states, together constituting 85.3 per cent of sector turnover and 79.9 per cent of sector employment.

Australian food and grocery exports increased by 7.6 per cent over 2017-18, led by a 45.3 per cent increase in Chinese exports. This comes off the back of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement and the opportunities it has unlocked. It has also been spurred on by a favourable exchange rate and the great reputation of Australia’s food and grocery products.
Growth in imports was much lower at 3.3 per cent year-on-year, totalling $33.4bn. The USA was the leading exporter to Australia, followed by New Zealand and China.

As the sector’s global footprint continues to expand, with new free trade agreements opening up more export opportunities for Australian food and grocery manufacturing businesses, policy settings must be right for continued growth are crucial. While the AFGC supports the federal government’s commitment to a strong deregulation agenda, there are other opportunities that can be harnessed to ensure the strength of the sector into the future.

For example, trade and investment policies should be reviewed to ensure they are ‘fit for purpose’ in supporting the international competitiveness of Australian food and grocery manufacturers. This would not only will help ensure the expansion of the export market, but also shore up new jobs and investment domestically.

While the sector has a strong presence and remains Australia’s largest manufacturing industry, its recent growth has been subdued. This is the result of domestic challenges, both in terms of input cost pressures and a deflationary retail market, which are putting pressure on profit margins and eroding willingness to invest.

Capital investment was less than $3bn in 2017-18 and although companies have continued to make efficiency improvements to stay competitive this is not sustainable in the long term. There is a need to strengthen the sector through innovation, increased automation and modernisation. And for this to occur companies need the confidence to invest.

Governments and industry can work as partners through identifying key areas for cutting red tape and designing efficient incentives and allowances for targeted investments. In addition, policies addressing cost competitiveness and fair retail trading conditions are essential and will help ensure the sector remains viable, retaining business and jobs into the future.

In its 2020-2021 Pre-Budget Submission, the AFGC has focused on the need for more sector incentivisation for innovation.

Three key areas of opportunity are:
• the introduction of a food, beverage and grocery manufacturing site modernisation program;
• workforce upskilling for small to medium enterprises; and
• support for the sector’s positive contribution to meeting community health, environmental and consumer information demands.

Measures that would help bring these goals to fruition could include mechanisms such as instant write off and grants programs, investment allowances, support funding for education programs and incentivisation grants.

In addition to site modernisation programs, AFGC has proposed the Federal Government implements a grants program to support manufacturers to innovate their packaging to meet packaging recycling targets. Specifically, the program would seek to establish increased collaboration between the food, beverage and grocery, and the recycling and packaging sectors, in order to expedite the delivery of the national packaging and food waste targets.

Government policies to encourage industry investment in the food, beverage and grocery manufacturing industry will help to ensure a return to all Australians with a reliable, safe and affordable food and grocery industry that also provides jobs and stability for local economies, especially in rural and regional Australia.

Given the magnitude, significance and contribution of the industry, it should be a central consideration when shaping economic, industrial and trade policies.

One-click dashboard eliminates an entire work step

Many machine builders and systems integrators looking to transform their business models have identified machine and plant process data as being a core fundamental.

When it comes to tailoring new data-driven services to individual customer requirements, however, they need solutions that are as cost-efficient as possible. Here, keeping the engineering as simple as possible is a key factor. TwinCAT Analytics supports this kind of Engineering 4.0 approach with the one-click dashboard, a new feature that reduces the once time-consuming process of dashboard creation to nothing more than a simple mouse click.

Beckhoff’s TwinCAT Analytics’ automated functionality for converting analysis configurations into executable PLC code now also includes dashboard generation. With one-click dashboard, all it takes for users to generate an entire HTML5-based analytics dashboard based on the PLC code and to load it into a selected Analytics Runtime container is a click of the mouse. When the process completes, users receive a network address that they can then use to access the dashboard in a web browser. This ability to generate dashboards without the need to write a single line of code or design graphics is a time-saver within the engineering process. Based on TwinCAT 3 HMI, the new functionality provides at least one HMI Control for every TwinCAT Analytics algorithm, each with an up-to-date tile design that follows the latest web standards. The controls contained in a dashboard can be selected individually in an algorithm’s properties with the aid of a control preview. Users can also combine multiple algorithms within an individual HMI Control.

Generated automatically, tailored individually
Automatically generated dashboards can be customised by configuring individual user settings. For instance, users are able to pick their own header colours and logos, and can even choose to show geographically distributed machine locations on a world map. In addition, the controls are available in a choice of layouts and themes as well as multiple languages. It is also possible to switch between light and dark themes, and to automatically set links to methods that reset the algorithms. Despite this high level of flexibility, dashboards that are created automatically may not always meet every user’s needs, so when TwinCAT 3 HMI projects are generated, they are integrated into Visual Studio as well. This enables users to adapt their dashboards to their requirements in the graphical editor. Even with dashboards that need extensive customisation, the engineering process still involves fewer clicks than the conventional approach, saving time and expense

Automation is part of the solution to rebuild areas hit by fires

With an estimated 12.35 million acres of land and 2,500 homes and business having been destroyed in the recent runaway fires that ravaged the landscape since September 2019, Australia is now faced with the enormous and arduous task of rebuilding the country.

While this might seem like an insurmountable task to many, the fires also bring new opportunities to the adjacent industries involved in helping rebuild the homes, buildings and farmland that were lost in the fire, giving an opportunity to jumpstart the economy. This is particularly true in the agriculture industry, which comprised 14 per cent of the total land that was burned by the Australian bushfires. By mid-January, an estimated 820,000 ha of agricultural land had been destroyed across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Rising up from the ashes
Cobot manufacturer Universal Robots, believes that while this tragic event has left a trail of destruction and Australia still needs to recover from the loss to its ecosystem, companies may be able to speed up the process of rebuilding by implementing technological advancements across the spectrum.

With applications ranging from packaging and palletising, assembly, welding, product handling and many more, UR cobots can tackle those tedious tasks that require superhuman abilities to repeat the same movement over and over again for many hours with exactly the same precision. Cobots have been successfully deployed across a range of industries and have become more common in manufacturing environments.

“A big benefit UR cobots hold in this rebuilding process is that it provides manufacturers and industry with the ability to act fast, increase productivity, profits and offer higher quality products,” said Darrell Adams, Head of SEAO at Universal Robots.

Cobots can be programmed, operated and maintained by existing employees, regardless of the team’s previous robotics or automation experience. In fact, the out-of-box experience for an untrained operator to unpack a UR robot, mount it, and program the first simple task is typically less than an hour according to Adams.

Food production accelerated
As far as the agriculture industry is concerned, the company believes that farmers in Australia need all the help they can get. With automated agriculture going from strength to strength, cobots can offer an effective solution. According to a recent report, the market for agricultural robots is expected to reach $35 billion within the next five years.  “Cobots can prove their agricultural worth by assisting producers in getting their businesses back up and running faster and more efficiently,” says Adams.

He notes that UR cobots can be applied to a number of requirements within the agriculture and food processing sector. Robots are successfully used in planting, seeding, fertilising, irrigation, weeding, thinning, pruning, harvesting and milking applications among others.

The company prides itself in the cobot’s ability to handle delicate agricultural processes and products. Such an example can be found in the dairy industry, where a UR robot arm mounted to a small pallet jack is used to disinfect and milk cows, cutting labour costs and time taken to complete the job. The robot takes up no more space than a human milker and doesn’t require any safety caging.

Another application where cobots can be implemented is in the packaging of goods that are sent to market. Adams notes one case study of a UR10 robot, installed at a food manufacturer. The robot worked independently to pack vanilla cream bags into cartons, but also formed part of a network that includes a carton erector, a carton sealer, and a filling machine. “This is one of the real benefits of cobots – it can work alongside workers and form part of your factory process.”

Collaborative robots are also ideal for hygienic food processing environments, where it can operate around the clock during seasonal periods of high production and can be easily redeployed to new applications as needed, helping local farmers reach their production goals faster.

A local success story
Developed by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in proud partnership with Universal Robots, Harvey, a robotic harvester combines state-of-the-art robotic vision and manipulation techniques to identify and harvest capsicums.

Harvesting labour in Australia ranges from 20 – 40 per cent of operational farming costs and this combined with a shortage of skilled labour can result in some of the crops not being harvested.

In recent trails, Harvey used images from a camera-in-hand system to locate the fruit. A motion planning algorithm was then used to command a novel multi-mode harvesting tool to safely detach the fruit. Results show a fruit harvesting success rate of 76.5% – a significant improvement when compared to the state-of-the-art, which achieved 33% in a similar scenario. Harvey also achieved an average pick time of 20 seconds for this field trial compared to 106 seconds by its predecessor.

This year, QUT will further develop Harvey as part of its involvement in the new Future of Food Systems Cooperative Research Centre backed by $35M in Australian Government funding over 10 years, and $149.6M in cash and in-kind funds from more than 50 participants.

Making cobots accessible to everyone
According to Adams, UR has just released a financial services leasing programme which could prove to be a lifeline for producers who are rebuilding their business. “We are levelling the playing field by enabling all manufacturers to immediately put cobots to work without an upfront capital investment. UR Financial Services offers a fast, low-risk and financially-friendly model to accelerate automation. The partnership makes it easy to upgrade existing cobots, add additional units or test cobots for the first time – and equips users to maximise productivity, quality and profitability, without increasing costs or cash outlay” says Adams.

“It’s time to think more laterally about agriculture. Robotics is the revolutionary new technology which can change the way we think about producing food,” he concluded.

Swine fever helps keep red meat prices high

The value of Australian agricultural production is forecast to remain high despite bushfires and prolonged drought, with overseas demand balancing drought-related falls in farm output and incomes.

ABARES’ chief commodity analyst Peter Gooday said the value of farm production in fiscal 2019-20 was expected to fall slightly to $59 billion, down on the previous year’s $62 billion and above the 10-year average due to higher prices for livestock and some other agricultural commodities.

“Widespread bushfires over the 2019–20 summer are not expected to have had a significant impact on the agricultural sector on the whole,” said Gooday, launching the latest Agricultural Commodities report at the ABARES Outlook 2020 conference in Canberra.

“The bushfires and smoke impacts in some areas were locally devastating. The majority of Australia’s agricultural production and exports, however, takes place outside the affected areas.”

This year, Gooday said, was another drought impacted one, with many regions having experienced their driest 12 months on record, even as others – particularly in Victoria — saw improved conditions, making for an uneven national outlook.

“Farm production and average farm incomes are estimated to have fallen for a second straight year in drought regions, with incomes for all broadacre farms projected to fall 8 per cent to $153,000 per farm in 2019–20 – around 4 per cent below the 10-year average,” he said.

“In NSW we are expecting farm cash incomes to be close to zero this year. As bad as things have been at a state level in the last 20 years – and some regions are substantially worse than the average.”

“For dairy farmers, average farm cash incomes nationally should increase from $120,100 per farm in 2018–19 to $165,000 per farm in 2019–20, with modest improvement for around 73 per cent of Australian dairy farms due mainly to higher farm gate milk prices.

“Those gains come from comparatively low levels in Queensland, parts of Victoria and New South Wales, and drought-related falls in milk production plus high feed and irrigation costs are constraining improvement.

“Meat and livestock prices have stayed high as African swine fever (ASF) has decimated China’s swineherds, driving red meat prices up and requiring Chinese consumers to look elsewhere. Without those good prices, this year would look a lot worse.

“Livestock prices medium-term are expected to soften but remain high, although coronavirus poses a significant risk as Chinese demand for agricultural products has declined under restrictions put in place to contain the outbreak, particularly for items like seafood and wine.

Gooday said that in 2019–20 Australia would have the lowest number of beef cattle since 1990 and lowest sheep flock since 1904, with production 12 per cent lower than five years ago.

“Over the medium term to 2024–25, a gradual recovery in the production of livestock and livestock products is expected to follow herd and flock rebuilding, although recovery will take several years and livestock related production in 2024–25 will still be 8% below the 2014–15 peak,” he said.

“The value of Australia’s agricultural exports overall is forecast to fall by 11% to $43 billion in 2019-20, which in real terms is 16% below the record value of exports in 2016–17, reflecting 3 consecutive annual falls in crop exports.

“We can expect grains and oilseeds exports to rebound quickly, but livestock numbers will take some time to recover and for cotton the speed of recovery will depend on how quickly irrigation storages are replenished.”

“The signing of phase one of a trade deal between the United States and China is a welcome sign of easing tensions. But the deal contains some very ambitious targets for agricultural imports, and the implications of that for Australian agriculture are not yet clear.

Enmin vibratory equipment a key ingredient in Whittaker’s continued growth

Founded in New Zealand by J.H Whittaker over 120 years ago, Whittaker’s remains a family-owned and operated company now managed by the third generation, Andrew and Brian along with the 4th generation of Whittaker’s, Matt and Holly who also work within the business.

With nearly 200 staff at its factory in Porirua, Wellington, Whittaker’s  produces the highest quality chocolate products for both the domestic and export markets.

During the 1950’s Whittaker’s developed the Peanut Slab. It has since become an iconic product and the recipe has never changed. In the 1990’s the company started to make their first chocolate blocks, now New Zealand’s favourite blocks.

Whittaker’s is a ‘beans to bar’ company; controlling the whole process, from roasting the beans to the final product; this is to ensure only chocolates of the highest quality are produced.

Evidence of Whittaker’s popularity and recognition in New Zealand is reflected in numerous awards. This includes being voted New Zealand’s most trusted brand in the Reader’s Digest annual awards for the past 8 years, as well as being voted New Zealand’s most loved brand in the Colmar Brunton survey for the past 8 years.

With a philosophy of purity and environmental consideration the company does not use palm oil or genetically modified ingredients in the manufacturing process.

Whittaker’s continued pursuit of innovation in chocolate can be seen in the introduction of the Artisan & Destinations Collections – chocolate with the most delicious ingredients sourced directly from NZ’s finest and equally passionate artisan producers. Following the success of this line Whittaker’s introduced the Destinations Collection, sourcing the most unique ingredients from all over the world.

Whittaker’s engineering manager, Herbert Aregger’s first experience with Enmin was the purchase of a solitary vibratory feeder bought through a third party in 2013.

It was this initial experience with the quality and workmanship of the Enmin vibrators that was instrumental in Aregger requesting Enmin to design and build a custom piece of equipment for a new product line. This new equipment would need to facilitate up to six different flavours of chocolates being weighed and put into assorted bags.

Enmin’s custom design and build ability were ideal for this sort of project; the requirement being identified as a multi-pack delivery system connected to a six-split multi-head weigher. This was to be a full 360 degree turnkey installation by Enmin, a crucial part of which was the requirement that this new equipment would integrate seamlessly with existing components.

“Right from the start the communication from Enmin was outstanding. Every question was taken seriously and every challenge was addressed and discussed. Starting with an erecting plan of the platform the entire project was designed using Enmin’s state-of-the-art software, Autodesk Inventor,” Aregger said.

All components were prefabricated at Enmin and then shipped over to New Zealand for assembly.

“The integration with the other components was seamless. All the mechanical components fitted with minimal or no modifications and electrical interfaces were also prepared by Enmin. The entire process was well thought through by them,” Aregger said.

“Cabling of the equipment was also prepared and any modifications requested (mechanical or electrical) were taken seriously and executed in a timely manner with good workmanship. Overall it was a great install with no major issues.”

Testament to Enmin’s through planning and commitment to customer service is that the entire installation was delivered in the original time frame. “Since the installation it has become a very efficient and reliable line that’s gone above projected sales,” Aregger said.

Whittaker’s also recently commissioned a mixing line that was once again designed and built by Enmin. “Enmin has helped us increase our efficiency and productivity and we are very pleased with this new equipment; manual handling has been reduced by 70 per cent and our output increased by double,” Aregger said.

“I certainly intend to keep dealing with Enmin in the future. The quality of the goods, reliability, and ease of dealing with them are crucial factors; e-mails are always answered swiftly. Often a phone call is received to discuss the problem or information required. I feel we have an honest working relationship with Enmin and are looking forward to this continuing in the future,” Aregger said.

“Enmin are an important business partner who will continue to assist us in making delicious chocolate using the best possible ingredients coupled with world class people and world class machinery,” Aregger said.

Non-alcoholic wine market set to expand

Surpassing a valuation of more than US$ 10 billion, the non-alcoholic wine market is projected to grow at an impressive CAGR of over 7 per cent during the forecast period. The beverage industry is undergoing a transformation with the rise of ‘healthier’ categories of non-alcoholic beverage variants such as non-alcoholic wine. Compared to traditional wine, low and non-alcoholic wine is soaring on popularity owing to the development of non-alcoholic wine which has more flavor, depth and sophistication and caters to a large segment of the population. Consumption of non-alcoholic wine and other beverages is increasingly becoming one of the mainstream trends which is shaping the global beverage industry. The convergence of these patterns is underpinning the exponential growth for the non-alcoholic wine market over the forecast period.

Key Takeaways of Non-Alcoholic Wine Market Study

  • Europe leads the non-alcoholic wine market, holding shares more than 40 per cent in 2018. The wine markets in Europe are well established with Italy and France having the highest per capita consumption of over 35 liters per person per year.
  • Although volume and value growth are modest in Europe, North America is anticipated to be the most important non-alcoholic wine market in the world with a growth rate of over 8 per cent.
  • In 2018, the alcohol-free segment comprised more than 50 per cent of the total share of the industry. Increasing adoption of these products as a form of sports drink has enhanced industry growth, especially among athletes.
  • Supermarkets represented more than 20 per cent of the total beer market. With several innovative ways to boost consumer spending on non-alcoholic wines, supermarket chains are thriving on increasing sales.
  • The online stores segment is projected to grow at the highest growth rate of over 9 per cent between 2019 and 2027. Inclination under the category of non-alcoholic wine to e-commerce and e-tailing is bringing about shifts in customer buying experience.