By the time you read this, APRIL could well be an international winner – the transformative impact robot has been shortlisted for the World Food Innovation Awards 2017 in the category ‘Best Technology Innovation’
Developed by the University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing in South Lincolnshire, APRIL (Automated Processing Robotic Ingredient Loading) is a fully automated robotic system that can mix, load and cook ingredients in a manner similar to professional chefs, yet on an industrial scale. It uses modern cooking and material-handling technologies, and is designed to boost production and efficiency, while also improving the quality of food produced. It can effortlessly twirl a pan around combining ingredients, cooking and cleaning with no human intervention.
Revealed to the world just months ago, five-tonne APRIL reimagines the food production line, placing robots at the heart of the way humans handle and process raw ingredients. By combining advanced materials handling and processing technologies, APRIL can bring more restaurant-quality food to supermarket shelves.
As M&S technical manager Simon Lushey says: “We are excited by the new thinking involved in the APRIL robotic chef approach. Modular robotic cells may transform food manufacturing kitchens, by breaking up processes in a different way, in doing so providing a step change in performance.”
For manufacturers, smart robotic food production lines will simplify the way food is manufactured, offering flexible consistency. Factories will become up to 80% smaller and the increased levels of control will lead to a safer operating environment and improvements in product shelf-life.
UK food manufacturing faces a number of significant challenges over the coming years, not least the impact Brexit will have on the availability of labour. Sticking with same old, labour intensive processing and material handling technologies will become cost prohibitive and leave manufacturers unable to fulfil the wide range of products retailers and consumers have come to expect, the development team say.
NCFM’s Mark Swainson says the nature of the processing and sheer scale of APRIL sets it apart from other robotic manufacturing processes in the food sector. “APRIL enables much more control over recipe management and recipe control of liquid food products on an industrial scale,” he says.
“With this new process we are looking to emulate the chef in the kitchen in a large-scale batch robotic environment, which brings with it many labour and product benefits. APRIL allows users to scale up the approach chefs use to prepare restaurant food, with typical applications including the production of soups, sauces and ready meals. The technology includes robotic cells which have a modular and flexible design that enables the system to easily switch between products.
“The food industry is ripe for change as it faces a perfect storm driven by the living wage, flat line productivity and food deflation. The University of Lincoln & OAL believe in order to meet these challenges, the industry must transform itself with flexible robotics and automation over the next two decades.”
The winner of the World Food Innovation Awards will be announced in London on March 20. More information: