VIEWPOINT: Sheffield's new food engineering centre is vital for the region

The food and drink industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, contributing £28bn to the economy.

Friday, 25th October 2019, 11:41 am
Prof Martin Howarth, director at Hallam University's new food engineering centre.
Prof Martin Howarth, director at Hallam University's new food engineering centre.

This reinforces why having a National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering is vital for the sector, for the economy and for the region.

NCEFE is our newly-opened research centre at Sheffield Hallam University which brings together a growing network of industry groups, academics and engineers to solve specific business challenges within the food and drink sector - developing engineering solutions and supporting the development of critical skills.

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We do this by combining teaching in areas such as robotics and automation, and manufacturing processes with in-depth research into the latest issues affecting industry including productivity and sustainability.

Our state-of-the-art facilities and equipment together with a range of technical food engineering-focused laboratories allow us to replicate production conditions on an industrial scale, as well as to carry out research and analysis.

We are already working on projects with a number of leading companies - both here in the UK and around the world. We're helping to make rice milling in India more sustainable by refining techniques to improve quality and reduce waste. We're also helping to address public health concerns by developing foods with reduced salt and fat content. One of the key challenges for the industry is to continue to increase productivity, while at the same time reducing energy consumption and also further improving sustainability and minimising food waste.

We also need to encourage and bring forward the next generation of food technologists and engineers and provide the right levels of training. We are already experiencing skills shortages in many areas and this is something that needs to be addressed swiftly. It is important that we attract more young people into the industry and demonstrate to them the variety of careers available.

One of the ways we are doing this is through our new food engineering degree apprenticeship. This has been developed in collaboration with the National Skills Academy for Food & Drink with the course co-designed with national and regional industry partners.

Students on this course will be among the first to use our new centre, utilising cutting-edge facilities and equipment, while working in businesses across the sector.

Our Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, right across the road from NCEFE, is set to open in early 2020 and will be internationally significant and a beacon for innovation.

We are determined to see our region prosper and these centres will help us to deliver on that vision. As well as having a national and international focus, we remain rooted to our region.

Our partnerships with regional SMEs as important to us as our global connections - helping the region to be more productive, innovate and sustainable for the future.

One such partnership is helping to turn waste heat from commercial kitchens into energy - helping to reduce costs and the impact on the environment.