Christmas shortages highlight need for efficient processes

As labour pressures and associated meat shortages continue to make headlines, ULMA Packaging UK is urging manufacturers to consider automated approaches to maximise output in the months ahead.

Statistics from the Office for National Statistics showed that 18% of frozen turkeys were either unavailable or in low supply from 5 – 8 November [1]. Meanwhile, the British Meat Processors’ Association has expressed concerns of shortages associated with labour intensive products, such as gammon and pigs in blankets.

To mitigate risk arising from labour shortages, Ed Williams, sales director at ULMA Packaging UK believes implementing automated lines could be key: “Meat processing is still extremely labour-intensive, with large numbers of workers required to keep food production rolling. This is why automation could be a gamechanger. While there are aspects of the production line that cannot be replaced by automation, packaging processes can be streamlined with semi or fully automated solutions, freeing up skilled workers to be deployed elsewhere.”

A spokesperson for the British Meat Processors’ Association explained that part of the problem stems from the fact that, historically, the meat industry has been heavily reliant on European workers. [2]

Ed continues: “As we see restrictions re-imposed due to the Omicron variant, it is highly likely that supply chains and labour already impacted by Brexit and the pandemic will continue to be affected in the new year. Therefore, capital investment is an ideal way to maximise output going forward. While a fully automated solution could be the answer, semi-automated options can also dramatically improve efficiency through integration into existing lines. There are various options available which can be tailored depending on the specific application. “

Automation for packaging covers a number of areas including slicing and loading, packaging, and inspection system and labelling, through to case packing and palletising.

“By liaising with machinery suppliers, processors can choose the best route for the needs of their businesses. For example, a turnkey approach can be implemented where automated lines need to work with numerous product types. Furthermore, vertical bagging solutions such as ULMA’s Venturi system are available with settings that reduce manual work, saving the operator time with less room for error and no decrease in production.”

A vertical machine forms, fills and seals the tubular bags by a horizontal and vertical jaw to work with materials coming from plane reel. This machine can be used for a wide range variety of products ranging from liquids and powders, to frozen foods and many other loose products.

Ed concludes: “When exploring automation, working with experts who can provide ongoing support should also be a key consideration. For example, ULMA customers benefit from remote support including secure video streaming to allow servicing technicians to resolve potential faults and provide remedial actions efficiently to reduce machine downtime.”

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