How food manufacturers are beating labour shortages

Manual inspection production line
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The Covid-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on a lot of industries. For food manufacturers, the virus has worsened the labour crisis, which has forced many to seek alternative solutions.

Lack of available labour

The cost of labour has been steadily rising, due to new legislation surrounding the National Living Wage. Employers are having to pay more and more each year to keep their current workforce, and for some, this increase in expenses is simply not sustainable.

Person standing on either side of UK and EU flags

Brexit has caused a huge migration of non-UK nationals, which has left the UK food industry shorthanded

Brexit negotiations have also caused a lot of uncertainty for non-UK nationals, meaning that many of them have chosen to return to their country of origin. Covid-19 has sped up this mass migration, as most people wish to be with their families during this time. This mass migration over the past four years has placed a huge strain on food manufacturers, as much of their workforce is now unavailable.


How this impacts the food industry

Manual production lines have suffered the most from a lack of labour, so it’s no surprise that as many as 94% of food packaging operators are currently using robotics (according to the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies).

manual production line mussels

Many manual production lines have suffered due to the shortage

Factory staff are in shorter supply, as the UK food industry still relies heavily on the labour of non-UK nationals who are employed primarily on temporary contracts. The presence of Covid-19 has also meant that up to 10% of any remaining workers will be unavailable at any one time, due to health reasons or self-isolation protocols.

Since just under half of all food factory workers are from the UK, the Food and Drink Federation estimate that the nation will need 140,000 more British workers by 2024 in order to compensate for the shortage.


The solution

Since manual labour is increasingly hard to find, food processors have opted for automated solutions with minimal margins of error and no downtime. From an employer’s point of view, machines offer many benefits aside from the obvious increased efficiency and speed. For instance, robots do not need time off for sickness or holidays, or have to obey social distancing protocols.

Using fully automated solutions also frees employers from complying with new National Living Wage laws. The rapid increase in minimum wage has left a lot of employers struggling to meet the new cost of labour, which has led to the majority of food manufacturers looking for ways to minimise the number of workers in their employment.

DGS frozen recovered meat block automation

Of course, it goes without saying that automated solutions are infinitely more profitable than human employees, as robots don’t require a wage. Once manufacturers have invested in the machine itself, minimal repairs and maintenance are the only remaining costs, which pales in comparison to the annual income required for a minimum wage worker.

Integrating robots into production lines also means that food factory workers are at less risk of developing repetitive strain injuries from performing monotonous tasks. Specially designed robotic solutions are able to handle a variety of functions, including but not limited to opening, filling, packing, sealing and correctly labelling individual packages.


Full automated full line solutions

We specialise in providing a full range of solutions for the food production industry – whether that’s initial sorting and inspection, filling and packing, packaging, or end-of-the-line QA.

Sealpac UK & Partners have recently become the UK & Ireland distributor of a brand-new pick and place robot with intelligent vision. SHEFF is an incredibly versatile machine, as it can detect where products are prior to pick up and make on-the-fly adjustments. SHEFF can be synchronised with various filling machines like flow packers, tray sealers, VFFS machine and index conveyors.

Find out more

Find out more about our range using the products tab at the top of the page or give us a call to discuss your needs with us on 0845 302 3056.