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Process innovation key to survival in credit crunch - KTP

By Jane Byrne , 07-Nov-2008
Last updated on 17-Nov-2008 at 16:30 GMT2008-11-17T16:30:08Z

Innovation is even more important for the food and drink manufacturing sector during an economic downturn, claims the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP).

The public funded programme facilitates partnerships between business and higher education, and currently has schemes underway with approximately 40 food and drink processors in the UK.

Debbie Buckley-Golder, programme director of the KTP programme, told FoodProductionDaily.com that finding new ways of working coupled with novel methods to improve efficiency and reduce waste are even more relevant during a credit crunch.

“Companies require a leaner, fitter structure in the current climate. By enabling transfer of knowledge between the academic sphere and industry, the KTP programme helps food and drink business find new ideas, adapt and implement them,” she said.

Future proofing

The KTP claims that the results of survey it conducted in August show that 64 per cent of UK manufacturers said a commitment to innovation was vital during a period of economic uncertainty, with 65 per cent of respondents saying that such investment would help them ‘future proof’ their businesses against competition from low wage economies.

Buckley-Golder said that KTP projects span right across a food or drink manufacturer’s operations including schemes related to raw materials and improving supply chain efficiencies, streamlining production processes, assessing health, safety and environmental impact of operations as well as product formulation ideas and evaluation of market demands.

“The programme aims to help the manufacturer make the strategic changes which will benefit the business in the short term but, more particularly, it aims to ensure that the knowledge gained through participation with academia remains firmly embedded within the company for longer term stability,” she explained.

The length of any project is determined by the company and the academic partner but is based on fulfilling the requirements of the particular processor involved, added the KTP programme director.

Funding

According to Buckley-Golder, small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) in the food and drink sector receive a grant for two thirds of the funding cost, with the balance covered by the company itself; the larger food manufacturers would be expected to fund the partnership to the tune of 50 per cent of the costs.

She said the graduates involved in the KTP partnerships follow a management training course for the duration of the project, with 60 per cent employed by the companies after the project completes.

“Small food and drink manufactures, who would often be employing a graduate for the first time, claim huge benefits in terms of the management skills they bring with them,” argues Buckley-Golder.

Waste reduction scheme

Westmill Foods recently concluded a two year KTP project with the Food Technology Group at Manchester Metropolitan University on a range of waste reduction and product development initiatives.

The company claims that a switch from batch processing to continuous production on a noodles product line was the starting point for a range of process improvements under the scheme.

“There are significant benefits for both the KTP graduate and the business arising out of the partnership,” claims Westmill Foods’ Julie Blinkhorn-Street, who was the company supervisor for the duration of the project.

New technologies

“We had access to a host of new up-and-coming technologies as well as state-of-the art facilities and pilot plants through our collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan,” said Blinkhorn-Street.

She said that the project helped Westmill Foods to achieve new sales, identify cost efficiencies and help the company boost performance at a time when global food prices have been on the rise.

“The KTP associate introduced numerous quantitative measures and improvements on the production line to minimize waste, and the project also equipped our team with specific skills we will need for the future, including a better understanding of the potential of product innovation and process improvement,’ added Blinkhorn-Street.

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