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Automation and sector impacts research 2016: food manufacturing sector outlook


The objective of this report is to provide an overview of the current level of adoption of automation in the Scottish food supply chain and identify how this might change over the period to 2025. The report identifies examples of automation that have been adopted by the food and drink sector in other countries and potential future applications that are currently at research and demonstrator stage.


The research was carried out during August and September 2016. The methodology consisted of a combination of secondary research and primary research, which included feedback from industry bodies as well as organisations currently operating in the sector in Scotland.


The research found that people, product and place are key to the vision of Scotland as a food producing nation, and that automation will be an enabler for the sector, rather than a marketing tool. The adoption of automation solutions was found to be a significant opportunity for businesses in the sector to benefit from increased productivity, increased yield, resource efficiencies, cost reductions and compliance with industry regulations. It also allows manufacturers to have more control over their processes. Based on the feedback from the research, the uptake of automation and robotics in Scotland is currently relatively low (as it is the whole of the UK) due to the high number of SMEs operating in the sector, the historical availability of cheap labour and the perceived high entry cost of robotics technologies. There was a recognition of the need for investment in automation within the food manufacturing and agricultural sector among industry bodies as well as businesses themselves. The agricultural sector, in particular, is facing significant issues in the availability of labour and young people wanting to work in the sector – leading to an identified need for the uptake of more automated processes. There are many examples of automation technologies being used in food manufacturing and agriculture, both within the UK and overseas, many of which could be adopted in Scotland over the next 5-10 years and include, for example, drone technology, modular robotic systems and incorporating vision systems. Overall there is an appetite for the increased uptake of automation and robotics in Scotland’s food and drink sector. Industry bodies are aware of the lack of progress in recent years and are keen to change this, while maintaining the quality and reputation of Scotland’s brand.


To increase the level of automation being adopted across the food supply chain, a number of recommendations were made for food sector companies and the automation supply chain, and the Scotland Food and Drink Partnership. These include the promotion of the benefits of adopting automation, to increase awareness, and identification of opportunities to increase the uptake of automation.

Author Optimat
Published Year 2017
Report Type Research
  • Sectors
    Digital markets and enabling technologies, Food and drink