Physics is driving innovation in food manufacturing

food manufacturing
Image: Shutterstock/icarmen13

The UK food and beverage industry is the biggest manufacturing sector in the UK, contributing more than £96 bn a year and supporting employment of more than 3.3 million people. Despite this, there is a general lack of awareness and understanding that the competitiveness and productivity of the UK food and farm system relies heavily on physics-based innovation.

To this end, two IOP fellows, John Bows of PepsiCo and Roger Eccleston of Sheffield Hallam University and the National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering, approached the Institute and asked us to lead an open innovation programme to harness the physics community to solve some of the priority challenges of the sector. Primarily, that is producing high quality, safe, nutritious and affordable food at low environmental cost, all within a global context of having to produce more from less in response to both increasing pressure on natural resources and higher demand from a growing world population.

Since a key theme within the Institute’s 2015–19 strategy is to strengthen the core discipline of physics and to connect academia and business to drive innovation leading to economic growth and job creation, and given the potential for impact, the IOP decided to invest in a 12-month pilot programme, Physics in Food Manufacturing.

The programme will focus on:

  • Raising awareness of where physics has made an impact on the sector already
  • Stimulating pre-competitive research collaborations and academia-industry partnerships to solve industry challenges and drive innovation
  • Highlighting food-manufacturing career opportunities to the next generation of physicists

In order for the programme to be effective, the Institute brought in partners including the Food and Drinks Federation, KTN, Innovate UK and EPSRC as well as Jacobs Douwe Egberts and Unilever. This mix of partners ensures that the programme was very much industry-led and focused on delivering results.

Physics in Food Manufacturing will be launched on 15 April, and one of the outputs from the first event will include a publication, mapping physics capability against some of the sector’s priority challenges. Later in the year, there will be an international conference to disseminate knowledge about groundbreaking research in the sector along with a sandpit-style workshop to build private and public sector funded projects and partnerships. A number of publications will also be generated to raise awareness of physics in food manufacturing, and I have my fingers crossed about the potential for developing an innovative ebook.

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Anne Crean

Anne Crean

Head of science and innovation
Anne Crean

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