Manufacturers and bakers will be able to get free advice on automating their plants from CenFRA, a newly-formed body whose vision is to to provide independent, affordable automation solutions.

Funded by Yorkshire Forward and The Northern Way, CenFRA - a not-for-profit organisation - has been set up to carry out assessments of bakeries and offer practical, independent advice on equipment and suitability. It will also provide bespoke solutions and help with workforce training. Companies in Yorkshire and the Humber, the north east and north west, can qualify for free ’audits’ of their automation needs, though the service is accessible nationwide for a fee.

"The bigger companies have embraced automation a little, but the smaller companies haven’t at all," says Michael Taylor, CenFRA’s chair and also the operations director at Foster’s Bakery in Barnsley. "There are significant barriers towards robotics. But I believe it’s the way forward as we’re all facing smaller margins and we will all have to be really efficient.

"We have been looking at a project at Foster’s to automate repetitive jobs, like loading and unloading an oven, that enables the oven to be full all the time, and those are the kinds of efficiencies we’re going to need going forward."

The benefit over buying off-the-shelf robotics is that CenFRA will take the time to research a solution which equipment suppliers may not have the time and resources to offer, he says.

The organisation is supported by a dedicated team of professional engineers, researchers and technologists drawn from a wide variety of academic and specialist engineering centres. Contact details are 01302 765680, or email Alternatively, visit the website at []