The Vision
Establish a Manufacturing Innovation Institute (MII), a public-private partnership, through the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) focused on advanced manufacturing in the U.S. food industry.

The MII opportunity:
  • $70M from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce over 5 years
  • Minimum 1:1 match from industry, academia, state and local governments (past winners have demonstrated ›2:1)
  • This is an open topic competition; 2 MIIs will be awarded
  • Proposal deadline: July 22, 2016

The National/Global Context
  • The growing global population (~9 billion people by 2050) can be destabilized by a lack of healthy and plentiful food supply.
  • 50% of the world’s food supply is lost to waste.
  • In the U.S., the $300B food manufacturing industry is in a state of crisis.
  • Energy and water intensive production methods have changed little since the early/mid 20th century.
  • Much of our food is handled by humans who transfer and introduce contaminants and pathogens, creating recent recalls.
  • Low margins, activist investors and industry inertia are drastically reducing R&D from the industry in favor of short returns.
  • At the same time, there has been a dramatic increase in food safety-related recalls.
  • The U.S. economy, global security and stability depend on our ability to make more abundant, higher quality, safer, less expensive and more secure food for a growing global population.

The Solution Approach
  • Establish a pre-competitive public-private partnership (i.e., an MII) to transform how food is made.
  • Focus primarily on food safety, security and automation as the unifying pre-competitive themes for the partnership.
  • Industry executives identify the following three areas as highest priorities:
    • Traceability – advanced sensors and big data analytics are necessary to detect and monitor transmission and growth of pathogens/allergens along the entire supply chain.
    • Sanitation – this is a water, time and labor intensive process representing a cost of 3% of gross revenues industry wide
    • Raw material prep-processing (disassembly) – these are dangerous (deboning), difficult, repetitive processes where humans can transfer contaminants across the entire production process.

Technology Roadmap
Deploy transformational advanced manufacturing teams across four major technology areas:
  • Automation and Control – This will allow workers to elevate their technical skill sets and operation away from the production floor.
  • Sensors – State of the art sensors, both for automation and control, as well as for real-time detection of contaminants will be necessary.
  • Big Data – Advances in information technology are making it possible to track critical food data along the entire supply chain.
  • Antimicrobial Materials and Coatings – Significant cost reductions can be realized if coatings can be developed that are hostile to contaminants or better protect the final product.
These efforts will be integrated into a matrix involving:
  • Sanitation – Savings in sanitation costs can be used to capitalize the food manufacturing transformation into the future.
  • Raw Materials Preparation – The challenge is handling and cutting ingredients that are variable in size, shape, material properties, etc.
  • Food Production Processes – This is at the heart of the transformation, making the food remotely away from the production floor

Industry/Market Opportunities
The ability to automate and control food production opens tremendous opportunities to tailor foods to individual customer tastes and preferences.

This will create opportunities for:
  • Ultra-Customization – Like cars and consumer goods, food in the future can be customized for different personal and cultural tastes.
  • Reduced Waste – Smaller lots with targeted ingredients will lead to significant reduction in the amount of food discarded in western societies.
  • Sustainability – Production methodologies will be far more efficient, reducing the demand for ingredients, preservatives, energy and water.
  • Safer, Wholesome Food Supply – This will drastically reduce the change of external microbial contamination and the risk of expensive food recalls.

Key Impacts/Challenges
Successful transformation of the food manufacturing industry will require solutions to and result in additional critical challenges:
  • Standards and Certifications – Current codes and standards in the industry are often confusing (multiple agencies), antiquated, and impediments to positive change.
  • Workforce Development – This transformation will create the need for a highly skilled technical workforce.
  • Consumer Education/Public Policy – Success of the transformation will ultimately depend on a well-informed consumer who understands precisely what constitutes ‘high quality food’, how to keep it safe and protect the consumers.