SY IoT Meetup – IoT in Food and AgriTech @ The National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University

By Lauren Shale, Programme Coordinator, IoT Engine

Members of the Internet of Things (IoT) community came together at the National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering (NCEFE) for the latest South Yorkshire IoT Meetup on Tuesday 28th June. The theme was ‘IoT in Food and AgriTech’, with speakers focussing on the opportunity that IoT provides to monitor the food growing and manufacturing environments, and the solutions it offers to ensure that food production becomes more efficient and less wasteful.

Mark Davies, CEO and Co-founder of Sheffield-based cybersecurity company Ioetec, hosted the evening, welcoming guests to the NCEFE and introducing the theme of Food and Agritech.  Mark showed a video from Vodafone whose IoT technologies supported the production and delivery of strawberries to Wimbledon.

Deputy Director of NCEFE, Dr Hongwei Zhang, welcomed guests to the centre, sharing an overview of their key research themes and highlighting the work being done to apply and develop digital technologies including IoT, AI, and automation robotic solutions to accelerate the breakthrough of research in the region and beyond. 

Our first speaker was Ken Brockbank, Sector Manager for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering at West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership. Ken spoke about Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) in North and West Yorkshire, which has been recognised as a High Potential Opportunity for foreign investment, and promoted as a significant market opportunity to embassies and consulate offices around the world. CEA provides solutions to global supply chain and labour shortage problems, and the sector is looking to collaborate with IoT and tech companies to deploy sensors and make use of data analysis at an early stage in the supply chain.

Next to speak was Alec Anderson, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Koolmill Systems, who are working to provide a disruptive and sustainable processing solution for rice and other cereals. Rice is a $550 billion global industry and feeds 3.5 billion people daily, but current methods are  antiquated and wasteful, with enough rice to feed 600 million people being lost each year. Koolmill is developing the third generation of rice milling technology, introducing digitalisation, automation and IoT to optimise data capture and output, and create value. Their digital twinning technology further assists machine performance, enabling over 90% of power to be saved.

Finally, we were joined by David Dixon and Gabrielė Barteškaitė from Future Greens, a Sheffield-based indoor farm growing salad and microgreens in an innovative way that is good for people and the planet. They shared how their failed attempts to grow their own food during lockdown led to the discovery of indoor farming, which not only helped to overcome their own issues with poor soil, pests, and unpredictable weather, but also poses a solution to global supply chain issues. Future Greens now produces leafy greens at their indoor farm, using 95% less water and no pesticides. The pair are designing an automated system to reduce manual labour, and have developed a growing substrate that gives a clean crop, ready to eat. With machine vision and farm management software, they can apply IoT solutions to control climate and nutrient levels to optimise growing conditions.

All three talks stimulated discussion and questioning from the audience, before they were given the chance to take to the floor themselves to share any relevant IoT activity across the region. We heard from Advancing Digital at Sheffield Hallam University, offering training in key digital skills, as well as representatives from TEAM SY, who run various programmes of support from investment readiness to developing entrepreneurial mindset. One of these programmes is the IoT Engine, based at Barnsley DMC, which supports SMEs across the region to adopt, develop and integrate IoT products and solutions.

The evening finished with further networking opportunities over beer, pie and peas – which went down a treat!

Resources and Staying in Touch:

Link to the event recording: IoT Food – 28 June 22.mp4 – Google Drive 

To join the regional IoT community, please sign up to the South Yorkshire IoT Meetup newsletter, which will keep you up to date on IoT news and activity. SY IoT Meetup (list-manage.com) 

Acknowledgements: Thanks to the brilliant team at NCEFE for their support in hosting the event, Barnsley DMC and TEAM SY for sponsoring and You & Us Events for managing all the logistics.