Post-Brexit, a focus on physics can help the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector thrive


President of the Institute of Physics (IOP) Professor Roy Sambles addressed industrialists, academics and public servants this week to discuss how a new relationship with the EU will mean focusing economic activity on leading UK sectors.

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The comments were made at the launch of the latest IOP report, The Health of Physics in UK Food Manufacturing, produced as part of an ongoing collaboration between the IOP, academics, industrialists from the food sector, and other partners.

The launch took place at the headquarters of PepsiCo, Leicester, and was attended by academics and industrialists alike, to discuss how physics can help to facilitate further growth in this sector.

Sambles said: “In uncertain economic times, and especially as the UK develops a new relationship with the EU, the country would do well to focus on the areas in which it excels – those fields in which it is, or can become, a world leader.

“Food and drink manufacturing is one of those areas. It is already the single biggest manufacturing sector in the UK and exports have doubled over 10 years.

“The industry continues to become much more high-tech than most people realise, with physics playing a central role.”

Food is the biggest single manufacturing sector in the UK – bigger than aerospace and automotive combined. It accounts for 19% of total manufacturing turnover, supports the employment of three million people and contributes almost £100bn to the economy. Its exports doubled over the decade up to 2014 – despite an overall decline in UK exports during that period.

Physics underpins a lot of the processes that are continually driving up the efficiency, quality and quantity of output across the food manufacturing industry, and innovative physics applications are in demand now more so than ever as the sector strains to expand.

In crisp manufacturing, for example, physics is playing a role in the improvement of crisp quality and texture; computer simulations are now used to design blades to slice potatoes in a way that reduces in-bag breaking of crisps, and high-resolution X-ray CT scanning is used to study oil distribution across a crisp to understand more about the feel and texture of the snack.

However, with the static level of Research & Development funding that the UK food manufacturing sector receives, there is a risk of losing out to international competitors.

The IOP’s report recommends the formation of an industrial strategy committee for food manufacturing, to be chaired by a minister from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The Health of Physics in UK Food Manufacturing report is available online:



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