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Getting the Industry 4.0 journey started

20 August 2017

Suzanne Gill finds out why the UK food industry needs to embrace the idea of Industry 4.0 and why the journey needs to start now. 

I had been concerned about reports that claim UK manufacturers are unprepared for the move towards the goals identified by Industry 4.0. However, speaking to food processors I have been heartened that the will to move towards greater digitalisation of the factory is there, and that many do appreciate the benefits it will bring. It is. Hopefully, therefore now just a case of gritting our teeth and starting the journey.

It is important to understand that success in industry 4.0 is not about how much money you are able to invest. It is about having the vision and courage to start to make changes. There is agreement that data is key, so start by looking at your sensors, and other plant floor devices where this valuable data is already being created, and find a reliable and secure communication network which can move it to a place where you can start to get some real value from it. 

Paul Wilkinson, commercial & information systems manager for Pacepacker Services, believes that Industry 4.0 is starting to gaining momentum, with manufacturers – SMEs included – developing a better picture of what the smart factory of the future might look like. Given that SMEs in the UK food sector account for 96% of businesses, 30% of employment and 24% of turnover (according to DEFRA statistics), it is vital that enterprises of all sizes recognise that it isn’t just something for multinational organisations – there are scalable options available that fit the needs of every manufacturing plant and all processes on the plant floor can derive greater value from the use of data.

Nicholas Temple, marketing & global accounts manager, UK & Ireland, for B&R Automation, says that engineers in the food processing sector need to start to consider how they are positioned to compete and how their role may change as a result. “Industry 4.0 will not occur overnight, but it is important that engineers become more IT literate and they must be prepared to work across the traditionally separate lines of IT/OT,” he said. “They also need to start to develop new skills in data management and security.”

The skill and creativity of engineers will be vital to success. For example, with data collection and storage, plant managers need to focus on bringing existing machines and factories up to speed for Industry 4.0. In the majority of production environments, paper documentation is still the preferred method of data storage as there are many existing assets on the shop floor that have not been digitised. However, there are now solutions available to achieve this – for example B&R’s Orange Box, which enables machine operators to collect and analyse data from previously isolated machines and lines with minimal effort. Orange Box consists of a controller and preconfigured software blocks. The controller collects operating data from any machine via its I/O channels or a fieldbus connection. From this data, the software is able to generate and display OEE ratings and other KPIs, and is able to share this information with higher-level systems.

Ralf Hagen, E&A/MES engineering manager at Nestlé Germany, already understands the benefits of bringing legacy equipment into the digital age. He said: “In a smart factory, components need to communicate and interact in a much better way than we are currently used to. A machine should know when it needs to speed up or slow down – when it should request additional materials or refuse them. Currently, these decisions still require the experience of human operators, but in the future machines should be able to handle this autonomously.” 

Nestlé turned to B&R’s Orange Box to allow its machine operators to collect and analyse data from previously isolated machines and lines. “We are aiming for intelligent analysis that identifies the root causes of a problem before it occurs. Over the next four years, we want to get to a place where the machines warn us of an impending stoppage in advance, rather than having to troubleshoot after the fact the way we do now. Eventually, there should be no more unplanned downtime,” concluded Hagen.

Addressing trends
According to Mark Maas, industrial digital factory & innovation lead for TE Connectivity there is a need to address a number of industry trends including greater customisation/differentiation of products – even in high volume production runs; improved energy efficiency; and increasingly more interactivity. “As a consequence of this I believe we will see a move from make-to-stock to make-to-order.” So, along with all other manufacturing sectors, the food industry needs to work out how it can become more flexible and more environmentally sustainable. “The ability to share information with customers – even across a range of production facilities – will lead to a better balance between offer and demand. I believe that in the factory of the future the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will connect all processes, integrating all things – from machines, controllers and drives to workpieces – into networks and IT systems. This will facilitate a leap in productivity and efficiency. It will not happen overnight, but will be the result of ongoing studies and developments,” said Maas. 

Remember that data is key. It is important to find a way to collect and store this data securely and to find a way to translate it into actionable information that will provide benefits right across the enterprise, as well as making engineers lives easier by helping find way to improve production flexibility and efficiency and reduce unexpected downtime. The journey has to start today otherwise there is a risk of being left behind.

If you are inspired to find out more, you should join us at Appetite for Engineering this year (19th October, at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry) where we will be discussing the realities of Industry 4.0 for the food industry in more depth. To find out more go to

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