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Now is the time to embrace change

18 February 2018

David Buckley believes that embracing Industry 4.0 could be a game-changer for food processors. 

Today industry is being led by cyber physical production systems (CPPS), where data is automatically collected to create fully automated systems that are able to interact, update and share Information to help increase efficiency and productivity.

The automotive industry has already mastered this with completely customised production lines which know that the next car needs to be black, with red leather trim, 19in alloy wheels and will house a hybrid engine. At the end of the line, every vehicle is customised to requirements of its purchaser.

Admittedly, the needs of the food processing industry are very different. But what it does share with the automotive industry is a Lean objective – to have optimum productivity and as close to zero downtime as is possible.

Food production invariably involves many processes, delivered by individual machines that are linked together. Many smart thinking food manufacturers are now integrating these systems, even for retrofitted equipment, but some operate with bolted together, disparate solutions.

When looking to make the move towards a smarter, connected plant, the first step should always be to consider your objectives. In addition to delivering a brief on time, productivity needs to be raised, and both downtime and waste reduced. And the product needs to be the correct size, specification and weight, free from contaminants and labelled and packaged correctly.

If all of this can be automated, monitored and delivered more efficiently not only will you have a satisfied customer, but the automation will allow you to become more agile, and react quicker to shorter, longer or more bespoke runs. This way you are not just being lean, but are diversifying.

That means front, middle and end of lines are collaborating to include checkweighing, X-raying, labelling and inspection. It will also help with the implementation of future track and trace processes, for a whole host of uses around managing the journey of a product. Of course, this could also help to eliminate one of the biggest threats to the livelihoods of food producers – product recalls.

Your factories may already be smart, but it could still move further, and into the arena of the ‘smart factory’ where the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) is really starting to play a big role its part.

A smart factory encapsulates all that the food industry has stood for in the past and machine designers are continuing to develop solutions to help meet the growing and often complex demands placed on food processors by its customers. Now is the time to Industry 4.0. It’s not the future, it’s the present!

David Buckley is managing director at Sparc Systems.

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