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Brighter future for food manufacturing

27 April 2015

Jeremy Shinton, Product Manager - Business Solutions & Software for Mitsubishi Electric
Jeremy Shinton, Product Manager - Business Solutions & Software for Mitsubishi Electric

The concept of Industry 4.0 can be confusing, as it describes a future that isn’t quite available yet in the here and now. Food Processing investigates to find out what it really means for the food and drink industry.

Industry 4.0 is the development of manufacturing technologies to enable higher levels of connectivity. This connectivity will allow machines to communicate in more complex ways and lead to decentralised or local processing of data, resulting in smart factories with autonomous machinery capable of managing its own service and maintenance requirements and adapting quickly to new production requirements. 

“In brief, Industry 4.0 is the computerisation of manufacturing, particularly smarter machines with higher levels of connectivity,” explains Emilian Axinia, Food and Beverage Industry Manager at COPA-DATA. “These smarter machines make educated decisions based on billions of bytes of data collated from past experiences in the plant. Recently, it has become very popular within all industries to save terabytes of data, or big data, for the purpose of analysing previous patterns and making future predictions.”

So just why has the concept of Industry 4.0 has been grabbing headlines on engineering and IT magazines for the past few years and what does it mean for the food and drink industry? Keith Thornhill, Business Manager – Food & Beverage Sector at Siemens UK & Ireland believes that the drivers for the fast changes in manufacturing are globalisation, individualisation, time-to-market and sustainability. “Energy and resource efficiency are increasingly decisive factors in manufacturing competitiveness, even in developing economies adopting automation technology at rates that look set to further improve their traditional cost advantage,” says Thornhill. “Globalisation is driving the need for shorter innovation cycles, as time-to-market represents a competitive advantage for an increasing number of products. Localisation agendas are more apparent all over the globe too, driven by interests in local manufacturing and jobs. Manufacturing products themselves are becoming more complex and data generating from their production, distribution and use is growing exponentially.”

Another driver for Industry 4.0 as a manufacturing philosophy has been the development of The Internet of Things (IoT), Cloud, big data and cyber physical systems. “The Internet of Things has been defined as the effective connection between multiple devices, down to the sensor level, within the infrastructure of a plant,” says Ken Christie, EPLAN. “The devices are connected using smart computing systems, which ensure different sections of the plant communicate with each other and respond rapidly and effectively to variations in the production environment.”

And Axinia believes that the food industry has been one of the more willing sectors of manufacturing to adopt innovative and more modern automation techniques commonly associated with Industry 4.0. “Food manufacturing is a highly dynamic industry,” he says. “Take Marmite. Love it or hate it, 3,700 tonnes of yeasty goodness is consumed as Marmite every year. To put it into perspective, that’s about 16.7 million 200g jars, or 600 million pieces of Marmite on toast, and that’s just one example from a veritable smorgasbord of products and manufacturers in the industry. The food and beverage sector, along with the pharmaceutical industry, have been archiving their data long before this trend because of standards, which have made it a mandatory requirement for the two industries.”

Dan Rossek, Marketing Manager, Omron
Dan Rossek, Marketing Manager, Omron

Fast rate of adoption
Thanks to the pace of change in microprocessor, communications and information technology, the technology used in food and drink manufacturing is developing at a fast rate. And similar to consumer tech, industrial automation technology continues to offer users greater processing power, more memory, richer software features, smaller footprints and lower relative costs. 

Jeremy Shinton, Product Manager – Business Solutions & Software for Mitsubishi Electric believes that food and drink manufacturers could benefit from the implementation of Industry 4.0 even more than most industries. “The constant pressure on costs in the food industry means it has a long history of innovating, so is likely to embrace Industry 4.0 quickly and enthusiastically,” he says. “The need for traceability right through the production chain has already ensured that machines are interconnected and archiving data. Industry 4.0 should enhance this. Greater flexibility will enable bespoke production for each customer and rapid adaption to changing product specifications. And finally, energy usage can be monitored and optimised to new levels.”

The net result will be improved machine performance, optimised maintenance and reduced costs. “This should help win new customers and retain existing ones,” Shinton continues. “It is also likely to create new revenue streams in the form of value adding services, and allow seamless connectivity with upstream and downstream supply chain partners.”

Traditionally, food factories are an amalgamation of equipment from a variety of manufacturers, with each item performing a specific task in the production process with the whole managed and monitored by a dedicated team. “Each member of the team requires a common channel of communication to each other and to the machines,” says Christie. “Industry 4.0 provides the solution to this interconnectivity and interoperability challenge by making the most of automation strategies and greatly enhancing Machine to Machine (M2M) communication, as well as providing much more detailed data for those operating the plant. This ensures fewer errors, less downtime, greater throughput and increased efficiency.”

User expectations of automation technology are also changing, according to Thornhill. Ease of use, long lifecycle and remote access to information are consistently highlighted among their needs, with today’s plant manager expecting real-time data delivered to their smart device to aid decision making on the move. 

Emilian Axinia, Food and Beverage Industry Manager, COPA-DATA
Emilian Axinia, Food and Beverage Industry Manager, COPA-DATA

“Highly intuitive sensors have also been used in the food and beverage industry for quite a while now,” says Axinia. “Sensors on product lines monitor temperature, pressure or volume, and relay information in real time to HMIs so that production can be monitored and controlled with ergonomic and easy to use software. This information can even be accessed and regulated from a tablet, allowing complete freedom for supervisors. On the robots front, there are robots gradually being introduced into the workplace that can, in the general sense of the word, ‘see’ objects and pick them up. This doesn’t sound like a technological marvel until you introduce it to the production line. If a bottle or jar falls over, blocking the flow, this robot can react, set it upright again and get the production line moving once again. In moments, the production line has been restored and there has been minimal downtime.” And of course sensors on the line can record the cost of the blockage to the production line and calculate the needed increase in speed to accommodate.

Dan Rossek, Marketing Manager at Omron, agrees. “Production lines will be able to reconfigure themselves automatically in order to optimise productivity. Some of that will be driven from above, with production lines responding dynamically to new or amended production orders, tying in seamlessly with logistics and the wider business. Some will be driven from the product itself, communicating with the line to determine the optimal route through the production process. For example, if there is a bottleneck at some point in the production line, the product will recognise this and look to see if there are other processes that might be accomplished first, and instruct the line to reroute its progress.”

But Industry 4.0 isn’t just for large food manufacturers. In fact, Shinton thinks it offers even more opportunities for small and medium sized food and drink producers, who will be able to form seamless links with their machine builders and technical services suppliers. “This will make their production systems just as advanced and sophisticated as those of their larger brethren,” says Shinton. “For instance, it will permit the optimisation of preventative maintenance programmes, so that expensive and delay-inducing machine failures are all but designed out. Or to put it another way, the overall equipment effectiveness strategies that to date have been the preserve of larger companies will now come within reach of all companies.”

Traceability and validation
Thanks to its big data abilities, Industry 4.0 isn’t just an operations strategy but can offer advances in areas such as traceability and validation, which will help companies meet current and future requirements imposed by organisations like the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA). “Industry 4.0 can also help to achieve very high plant availability and reliability,” explains Christie. “In the event of a system failure, dual redundant IT layers, specified in accordance with smart factory procedures, allow production to be resumed in minutes, rather than hours. Industry 4.0 is all about machines communicating effectively with each other and with their users, as well as greater, more reliable record keeping. It embraces communications and networking strategies that meet today’s demands for efficiency and lean manufacturing from companies across the food sector worldwide.”

The food and drink industry in the UK and Ireland has identified ten priorities for innovation in its agenda to create a competitive, safe and sustainable future that both satisfies the local market and allows for the capacity increases that are required to realise the increasing export opportunities and growth.

Keith Thornhill, Business Manager - Food & Beverage Sector, Siemens UK & Ireland
Keith Thornhill, Business Manager - Food & Beverage Sector, Siemens UK & Ireland

The ten priorities are:
Food safety
Authenticity and traceability
Understanding and changing behaviours / drivers
Next generation integrated retail
New and smarter ingredients
Smarter packaging
Health and wellbeing through diet
Manufacturing of the future
Waste minimisation
Energy and water.

“Current technology will go a long way in making significant inroads into these industry priorities,” says Thornhill. “But the Cyber Physical Systems (CPS) approach, where computer data, networks and physical processes are integrated, will evidently take the industry to the next milestone. In essence, Industry 4.0 will involve the technical integration of CPS into manufacturing and logistics and the use of the Internet of Things and Services in industrial processes. This will have implications for value creation, business models, downstream services and work organisation.”

Predictions for the future
So let’s indulge in a little crystal ball gazing and look at a long-term vision for the industry. Is Industry 4.0 the future?

“The food and beverage industry is in a fantastic position to take full advantage of the higher levels of automation and interconnectivity Industry 4.0 has offered so far,” says Axinia. “And I can see no reason why this can’t continue with the innovations that arise in years to come.”

Shinton, however, is more cautious. “Industry 4.0 is the improving of data management through better communication and data collection across all machines in the production chain; instant archiving and data historian functions; real-time analytics; multifunction alarm management; web-publishing and interconnectivity and data transparency through the value chain. And most engineers are able to see the practical advantages that the new cyber-physical interface of Industry 4.0 will bring. However, like the internet 20 years ago, or mains electricity a hundred years ago, it will almost certainly over-deliver on expectations by orders of magnitude. This is because while we can foresee the immediate and obvious benefits, far more will almost certainly evolve over time.”

Ken Christie, EPLAN
Ken Christie, EPLAN

“The intelligence, speed, power and communications capabilities to enable Industry 4.0 concepts to be implemented today are powerful reasons to push forward with the latest automation offerings,” says Rossek. “So don’t think of Industry 4.0 simply as a concept with only theoretical appeal. Dig a little deeper and there is much practical substance, with control paradigms that can be implemented today to deliver real benefits in all areas of production.”

And Siemens too believes that Industry 4.0 will be key to integrating product and production lifecycles. “But users today can already benefit from foundation technologies such as industrial networks, sensors and software tools that enable the digital manufacturing enterprise,” says Thornhill.

“In a nutshell,” Christie concludes, “Industry 4.0 is all about machines communicating effectively with each other and with their users, as well as greater, more reliable record keeping. It embraces communications and networking strategies that meet today’s demands for efficiency and lean manufacturing from companies across the food sector worldwide.”

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