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Are you IIoT ready?

04 December 2017

Suzanne Gill finds out from industry experts how and why the food industry will benefit from greater connectivity on the plant floor. 

Connectivity on the factory floor is not new and, of course, mobile devices have allowed for the collection of data for some time. However, the idea of large-scale connectivity – the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – now offers the food processing industry some exciting opportunities to accelerate productivity and optimise efficiency.

Extracting data from devices and machines can provide valuable information for predictive maintenance, for example, which can help reduce downtime and equipment repair costs. It can also make maintenance teams more efficient by identifying issues that cannot be detected visually.

“When coupled with existing governance, including requirements for routine changeover and clean-downs for hygiene or regulatory reasons, a move towards predictive maintenance – which is further supported by a robust digitalisation strategy – is starting to gain traction,” said Keith Thornhill, business manager food & beverage at Siemens UK and Ireland.

Advanced diagnostic and sensing technologies, such as ultrasound detectors, thermography, vibration, and oil analysis are now being used to identify failures at the earliest possible stage. “One example of this would be the capture of thermal radiation images of equipment and components, which can be used to find potential issues on equipment,” explained Thornhill. The images can be used to discover hot areas of components which is an indicator of potential failure.

“It is vital that food manufacturers also have a robust plan in place to successfully extrapolate data, using machine learning to analyse it and identify patterns, so, should machine failure occur, its trace is captured,” advises Thornhill. “In the future, should the same trace be identified, measures can be put into place to prevent failure and subsequent downtime.”

The drive towards integrated automation can be further aided by intelligent cloud analytics. Siemens, for example, is continually developing a suite of tools which further accelerate productivity and capitalise on cutting-edge technologies. Mindsphere is a cloud-based, open operating system and is the centrepiece of a powerful ecosystem with data analytics to enable food businesses to achieve further productivity gains. 

Much to offer
Mitsubishi Electric Food & Beverage Industry specialist, John Rowley, believes that there is now a growing realisation in the food industry that Industry 4.0 has much to offer in terms of optimising processes, keeping records of process data, and ensuring traceability – heralding an end to an era of manual recording using pen and paper. 

 “The first step towards IIoT is to define an industrial networking strategy. It has to be a strategy that addresses the potential pitfalls,” said Rowley. “The first of these pitfalls is being swamped by too much data without really considering what information you actually need and what you’re going to do with it. The second pitfall relates to security. It’s not enough to consider this at an IT level and assume that the job is done. Security has to be addressed at an industrial network level.

Once a robust networking strategy is in place, implementation is the next big step and this can imply considerable investment. However, there is scope to implement it in phases – look at updating single machines, implementing networks across a single production line and at each stage looking at the quick wins and easy gains from the IIoT – connecting up smart devices and beginning to act on the data they provide. Once you start to see process improvements, recordable optimisation and downtime reductions, it is easier to make the case for continued implementation.

Hayo Volker Hasenfus, director industrial automation EMEA at Panduit, believes it is vital to first identify whether the existing plant network is capable of implementing and managing the requirements of the IIoT and digital connectivity, and to understand what you need to do to effectively implement IIoT into the plant. 

The current network capabilities can be assessed by using Panduit’s Network Fabric Maturity Model which outlines the four levels of a network fabric – from multiple unmanaged plant floor networks to a fully unified network fabric. The model can help manufacturers understand where they stand currently, and provides guidance to help progress through each level towards the end goal.

“The Network Maturity Model is about shifting industrial networks from focusing solely on the organisational silos of the plant automation system to a more holistic focus on mission, vision, and overall business outcomes,” said Hasenfus. “To be able to get the most out of the plant network and to be able to improve productivity, reliability, safety and security, it is crucial for companies to know and understand how all the new generation connected devices and smart manufacturing equipment are, and should be, connected,” he said.

Another key factor for a successful implementation of the IIoT and digital connectivity is the constant monitoring of the plant network and its connected devices. There are now tools available to do this, such as IntraVUE and SynapSense, which provide actionable manufacturing plant condition monitoring analytics. 

Gaining visibility
“Thanks to the IIoT, the food industry is now able to gain visibility and control over everything from raw materials in the plant, through safe preparation, picking, packaging and dispatch, said Martin Walder, VP industry at Schneider Electric.  The use of smart sensors in particular, allows users to gain increased access to real-time data on quantities, consistencies and materials, enabling a consistent level of quality control.
“Not only is IIoT crucial to quality control, it is also helps enhance cost-cutting across the production plant,” continued Walder.  Increasingly, the food industry as a whole is making a collective effort to reduce the amount of waste with the ability to track and monitor supply ingredients and raw materials more closely. 

Embrace digital connectivity?“UK food manufacturers need to embrace digital connectivity if they are to remain competitive and innovative in the emerging digital-industrial marketplace,” warns Mike Wilson, ABB business development manager for the UK & Ireland. “Digital solutions for the food industry include tracking and traceability software which help ensure consistent quality, regulatory compliance and build customer trust. 

“Other options include automation control software, providing plant managers with remote access to actionable data and advanced analytics which can be used to inform decisions about maintenance and to optimise the performance of equipment such as robots. Through this access to live information, important factors such as productivity and flexibility can be increased,” he said.

“Having a fully visible and readily adaptable production line is especially important in the food industry, where customer tastes are constantly changing and evolving. Production lines frequently need to be switched to handle new products, often at short notice. Robots, coupled with digital connectivity, serve to make these quick changeovers possible,” concludes Wilson

Skills is a key issue
“Although IIoT remains central to moving the food industry forward, increasing the use of automation and robotics in the industry still poses a challenge,” warns Walder. According to the Food and Drink Federation, to do this, the industry will need to recruit 109,000 people by 2022. A large proportion of which will need engineering and digital skills.
“It is clear that IIoT is a no brainer. However, to reap all the benefits and take the food industry into a more effective, efficient and modernised state, a great deal more work still needs to be done to train the next generation of IIoT-ready food manufacturers.”

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