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The journey to Industry 4.0

04 August 2019

To begin the Industry 4.0 journey food manufacturers need to improve productivity and profitability by consistently optimising processes with more connected and smarter technologies, and quickly, says Martin Walder.

To remain competitive in today’s fast moving food industry manufacturers need to be more creative in their adoption of technology.  Simply put, it is important to strive to produce more, at lower costs and of better quality. This can only be accomplished through the use of technology that provides digital insight into the health and performance of operations.

The optimum situation is to have a highly flexible line, running multiple products perfectly in sync with customer needs, and as close to 24 hrs a day as is practical. This line would be able to optimise itself, take further remote commands and predict impending mechanical failure, so that downtime can be planned to avoid unforced machine closure or missed orders. 

With an increased emphasis on performance, Industry 4.0 - which includes the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), robotics and automation - will soon take hold. Ultimately, the earlier food processors adopt the technology, the better position they will be in to compete on a global scale. 

Industry 4.0 is more than just a buzzword. When implemented it can facilitate communication between devices, control systems and cloud data systems to ensure that the best decisions are made, no matter the time or location. Using this in conjunction with analytics can help food manufacturers to fully optimise their production processes.

To embrace a smarter, more digitised factory, it is important to take every chance to adopt smarter, more connected technologies. Each new piece of equipment must be connectable from inception to reap long-term benefits. 

Getting smarter
There are a plethora of examples of IIoT technologies already providing significant benefits and not just on new greenfield sites. The addition of connected devices and edge control in brownfield projects can also reap significant improvements.

Automated technology can offer more benefits for food and beverage manufacturers, particularly in the areas of picking and packing, where it can bring huge productivity gains, freeing workers to focus on more important tasks. 

With today’s IIoT solutions it is possible to have fully optimised, online condition-based maintenance.  In essence, cloud-based systems can look at the overall performance of every machine cycle, while simultaneously having analytics running in the background. This can show whether performance is deteriorating and can offer advice about the most suitable time to schedule remedial work at a time that least affects production.

Connected sensors are another technology that underpins Industry 4.0. These can identify trends in temperature, pressure and location and can issue alerts prior to failure. This allows for real-time preventative maintenance to eliminate potential catastrophic failures and ultimately elongating the lifespan of the equipment. 

Robotics and AI
When it comes to robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), there is much more that the manufacturing industry needs to do. The advantages of automation through the use of robotics, machine-learning and AI need to become more widespread for ROI to improve. Right now, there are only 71 robots in the UK per every 10,000 manufacturing employees, compared to over 300 in Germany. The UK needs to invest more in order to fully realise its potential. 

Robots can enhance productivity. Their ability to work 24-hours a day and produce a consistent output, make them a no-brainer for manufacturers. This, alongside AI and machine learning (ML), will allow operational changes to be made at a much quicker rate. 

Martin Walder is VP Industry at Schneider Electric.

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