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Maximising the potential of data analytics and digitalisation

12 August 2019

Keith Thornhill explains why it is important for food and beverage manufacturers to start the Industry 4.0 journey with projects that that would make the biggest difference to productivity and traceability.

Some of the key manufacturing challenges being addressed today within the food and beverage production industry are in areas such as supply chain traceability, packaging, intralogistics and energy reduction. 

Many of these issues were highlighted at Siemens recent Digital Talks conference, where food retailers, including Ocado and Amazon, got together with food manufacturers such as Princes, and food packaging specialists such as TrakRap, to discuss emerging trends and the opportunities and challenges of automation, digitalisation and Industry 4.0 for the food and beverage sector. 

Mass customisation is one big trend, primarily driven by a rapidly changing retail environment, that will have an effect on food manufacturing, which is why many are now looking at how Industry 4.0 is being implemented across other industry sectors and the discussion about how it could be adapted to offer benefits in a food and beverage setting is heating up. 

In the pharmaceutical sector, for example, there is a trend towards personalised medicines; bespoke formulations specific to an individual’s condition based on their genetic makeup, health status and lifestyle. Applying this proposition to food could see food manufacturers tasked with making one-off products, or a series of goods unique to the customer.

This customisation trend could also help solve the problem of over-production. In food production currently around 25% of crops are wasted because products are being created with no specific end-user in mind and goods are being designed based on outdated trends. The only way to conquer this is with real-time data collection which would allow for more accurate forecasting and helping to ‘close the loop’ on production. 

Another key benefit to embedding smarter technology into the food and beverage supply chain is clearly traceability. Client demand and legal compliance have made this issue one of the sector’s top priorities, and everything from carrying 100% accurate allergen information to detailing how recyclable the packaging is, means there is a need for consistent and robust labelling.  

Product provenance is also crucial – knowing the source of ingredients and produce, and the journey taken from farm to fork, is increasingly becoming a point of competitive difference. Again, data monitoring, analysis and tracking comes into the play here. The principles of data collection and analysis to boost efficiencies, reduce waste and save on cost – even at a very basic level – can be utilised on a food manufacturers’ factory floor. 

Take, for example, Kinnerton’s Easter egg factory in Norfolk which has a production line that features a combination of different vendor technologies and machines, some of which were ageing and increasingly difficult to maintain. This led to performance issues which in turn created challenges in maintaining product consistency, the efficiency of the line itself, and the need to support the entire automation platform. 

Rather than rip and replace, Siemens took a retrofit approach and simplified the production line process via a Totally Integrated Automation (TIA) platform. 

From initial chocolate mould filling to product cooling and packaging, a series of linked monitors integrated several different elements of Kinnerton’s line, including both fixed speed and variable speed machinery, into a single motion control system. From simple conveyor belts to sophisticated ‘pick and place’ packing robots, streams of data linked to different manufacturing processes were fed into a central point, giving the company a real-time picture of the whole production process for the first time.  

This relatively modest technological solution succeeded in boosting productivity on one line by 15%, and the ROI on the technology was quickly realised. 

So, while the quest for mass customisation and ‘batch size one’ is an aspiration for many within the sector, for a great many food manufacturers even some rudimentary interventions could make a significant difference to productivity. And, once the digitalisation journey has started it is then possible to explore all of the other benefits that data capture and analysis can offer. 

Keith Thornhill is head of food and beverage for Siemens Digital Industries. 

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