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Smart factory considerations

07 September 2019

Food Processing spoke to Richard Walters, a manager at management and technology consultants, BearingPoint to discuss his views on the best way for the food industry to move towards Industry 4.0, and why they need to do this. 

How and where do you believe food manufacturers should start their Industry 4.0 journey?
Assuming there is appetite to move on the smart factory journey – supported by the business strategy and operating platform – there are a number of areas to consider.  Firstly, be clear on the objectives and business benefits, because the program will require considerable investment. Where do you want to get to and over what time period, how much will it cost, and what realisable benefits can be achieved. In short it is vital to fully understand the change journey.

Secondly, there is a need to understand the capabilities of the organisation, particularly its state of digital maturity, in terms of technology, process and people. 

Finally, a key factor in delivering the smart factory is to identify suitable digital tools that will enable the plant to be fully joined from a data and decision-making perspective to the wider supply chain.  
Why is it important that the food industry starts to make the transition? 
The food industry is intensively competitive, often with very thin margins. A smart factory can improve a company’s competitive position based on the application of new joined up technology and the analysis of large ‘cross supply chain’ data sets. The journey will take time and investment but there is considerable gain to be had if the smart factory programme is well executed.  

Examples of common issues that are being faced include a lack of real-time insights into the supply chain and having working capital tied up due to long cycles. It is important to fully understand the potential of a smart factory and its effect on performance.

Manufacturers operating a smart factory will see improvements in quality control through in-line quality monitoring, reduced costs and complexity of factory inventory management, and will also benefit from reduced energy costs.
What will the 'smart food factory' look like? 
The smart factory will embody various elements, including the development of machine-to-machine communication (M2M) for factory-wide flexible system optimisation, a planning system-to-factory connectivity enabling the convergence of commercial data with the production world, and connectivity into the ERP system.

Benefits will be seen in a variety of areas including increased plant performance and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and reduced operating costs; improved product quality and plant safety; optimised management of flows and resources; reduced working capital with faster settlement cycles, improved cost position with sales & operations planning (S&OP) optimisation; increased productivity of back-office and plant employees; and better real-time materials tracking and optimised just-in-time (JIT), helping to speed up response times from suppliers and to customers.

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