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Coping with change

13 February 2022

Andy MacPherson explains the role that automation has to play in helping food processors cope with change. 

When we talk about resilience in food production, we are essentially looking at the ability to cope with change. This could be anything from changes in market demand to changes in energy prices, but it comes down to the ability to make processes as lean, efficient, and reliable as possible. Automation and digitalisation have a key role to play.

Condition monitoring is an essential tool because it gives operators a continuous picture of how the plant is performing. Increased automation and digitalisation is now allowing food manufacturers to collect useful data from existing plant and to use it to optimise performance. Improved efficiency in overall operation builds better resilience. For example, if you have visibility of all the production parameters on two identical product lines and one begins to show an elevated number of rejects, the ability to compare performance makes identification of the cause more efficient. Keeping production running smoothly can have a positive impact on product quality and the bottom line, which helps make the business more resilient.

Improving visibility
The same data can help to improve visibility of impending repair and maintenance requirements: which in turn improves efficiency and uptime. Variables in temperature, vibration or energy consumption can be key indicators that something is not working as well as it could. Detecting variations from the norm early means that equipment failure is avoided: safeguarding production and minimising downtime. 

Festo Smartenance is one way that food manufacturers can achieve this level of visibility. This software tool can provide a good introduction to the power of digitalisation. It is quick and easy to install and provides a simple, cost-effective way to gather and analyse useful data for condition monitoring and predictive maintenance regimes. 

Recent rises in energy prices provide another focus for food manufacturers and processors. The challenge here is to get as much value as possible out of the energy consumed, and preferably to lower overall energy consumption and thereby control costs. Detecting and correcting leakages in compressed air supplies can significantly improve resilience to energy price fluctuations. Here, the MS6-E2M module from Festo can offer a solution. It automatically monitors and regulates the compressed air supply in new and existing systems, and diagnoses and flags maintenance requirements based on actual requirements. The module can be integrated fully into a machine control system via Profibus and exchanges important data such as energy consumption and machine availability cyclically with the control system. 

In the future
In future, it is likely that optimisation of food processing plant will become increasingly autonomous. Once Artificial Intelligence is added to the digitalisation mix, machines will be capable of working out what interventions they require and when: further improving their resilience.

Andy MacPherson is food & beverage manager at Festo.

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