Today’s consumer is demanding, sophisticated and, yes, impatient. Buyers know what they want – and they want it now. For food and beverage producers, this creates an urgent need to become more agile and responsive to market demands.

The food and drink the industry is behind schedule for operational and efficiency improvements. A recent Gartner study found that 87% of companies in the food and beverage industry fall seriously behind in terms of analytics and business intelligence capabilities.

The success of food and beverage producers in the digital future depends on making smart investments today. This is why companies should invest in Industry 4.0 technologies and practices, such as advanced industrial computing and Internet of things (IoT) that allow them to converge computer and operational technology (OT) systems, automate supply chain and production systems, and increase visibility into the production process by capturing and analyzing data to drive operational improvements.

Too many silos

Traditionally, food and beverage manufacturing has relied on siled infrastructure. This means running stand-alone solutions deployed in different areas of the plant that do not communicate with each other.

Legacy systems use outdated Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) solutions that lack the visibility, data collection, and remote management capabilities demanded by modern environments. These systems still rely heavily on manual processes to monitor equipment, review production performance, and perform other tasks, increasing the risk of errors and potential downtime.

To gain agility, food and beverage producers must centralize industrial automation systems supported by state-of-the-art computer networks that bring processing and analysis closer to users for real-time tasks. These investments will allow them to gain visibility across all of their operations, from the point of receipt to production, including filling, packaging and shipping. This type of visibility can significantly help improve quality control, prevent contamination, and avoid downtime.

For example, remote monitoring platforms that issue alerts when a machine shows signs of malfunctioning allow plant operators to take quick action to avoid downtime. Data collected and stored for later review also reveals operational information that can be used for predictive maintenance, which is more cost effective and efficient than schedule-based maintenance programs.

Digitization and Automation Drivers

One of the biggest trends driving automation and digitalization in food and beverage is the need for speed. Increasingly, producers must automatically pivot to meet market demands for new products – even individual ones.

Popular food companies have modernized their production facilities to get the flexibility to make product changes without having to shut down production lines for changes. For example, a peanut butter or spread maker may allow customers to order personalized jars with their name on it. Soda companies can make rapid changes in production to accommodate a large menu of drink flavors.

Another major trend concerns food safety and traceability, giving producers a complete view of the supply chain and production. The ability to track everything from ingredient suppliers to production to delivery is critical. If contamination occurs anywhere during the process, a grower wants to quickly identify where it occurred and why. If there is a product recall, a company needs to quickly review production records, see where and what caused the problem, and resolve it before it has a major impact on the audience and its brand.

Traceability also improves the relationship with the consumer. Buyers want information about their products, including ingredients, nutritional scores, allergens, and environmental impact. Providing this information builds brand confidence with consumers.

Increase profitability in a low-margin industry

The need to improve profitability is also driving Industry 4.0 investments in food and beverage. The industry’s notoriously slim margins have only increased the incentive for companies to modernize and adopt new technologies to increase their efficiency and productivity. Supply chain and production improvements can have a substantial impact on bottom lines, which is why the focus is on preventing errors and downtime.

Of course, the competition is always fierce. Even for the leaders in the food and beverage market, there is always a competitor holding their heels to capture space in the market. To stay ahead of the competition and succeed in the digital future, we must now make a strong commitment to Industry 4.0. Find out how food companies are leveraging digitization and advanced computing to improve visibility and operations.


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