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A Growing Hunger for Efficiency

Food and beverage is an industry with dramatic contrasts, from global, highly automated giants to artisan shops on street corners, proud of hand labor. It is fragmented: a $100 billion Nestle represents less than 1.5 percent of the total.

The automation-friendly portion of the industry acquires around $3 billion in equipment per year, applying it in large and small facilities globally. The range and level of automation is, of course, just as diverse as the industry, varying from extremely basic to highly sophisticated.

Challenges: Materials, Energy Costs

Critical challenges include the price of raw materials and the energy to convert them into products, complicated by loss of intellectual capital as the aging workforce retires. The result is increasing scrutiny of every pound (or kilogram) of material and every calorie (or joule) of heat.

Scrutiny and pressure lead to automation, so little wonder that new devices, instrumentation, controls and integration architectures gain attention. Increasing instrumentation offers better understanding of energy use, while intelligent devices offer close management of both utility and product flows.

Radios Close the Gaps

 On the device level, wireless holds great interest because it dramatically increases the scope of instrumentation, particularly for control of rotating equipment, mobile operations and, of course, energy. Radio broadcasts span gaps that wires cannot, and there is an additional benefit of lower installation cost versus wired devices.

Operationally, there is a move away from run-to-failure modes for equipment and its consequent unplanned downtime. Predictive maintenance offers a window on equipment and processes, enabling timely repair before something breaks, disrupting output.

Sophistication to Oversee Difficult Processes

 In addition, some of the most sophisticated approaches involving neural networks and fuzzy logic are at home in food and beverage, since many of the processes are biological and/or more art than science.

All of these trends are driving a growing need for automation project and asset management services, both for greenfield installations and retrofits. Food and beverage shares processes and approaches that resonate with those in other industry areas, so Emerson’s across-the-board, best practices expertise is relevant here.

We All Have to Eat…

 In the final analysis, food and beverage production continues to be a fertile bed for both traditional and leading-edge automation. As agricultural science expands in response to growing global food demand, food and beverage will naturally follow along—and just as naturally, benefit from ever-tighter, integrated control over processes.

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