Smart Manufacturing for Food & Beverage

As the industry responds to consumer demands and regulatory mandates, all while preparing for a future that will require more food, manufacturers are embracing digital transformation across their operations while keeping costs in check.

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Every industry has its share of business and operational challenges, but in the Food & Beverage market there are some unique demands that are forcing manufacturers to transform production and packaging processes.

First and foremost, there are increasing consumer expectations around healthy food. People want to know what ingredients are in the product as well as where they came from. In addition, the population is growing. By 2050 there will be 9 billion people on Earth—30 percent more than today. Along with the growing population is the rise of the middle class, who have more resources available to them. There are also regulatory demands around food quality and safety as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). And, there’s an environmental responsibility, as the Food & Beverage industry consumes 5 percent of global energy.

Collectively, these elements impact business and put pressure on margins. Manufacturers are now looking at new ways to build flexibility into the plant, create visibility into the supply chain and add transparency into processes to meet government mandates and corporate sustainability goals. And, of course, there’s the dilemma of how to accomplish all of this without investing too much capital.

Fortunately, as technology advances, it leads more companies down the path of digital transformation as part of Industrie 4.0 initiatives. The adoption of automation, data integration, analytics, simulation and energy sourcing can help companies transform existing plants into smart manufacturing facilities. The key is to set a foundation that can interconnect operations and the supply chain, thereby establishing a new era of smart food—from farm to fork.

It may seem like an overwhelming undertaking, but tackling it with a proven methodology and prioritizing projects will help enormously.

“Step one is to identify the business objective of the company, and that helps you prioritize where to go,” says Rob McGreevy, Vice President of Information, Operations and Asset Management at Schneider Electric.

So, if sustainability and energy management of building facilities take precedence, start by looking into IT infrastructure management and power efficient products to build a smart building. If overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is top of mind, consider technologies that will decrease downtime and increase performance.

Mind the Margins

Despite the regulatory and customer requirements, performance and quality tend to drive the decision. “Nearly every customer is looking at margins,” McGreevy says. “Cost is king and we see a significant amount of manufacturers starting with production line performance.”

At Woodlands Dairy in South Africa, for example, which had bought a second-hand powder plant with an outdated control system, integrating disparate systems while preserving the past investment was at the top of the company’s agenda. Using System Platform, the company was able to create a centralized environment for process data logging and data analysis. System Platform’s standard templates served as a guideline for the plant model design and the naming convention, which later helped with maintenance and reduced engineering costs. The set up provided universal data connectivity to a variety of PLCs, full redundancy, scalability and easy to retrieve reports, among other things.

Most plants will have disparate systems already in place, so the ability to communicate with a variety of controls is important. “Our products are open and agnostic, which our customers appreciate,” McGreevy says. It is also important that the platform talk to sensors as companies add Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices. “We see a lot of people using a digital approach to extend their systems. It is sometimes called ‘shadow sensing,’ which means they are outfitting existing machines with high fidelity sensors to drive additional improvements.”

This extends outside of the plant, as the farm to fork movement must include the farmers, of course. As a result, there are more smart agriculture offerings that not only provide quality control and traceability to the food source, but also position farmers for a future that will require more resources.

“By 2050 we will need 55 percent more water to nourish the growing demand for food, so efficient irrigation is critical,” says McGreevy. “We believe driving operational improvements and efficiencies at these farms is a key component to sustainably feeding the planet.”

Recently, Schneider Electric worked with WaterForce, a provider of water management and irrigation solutions in New Zealand, to develop a cloud-based IIoT mobile control solution built on Microsoft Azure cloud and IoT technologies. The system enables farmers to operate irrigation pivots with greater agility and efficiency, and it can be done on a tablet or smartphone. What’s also unique to this solution is its ability to work with a farm's existing irrigation and pump controllers. This means no significant capital investment was required before seeing benefits.

Read the full success story here.

WaterForce’s solution integrates multiple components of Schneider Electric’s software and hardware product portfolio, including cloud and mobility solutions, HMI/SCADA, variable speed drives and soft starters. The solution was built using Microsoft Azure IoT Hub, which includes a collection of integrated enterprise tools including devices, software, cloud, data and analytics.

This technology gives farmers the ability to unlock new insights and make the best possible, real-time decisions around water usage and energy efficiencies. And, it is working. Farmers have reported a 50 percent reduction in energy costs in the first season.

Regardless of what a manufacturer—or farmer—wants to achieve, moving to a digital, open platform and using proven methodologies, as well as partnering with experts that have deep domain knowledge, will be the recipe for success when it comes to feeding the world.

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