Industry 4.0 is about Smart Manufacturing: fully-integrated collaborative systems that respond in real time to meet changing demands and conditions in the factory. However, the concepts behind Industry 4.0 are so broad that many food manufacturers could understandably be forgiven for struggling to understand how the technologies affect them. The good news is that the integration of the processes offered by the technologies behind Industry 4.0 can help food manufacturers to meet many of the current demands being placed on them, be they about enhancing food safety or better managing their supply chains.
Industry 4.0 benefits for food & beverage industry
Industry 4.0 allows businesses to optimise the four levels of their operations (things, equipment, manufacturing operations management, business systems) by giving greater oversight of the whole process. It allows a company to make decisions on the huge volume of data that is being produced at the four levels, to better find out how the whole operation is performing so that smarter solutions can be found to issues as they arise.
From a food manufacturer’s perspective, the opportunities presented by these changes are enormous. Through adapting their own technology or where there are gaps, making new investments, Industry 4.0 allows for next-generation manufacturing systems that make smart decisions that can be monitored remotely, using the Cloud to access, store, and interrogate data, making the most of real-time analytics to help guide decision-making, rather than simply relying on historical data. These, in turn, can help drive greater momentum behind the current trends in the food and beverage industry, such as, an increasing focus on food safety and quality and the need to improve productivity.
Broadly, therefore, Industry 4.0 allows a business to make an impact in the following areas:
Increased vigilance over food safety
Improved productivity by better understanding where a business’s bottlenecks are and how they can be overcome
Improved quality assurance using greater automation
Managing complex global supply chains through IT and robotics
Many of the trends within Industry 4.0 allow a food manufacturer to better meet these needs. It enables them to:
Collect more data, in real time, to inform decision making and analyse it more swiftly
Use the data once it’s been analysed in conjunction with their own industry expertise to develop insights and visualise processes about how better to manage their systems
Make better, more informed decisions based on those insights about their business strategy
For example, smart machines that can communicate with each other means full traceability and transparency is possible across the entire food manufacturing value chain. This, in turn, reinforces food safety and helps a business meet regulatory needs in the most efficient manner. Equally, machines that can self-diagnose a problem before it becomes evident can reduce downtime and can be supported remotely, increasing production capability and helping meet consumer expectation through speedier time-to-shelf. Self-driving vehicles reduce manpower costs, can speed up deliveries and make the manufacturing process more efficient.
How Industry 4.0 can help in practice
Industry 4.0 empowers a food and beverage business to take a huge leap forward in terms of productivity improvements as well as in increasing food protection and quality. But the pressure to be more efficient and to stay ahead of rivals means it is important to begin to think about what steps can be taken and when.
It is about beginning a step-by-step journey, deciding on which processes are right for each business, and ensuring opportunities are taken to the full. In order to make the most of these opportunities, the industry can respond by taking some of the following steps with their equipment and processes:
Connecting and integrating equipment
Equipment at customer plants can be connected, and processes integrated, together enabling machines at different production stages, such as, processing, filling and distribution to communicate with each other and synchronise themselves. The extra information generated and knowledge shared can lead to greater efficiency savings and productivity.
Use the information to maximise supply chain efficiency
This greater visibility and integration embedded in Industry 4.0 allows companies to keep better track of all their orders across the supply chain. It can tell companies instantly how much inventory they have and how it can be deployed. Logistics timeframes can be shortened and products can reach the market more swiftly. That can help ensure that products evolve ahead of the competition, producing both top and bottom-line growth. The information obtained through having complete sight from end-to-end of the production process can enable a business to have far greater control and provide quicker, actionable information into how a product is performing.
Ensuring full traceability
Increased visibility can have an important role in helping solve production issues to enable manufacturers to make smart decisions. This traceability is already embedded in most businesses’ processes, particularly larger ones. However, Industry 4.0 allows greater access to vastly more information, helping all companies – large, medium and small – understand more about their entire plant.
Carrying out Predictive Maintenance
Equipment can not only talk to other pieces of equipment – it can talk to ‘itself’ too. An operator can pull data from a machine and put it into the Cloud, allowing for far greater analysis than was ever possible before. The data can then be used to create algorithms to make predictions and decisions, helping a company make the most of its equipment by reducing downtime to a minimum. Such Predictive Maintenance is one of the key benefits of Industry 4.0. If you know a machine is about to malfunction, you can build in downtime by moving production to other machines, which may have more capacity.
Better data analytics
By aggregating billions of pieces of data, it is possible to gain far greater insight into how a machine is performing. But with so much data to absorb, a company needs to ensure it has the systems and processes in place to make sense of the information it is receiving. The role of data analysis, and a workforce able to act on it, therefore, becomes far more significant in the world of Industry 4.0.
Embracing Machine Learning algorithms
What makes Machine Learning useful is that the algorithm can ‘learn’ and adapt its outputs based on new information. When implemented correctly, Machine Learning can help manufacturers solve complex problems and predict them before they occur in ways that will help improve the efficiency of the operation. Algorithms can help food and beverage manufacturers gain greater insights from the data. The sheer volume of information produced means that such tools are needed to produce quick analysis beyond the capability of a human alone. Using the information gathered, algorithms can number-crunch both past and current activity and predict optimum plant operation for the future by ‘learning’ from what is going on in the present. This will help businesses understand how to make the most of their production capabilities, which lines to use, and how production can be tailored in real-time in order to meet customers’ demands.
Embracing future opportunities
For many food manufacturers, the future can be daunting. They are still coming to terms with the full range of possibilities presented simply by the first wave of digitalisation, such as, the ability to engage on social media, use influencers, and use product packaging to provide more relevant, bespoke information to customers eager to find more about what they are buying. Industry 4.0 goes far beyond this. It allows companies to access more data than ever before and better ways of analysing it. It represents a step change in the way companies go about their business.
Done well, Industry 4.0 allows a food manufacturer to ensure its processes will better serve changing consumer trends. It will allow them to spot those trends earlier and automatically update their capabilities to meet them. It will empower their workforce to gain new skills and take greater responsibility. And it will allow them to manufacture their products more efficiently and profitably. But the opportunities far outweigh the risks of not embracing the technology. With a connected workforce, connected manufacturing processes, data analytics, and by seeking out partners to help chart the right course ahead, the food industry can look confidently ahead to the promises of the world of Industry 4.0. It also leaves them perfectly positioned when Industry 5.0 comes along – whenever that may be, whatever it may entail.