Taking Advantage Of IoT In The F&B Industry

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Automation and the Internet of Things is becoming more important in every industry, including F&B. Keith Chambers, director of Operations & Execution Systems, Schneider Electric, gives his thoughts in an interview with APFI.

What are the top trends you are seeing with regard to automation/IoT today?


One of the main trends we are seeing today is increasing adoption of new cloud technology complementing existing on-premises automation software in hybrid deployments. F&B companies are beginning to see the value of commercial and technical flexibility in hybrid deployments that minimise risk while reducing total cost of ownership and speeding time to value.

The expansion of cloud computing technology has allowed companies to leverage hosted services for industrial software capabilities such as big data analysis, predictive maintenance and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) functionality in the cloud, where previously such implementations required an on-premise deployment, support and IT infrastructure. This opens the possibilities of such deployments in areas where it previously wouldn’t have been economically possible.

The other trend that we are seeing more is a renewed focus on asset performance management (APM) as a driver of operational efficiency and quality. F&B companies are beginning to see that an ineffective asset is a major contributor to unreliable processes and quality variation.

The solution provider community is taking notice, as evidenced by recent acquisition announcements over the past few months. Several Schneider Electric competitors are now recognising the importance of this capability as an effective strategy. In an environment where capital expenditures are heavily scrutinised, improving the reliability and performance of existing assets is an attractive alternative.

As improving asset reliability becomes a focus, companies are turning to cloud and IoT technology as a simple and cost-effective way to gather needed data. We expect to see more F&B companies investing in these IoT technologies for APM and predictive maintenance to improve overall asset utilisation and reliability.

What are some trends you think we will see more of in 2018, or gain traction in the next few years?


One of the most important trends we’ve seen in food and beverage is an increasing demand for end-to-end traceability. There’s no indication that this trend is slowing down.

Consumers today want increasing clarity on where their food is coming from, and where it has been on every step of the journey. They want to know which farm delivered what raw materials, which plant processed it, and how the finished product got to the supermarket.

Digital transformation and an end-to-end integration of the supply chain enable end-to-end traceability that consumers, retailers and regulatory bodies want.

The other consumer demand trend we expect to see is continued growth in demand for varied, innovative and healthy products. Consumers today have an increasing demand for heathier food choices, such as items that are gluten-free, fat-free, sugar-free or free of additional additives.

We expect to see a continued demand for “clean foods” which means more product and packaging variations, certain to strain existing manufacturing equipment, systems and processes. Manufacturers need to improve their manufacturing agility with tools such as digital recipe management and supply chain integration to keep pace with changing consumer demand, to effectively capture market share by taking new product variations to market faster.

Can you give three tips to food manufacturers to better improve their business operations?


The first tip I would give is to focus on building existing investments by improving Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). It’s always more cost-effective and faster to think about how you can digitally transform processes and decision-making support to extend current equipment capacity, rather than investing in new or additional equipment.

For instance, IoT devices can be added directly to existing assets and configured to broadcast that data directly into the cloud for real time KPI monitoring and advanced analytics. This can be done without rewiring or configuring existing PLCs, making these ‘shadow sensors’ a direct value add.

With F&B margins continuing to shrink, the second piece of advice I would give is to look for solutions that reduce waste in the manufacturing processes. This waste takes the form of scrap, downgrades, rework, shrinkage or any issue that lowers yields. Taken together, this waste can have a heavy impact on profitability.

It’s also important to consider waste in the form of ‘giveaways’, when adding quality ingredients or in filling operations. Digital recipe management enables food and beverage manufacturers to flexibly manage more product variations while securing consistency of processes and product quality.

In-line quality data collection through inspection procedures or direct sampling from automated plant equipment provides real-time visibility into quality trends, variation or non-conformance. This allows operators to take rapid corrective and preventive actions to effectively reduce quality losses, minimise variation and improve yields.

Finally, think about how you can empower your operational teams with technology advances such as cloud, the IIoT and mobility strategies. These technologies can be used to more effectively access information, collaborate, share best practices and standardise operational work practices across a manufacturing enterprise for consistently optimal operational performance.

An industrial software platform offers the opportunity to identify and capture all your company’s big data, translate it into useful insights and share it with the people who are in a place to drive plant performance and continuously improve operations.