The next stage

Food and beverage manufacturing: Assembling the Industry 4.0 puzzle. By Jason Chester


Food and beverage manufacturing: Assembling the Industry 4.0 puzzle. By Jason Chester

With so much noise around Industry 4.0, a day no longer goes by where you don’t skim over a headline covering this topic and as a result, more people are becoming exhausted, fatigued and detached from the idea. Yet the funny thing is, many of those working in the food and beverage manufacturing sector who bemoan such sentiments are often unwittingly embracing it. Fundamentally, the issue is not specifically about Industry 4.0, but rather about how we frame the discussion.

If you have attempted to search for the dragon that is an ‘Industry 4.0 solution’ but failed to find it then you are right to be weary – as just like a dragon, Industry 4.0 is a mythical beast that does not exist. If you have spent many hours and even more money plumbing in Industrial Internet of Things IIoT), sensors across conversion and packaging processes to now find yourself drowning in useless data with no discernible benefit, then you have a right to be tired.

Even if you have been at the bleeding edge and invested in AI (Artificial Intelligence) or Machine Learning (ML) solutions only to find that they are actually not really that smart – then you have a right to feel disillusioned. However, it should be said that this is not what Industry 4.0 really is.

What is Industry 4.0?
Industry 4.0 is a delineator of evolution. We like to describe evolutionary timelines with delineators that describe different epochs, regardless of whether we are describing the evolution of the earth, the human race or industry. Therefore, Industry 4.0 is not an objective, but an evolutionary outcome. As new technologies, tools and techniques emerge and change how manufacturing is performed, industries evolve just as they have done several times over the last several hundred years.

Industry 4.0 in food and beverage manufacturing
In food and beverage manufacturing, it is no different than previous evolutionary upheavals in technological progress (such as with the widespread adoption of industrial automation). So, let’s not get too hung up on a delineator of evolution and concentrate on the business needs that many food and beverage manufacturers are facing today and how they can address them effectively.

The markets that food and beverage manufacturers serve also continue to evolve in terms of attitudes, trends, needs, priorities, income and demand, as well as the environments that they operate in (regulation, online commerce, global competition, distribution, supply chains, etc.) and internally within their own organizations (ethics, responsibilities, workforce, strategy, innovation, etc.). These arrows of evolutionary time tend to always point towards the need for increasing efficiency, productivity and quality, while at the same time lowering costs, production latency and risk.

Digital transformation and the journey to data maturity
Now let’s take a deeper look into a fairly common scenario at a standard food manufacturer:

Due to the increasingly tough market in which it is operating, with more competition and an increasingly fickle customer base, a manufacturer decides to embark on a shop floor modernization project. The principle driver is the need to cut operational costs so it can save money, enhance productivity and yield and reduce waste. This will enable it to be more price competitive in the market while still retaining healthy margins.

Due to volatility in demand, the manufacturer will need to increase its operational flexibility, provide a wider selection of product variants and move to shorter volume production runs. Finally, it must also improve the quality and consistency of its product to ensure that consumers continue to choose it over their competitors in the long-term. And of course, ensure that it does not find itself on the wrong side of health, safety and consumer protection regulations.

Although these types of business challenges have always been present across the manufacturing sector, the need for greater improvement is becoming more urgent. Like many, the company has reached a proverbial ‘glass ceiling’ where further improvements and gains are becoming harder to achieve, with diminishing returns. Fortunately, it now has a higher proportion of tech-savvy millennials working on the shop floor, so it decides to move away from traditional, mostly manual processes and embark on an organization-wide digital transformation project.

After an intensive discovery phase, it has a much clearer understanding of the end-to-end manufacturing and packaging processes. It also understands all of the causal elements that have a direct impact on, or indirectly influence the primary objectives, including what is critical to quality, cost and productivity.

The manufacturer embarks on a project to digitally monitor and capture data from all of these sources. This includes capturing data from existing PLC devices, installing new measurement devices and IIoT sensors, upgrading lab equipment and even providing the means for operators to digitally record information from manually performed inspections.

In order to ensure the data from these wide-ranging sources can flow freely and reliably, it decides to upgrade its networks to include modern 5G networking capabilities and provides all operators with handheld devices such as tablets. These efforts would be fruitless without the means to turn that data in to real-time actionable intelligence and make it available to a wide range of users, including everyone from line side operators to senior supply-chain executives.

The company deploys an Enterprise Quality Intelligence solution, but it does not want the burden of installing, maintaining and constantly upgrading yet another complex enterprise application. Instead, it decides to subscribe to a Software-as-a-Service that takes all of that burden away from IT teams.

A successful industry 4.0 initiative
On project completion, it soon recognizes the significant gains that have been realized due to the fact that everyone now has real-time access to reliable and actionable intelligence and the business objectives have been achieved.

While this may be a generalized and fictitious story, it is not dissimilar to scenarios that we are engaged with on a daily basis for our food and beverage manufacturing clients.

This manufacturer has moved itself towards a digital manufacturing future where data, information, intelligence and workflow solutions have become the central focus of its manufacturing operations and it has put the most important pieces of the puzzle together. Did the manufacturer brand this an Industry 4.0 project? No. Was it an Industry 4.0 project? Yes. Whether they admit it or not, they have moved themselves much further along the Industry 4.0 evolutionary timeline.

Jason Chester is Director of Global Channel Programs, InfinityQS. For over 30 years, InfinityQS has been the leading global provider of Manufacturing Quality Intelligence software and services. Powered by a robust Statistical Process Control (SPC) analytics engine, the company’s solutions – Enact® and ProFicient™ – deliver unparalleled visibility and strategic insight across the enterprise, from the shop floor to the boardroom. This extensive deep-dive capability enables manufacturers to improve product quality; decrease cost and risk; improve compliance; and make strategic, data-driven business decisions.
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