November 12, 2021
Food and beverage manufacturers need to meet the ever-increasing demands of their customers, regulators and shareholders. Consumers are pushing retailers to offer more variety, individualisation and multiple sales channels. Regulators and legislators are demanding even higher standards of food safety. And shareholders are seeking higher returns on invested capital.
To help meet these demands, players across the industry are embracing connectivity through a range of emerging technologies, from Artificial Intelligence to Cloud Computing and the Internet of Things. By enabling connectivity not only within the production environment but across the entire supply chain, these technologies enable the smart use of data to support better decision-making, helping food and beverage manufacturers find ways to improve productivity, food safety and quality and production flexibility.
“Typically, the different areas of a food or beverage production plant will be monitored and managed independently, and their performance data will not be integrated into an overall manufacturing system,” explains Olivier Germain, Director Industry 4.0 & MES Products at Tetra Pak. “By connecting all their equipment and systems, collecting the data and then comparing it over time with benchmarks and quality standards, manufacturers can seize new opportunities to optimise their entire supply chain and production footprint.”
A manufacturer can develop a comprehensive overview of their operation by connecting equipment and business systems. In practice, this means connecting sensors and local systems on a production line from raw material intake (and in some cases, all the way to the supply source) to the warehouse (sometimes even to the retailers).
“In a smart factory, for example, the manufacturer benefits from insights that emerge from combining operational and business data,” says Olivier. “Operational data collected from equipment and from operational systems such as the Manufacturing Execution System (MES), Quality Management System (QMS), Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), and Warehouse Management System (WMS) should be linked to the business management systems, such as the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.”
The Tetra Pak® Connected Package is one smart solution that can be an integrated part of a connected system. Enabled by a unique code on every package, connectivity allows producers to turn their products into data carriers. Package codes can enable full traceability across the value chain, from logistics to recycling, and enhance consumer engagement.
Collecting and combining the individual data streams into a single, integrated system creates a context and can be used to provide insights that an isolated data point cannot deliver on its own.
For instance, a 100-degree temperature as a standalone data point doesn’t offer much value. However, knowing where on the line this information comes from, what product is being produced and the readings from other sensors taken at the time, will allow the system to determine if this reading is acceptable or is an indication that there may be a problem. This can be used to automatically make an adjustment to a machine setting or to alert an operator so they can take action.
Comparing data with benchmarks or other performance standards drives better decision making and performance. For example, data from similar equipment or lines operating under the same conditions can be compared to identify performance gaps or potential issues. Advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence technologies are making a significant impact by facilitating the handling of fast-flowing, complex data sets that are often needed in this phase.
“When equipment is connected, data can be collected in an integrated system and performance across the entire plant can be compared,” says Olivier. “From this, a manufacturer will be able to build a deep, real-time understanding of their entire operation and improve their performance.”
Although technology is an essential enabler of connectivity, it is only the starting point. Any investment in technology will be wasted if the outcome is not clearly defined. On its own, the huge volume of data produced by sensors, or the insights offered by an integrated manufacturing system, will not impact business results unless it is clear what challenges need to be addressed and what tangible outcome a solution should deliver.
“Before making any investment in technology, we recommend having a clear business case for what you want to achieve,” says Olivier. “It’s important to have a good baseline of your current performance as well as an understanding of any potential disruptions that come with adoption of new technologies in your plant. This will help you measure the impact of the new technology and hence your return on investment.”