The digital future of dairies: automation and its effects

In the not-too-distant future, large integrated dairies will operate with relatively few workers. Taking automation to the ultimate level could mean that dairies will be almost completely unmanned except for people in the control room and the maintenance crews. Ultimately, lighting will hardly be needed.

Fictional robot

Call it science fiction, but the factories and warehouses of the future could be dark places – literally speaking. There will be no need to put the lights on except for occasional visits by humans to tend the machines.

Digital dairies

We are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, known popularly as Industry 4.0. The forthcoming revolution in industry will be spurred by the greater use of automation, data exchange, robotics and artificial intelligence. It is the result of a growing convergence of two fields that have until now been disconnected: information technology and operational technology. A bridge is forming between the physical world of production and the digital world of cyberspace. Nowadays the buzzwords in industrial manufacturing and the supply chain are “digitalization”, “cloud computing” and “the industrial Internet of Things” (IIoT).

The arguments for adopting this latest technology in industry are powerful. According to a recent Deloitte report on the smart factory: “An optimized smart factory allows operations to be executed with minimal manual intervention and high reliability. The automated workflows, synchronization of assets, improved tracking and scheduling, and optimized energy consumption inherent in the smart factory can increase yield, uptime, and quality, as well as reduce costs and waste.”

Tetra Pak has issued its own whitepaper on the impact Industry 4.0 will have on food and beverage manufacturing. The report highlights a number of opportunities opening up: “The good news is that the integration of the processes offered by the technologies behind Industry 4.0 can help food manufacturers meet many of the current demands being placed on them, be they about enhancing food safety, better managing their supply chains, ensuring the greatest profitability in a complex, competitive world, or being able to respond flexibly to changing consumer demands.”

It’s all about uptime

The dairy industry is a fast adopter of new technology and automation. Through takeovers, the industry has become more and more consolidated, with a few large international players competing for a share of the world market. These large multinationals are building larger and larger dairy plants to gain economies of scale, at the same time as the operating systems are becoming ever smarter. The trend is for modern dairy processing and filling lines to run at a higher capacity and for a longer time without interruption.

“The natural outcome of the demand for higher and higher capacity is greater automation and smart control,” says Eagle Liang, Global Product Manager for homogenizers at Tetra Pak. “When a plant is operating at high speed, any downtime or unplanned stops will cost a lot of money due to lost production time. Maximizing uptime becomes crucially important.”

Liang has been closely involved in a project to develop a smart system aimed at maximizing uptime for homogenizers. This pioneering project resulted in the launch in May 2018 of the Tetra Pak Homogenizer 250, the first of a new generation of homogenizers with advanced smart control. One major aspect of the smart system is continuous monitoring. Thanks to a series of sensors on critical parts of the homogenizer, the system can tell when the machine has a problem and requires attention.

The smart system is based on the analysis of performance data accumulated over the last five years from 7,000 homogenizers installed around the world. So the system is based on solid experience and analysis. Trend analysis uses real-time readings from pressure, vibration and conductivity sensors built into the new homogenizer to predict when parts will become worn out and need replacement.

Cloud-based predictive maintenance

The next step is to store all this data in the cloud to keep the database continuously updated. The stream of data from all the connected units and production lines can be used to learn more. New information is used to uncover meaningful insights using advanced analysis.

Increasingly, Tetra Pak lines are being connected to the cloud for data collection, with the information sent to Tetra Pak’s Quality and Performance Management Centre. There the data is analyzed by experts who have access to performance data from thousands of other connected units. They can make highly qualified recommendations to avoid unplanned downtime. This has enabled Tetra Pak to offer a predictive maintenance service, which is offered through service agreements. It is just one of the many new digitalization possibilities which are being opened up by the use of industrial IoT.

Even though the plants of the future may be literally dark places, there are many bright sides to the coming revolution in terms of energy efficiency, reduced waste and improved product quality.

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