Digitalization is everywhere. It is ongoing all throughout society, and it is of course happening in the ice cream industry too. So how does the team at our competence centre for ice cream production in Aarhus, Denmark, approach this – at least partly – new reality? How can the ice cream experts of Tetra Pak help producers navigate the opportunities and meet the challenges digital solutions bring? Find out here, as ice cream Portfolio Manager Elsebeth Baungaard and Automation & Product Manager Rasmus Laerke share their views.
What is their philosophy on digital innovations for the ice cream industry? A big question – so let’s take a step back and look at a broader context. Rasmus explains:
“When it comes to the things we offer, you could say there are three components or steps: automation, orchestration and analysis. The first layer is about making the machines run: reliable automation. Layer two is about the whole infrastructure – connecting things so they fit together without a lot of engineering. That is the orchestration. And then there’s the analysis part, which is where you really capture the value for customers. Because this is where we enable them to make better everyday decisions. So the overall philosophy is to continue to make reliable, robust machines, then to enable the orchestration part with our products, and, finally, to make it easier to integrate and analyze the performance of our machines.”
The three components combined enable digital solutions for ice cream.
It is quite common to look upon the digitalization process as a journey. And on that journey, every ice cream producer is in a different place. For Elsebeth and Rasmus, it is important to meet the customer, no matter where their digital travels have taken them so far.
“Some customers ask us for advice on how to best make use of the data. Some already have a very clear picture of what they want. And then there are some in the middle, where we are exchanging ideas on how to achieve the results that they're looking for,” says Rasmus.
In short, it is about cooperation and about listening. To help customers in the best possible way – but also to learn.
“Our machines are run in different ways by different customers. So we need to adapt to how the customer looks at the production process, how they plan, how they work with maintenance, and to the skill level of their operators. And to how they want to use the data. This is why it's so important that we are in close cooperation with our customers and develop solutions together with them. Because it is our customers that work with the lines – they know our machines inside out, and that's why their input is so important for us,” says Elsebeth.
Out with the old, in with the new? Yes, digitalization is sometimes described as a revolution, something that turns things upside down and means that all established ways of working are thrown out the window. But does it have to be that way? Well, as Elsebeth and Rasmus see it, a ‘start small’ approach may very well be the way to go. Elsebeth explains:
“It’s easy to get the impression that digitalization requires huge, very complex and very complicated projects. Instead, we try to make products that are smaller and concentrate on defined areas of the line. We utilize AI to enhance quality control, for example.”
With this approach, moving into the digital realm can feel less overwhelming. In essence, it is about taking small steps and gradually moving forward. MVPs – Minimum Viable Products – also follow the same logic. The process is about speed and flexibility, and also ties into the importance of customer cooperation.
“In the MVP process, we get our product out to the customer and run it. Then we try to get as much feedback as possible to adjust and improve the design for the next release,” says Rasmus.
Digital solutions are new to the industry. But the journey is definitely well underway. Elsebeth again:
“The market is going digital. We need to be ready and at the forefront. Keep listening to our customers and develop solutions together with them to ensure that we meet their requirements and needs. And I believe we can really add value, as we combine the machines with our ice cream knowledge and the digital solutions.”
“We bring knowledge of the machines and process, and it is also about easy integration. If we are difficult to work with when it comes to the technical solution and integration, customers will find someone else. We need to be easy to work with, and then we put the knowledge on top,” adds Rasmus.
Reduced environmental impact is already on the agenda for every player in the food industry. And it is definitely there to stay. To be able to follow up on carbon footprint and various sustainability targets, what do you need? You’ve guessed it: data.
“We do see that digitalization is an enabler here. It will help in the transformation to more sustainable production. If we want to do something about the consumption of energy and water, and the waste we create, we need to measure and collect data. Only then can we improve. By analyzing the data, learn from it and take action on it – that is how we can meet targets. This is already underway. And if we look three, five or ten years ahead, more and more customers will want data to make measurements on their carbon footprint,” says Elsebeth.
A key focus area for producers is cost per product. This is about operational efficiency and keeping downtime and waste to a minimum. Furthermore, in many parts of the world, it can be hard to find highly skilled operators. Digital solutions can help here too, as they can simplify the work and make tasks less demanding for operators.
Digital tools can help improve the working environment, and enable learning and improvements. However, everyone might not always embrace change – or digitalization – immediately. Elsebeth and Rasmus see this as natural – the digital solutions need to prove their value before they can become everyday parts of the operator’s toolbox.
“The digital products are there to support. They are the operator’s best friend, as they help them operate the machines in the best way,” says Elsebeth.