The emergence of Industry 4.0, with its use of digitally networked machines, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, blockchain, the internet of things and robotics, comes with an opportunity to develop more effective operations in dairy manufacturing plants. 

However, manufacturing digitization can also come with some critical challenges, such as connecting with unmodernized systems and various security concerns.

Let's examine which steps can dairy manufacturers take to upgrade their technology, while balancing the risks involved.

Challenge No. 1: Security concerns

Data is one of the most precious instruments a dairy company has, especially data on customers, workers, and intellectual property. It is unreasonable and extremely risky to leave it under-protected — exposing the company to hackers, ransomware attacks, legal action, penalties, system disruptions, and other undesirable effects.

For instance, in 2021, a dairy processor suffered a ransomware attack that resulted in shutting down its milk factories.

To mitigate the danger of data breaches and production halts, dairy manufacturers should automate threat detection, prevention, and response. This is possible by implementing a Zero Trust Architecture, machine learning, and blockchain technology.

Additionally, dairy manufacturers must have a cybersecurity strategy in place. If required, bringing in a cybersecurity specialist — to assist in finding areas where their defensive system is vulnerable — will be a major step-up in this effort.

Challenge No. 2: Employee reluctance

A dairy factory has many production areas, such as cold storage and manufacturing. Each area has a unique configuration, with one or more process controllers; they frequently feature an operator’s user interface for managing product movement from one process area to another. 

However, common errors done by the manufacturing workforce often lead to inefficiency, lower productivity, and to the occurrence of quality concerns. These errors can be simple: making mistakes at the initial set-up, not following assembly instructions correctly, or applying the wrong label on the product.

As a result of digitization, dairy manufacturers need to adopt new procedures, with employee retraining high on the to-do list. However, employees don’t always accept change easily. 

Change shouldn't be imposed whenever it’s feasible either. Instead, it ought to be the result of an ongoing discovery phase, one that gives employees the freedom to evaluate present procedures — and spot areas for change.

All company levels must participate in the discovery process. The president — or another top executive of the firm — should start it off, and key multi-departmental staff and decision makers should follow. All employee backgrounds and skills should be taken into account throughout this process.

Challenge No. 3: The lack of a comprehensive digital strategy

Digital transformation places dairy manufacturers in a predicament: they know they need to reform but are unsure of how and where to begin. Their position emphasizes the importance of having a plan in place. It is critical to identify digital optimization goals early in the planning phase. 

For example, let’s look at the installation of advanced sensors in packaging and processing lines. Factories can use data mining, in conjunction with the appropriate sensor technology, to filter out signals for operational parameters — enabling predictive maintenance. In this case, that entails replacing parts before they fail unexpectedly and cause plant outages. As a result, processing and packaging lines’ accessibility increases, enhancing overall production efficiency.

Once the essential sectors have been identified, the strategies for advancing digitization in the relevant field will almost certainly follow. For example, when receiving raw milk, the most important information is captured so that it may be processed digitally. Value-based intermediate products (fat and protein), and their use and application in final products, can be digitally recorded. Doing this enables a software-based accounting of raw materials, churning out valuable data for future use. 

Challenge No. 4: Unmodernized systems

It is quite challenging to adapt an outdated technological infrastructure to a smart factory environment. However, knowing that an entirely digitalized environment allows different systems to communicate the right data makes the effort a reasonable resource investment.

Given all the interdependencies that must be considered, updating technology may be quite difficult. Systems can be upgraded without affecting the production line, using a thoroughly tested parallel, phased, or piloted implementation method. Concerns about implementing future innovations can be averted by utilizing a more modular approach to technology, e.g. adopting common application programming interfaces (APIs).

If a dairy manufacturing plant modernizes its daily operations systems, business processes will reap great benefits. The systems are driven by sophisticated software that also offers greater traceability, with images and information on each product inspected. However, business systems and software may not be able to read, write, or transfer data as required if they are more than five years old. This means that dairy manufacturers need to ensure that the systems are up-to-date. After all, digitalization benefits product safety and quality as well.

Challenge No. 5: Learning curve

Not having the required expertise to deploy new manufacturing technology safely and securely is one of the main issues in dairy digitalization — but reaching out to outside experts helps solve it. In 2020, the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and ABB teamed up to offer IDFA members automated solutions and applications — including digital plant evaluations — to help their own digitalization efforts.

With any type of new technology, implementation can become an issue. Enlisting outside experts enables the organization to benefit from the knowledge, talents, and skills that they might not have access to otherwise. Outside specialists can provide rapid implementation assistance and training, assisting firms with breakthroughs such as: 

  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning 
  • Advanced data analytics 
  • Automation in augmented or virtual reality 
  • Cloud computing 
  • Sensors and the internet of things 
  • The infrastructure for wireless communication 
  • Models of zero trust.


Simply adopting digital technology does not constitute a successful digital transformation — some internal and external challenges could prevent the shift. The secret to overcoming every challenge, though, is to put your attention to the factors you can control and maximize performance.

Therefore, removing the barriers to change may help with overcoming these difficulties. Change the culture and the organizational structure of your company. Use a flexible architecture that can accommodate new technology. Doing so allows you to maximize resource utilization, satisfy standards for improved consumer safety, and to remain responsive to market demands.

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