Wikipedia, the world’s largest free-content encyclopedia, has over 41,000,000 articles in 294 languages. Without digitalization and the widespread use of computers, this wealth of knowledge would be impossible. Digitalization also stands to benefit the food and beverage industry.
Digitalization encompasses a transformation in the way industrial environments work. For the food and beverage industry, this means companies can better comply with legislation through a transformation in areas including connectivity, smart sensors, traceability, cloud computing and monitoring.
The shift toward digitalization is a natural continuation for leading food and beverage manufacturers, as the president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Pamela Baily explained.
“Food, beverage and consumer products manufacturers are leveraging innovation to optimize service to consumers and trading partners,” she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in six Americans suffers from a foodborne disease each year. Therefore, one of the largest concerns for the food and beverage industry is using technology to find the best method to keep well-maintained traceability records, which show the journey of food from farm to fork.
Similarly, in the European Union, the General Food Law Regulation (EC) 2002 requires business operators to keep detailed records of food they supply to others and food they receive from suppliers. Digitalization aids this process by automatically collecting data such as food temperatures throughout production.
Well-kept traceability records and sensor data can increase transparency among businesses, producers and consumers. This allows plant managers to respond faster in emergencies and use evidence to rebuild public trust following recalls.
Sensors can aid traceability in two ways: They can improve the accuracy of automated processes, and they can track and store a variety of manufacturing data. Time/temperature history, physical shocks and other important credentials can be continuously measured and synchronized across the factory thanks to the industrial internet of things (IoT). Sensors can form part of a device such as a smart container, or act standalone, depending on the needs and conditions of the manufacturing process.
In the future, smart containers may be able to self-diagnose and correct — for example, by self-heating the container so that it remains above a threshold set out by health and safety guidelines such as Regulation (EC) 852/2004. A similar product, self-chilling beverage cans, produced in a collaboration between Crown Cork & Seal and Tempra Technologies, are paving the way.
As the costs of connectivity reduce, all-in-one products such as this are likely to become common.
In 2016, for the first time, more than half of the world's developing population had internet access. As internet access widens and the price of networked devices drops, the volume of network traffic will rise.
Alongside this, the falling cost of producing devices such as Wi-Fi-enabled temperature sensors means they will become ubiquitous in industrial environments. However, more sensors lead to more raw data. This higher rate of data production presents issues of how to store and use the data.
WiFi connected versions of motion and temperature sensors, combined with cloud-based storage, may solve the problem of data capacity. Vast amounts of data can be instantly communicated, stored and analyzed in the cloud, supplying useful information about traceability, production costs and predictions.
Although almost 60 percent of U.S. food and beverage manufacturers use the IoT to track and trace ingredients, less than half are using the advanced analytics the IoT makes possible.
Cloud analytics, real-time monitoring and digital twinning — the ability to recreate the plant virtually — are just some of the techniques now helping plant managers in the food sector reduce unplanned downtime, improve safety and mitigate food emergencies.
Crucially, plant managers can use the cloud to adapt to seasonal changes in demand, flexibly altering production setups without causing wider disruption.
The huge amount of data produced by the connected factory can be used for many purposes in the food and beverage sector. For example, on farms, sensors are used to monitor soil conditions, using the data to predict when animals are in heat and text the farmer with the information.
“In the future, agricultural machinery will work as rolling data centers and sensor technology will provide all the important information in real time” predict PwC advisors. “The challenge for farmers will lie in intelligently networking the technology and managing the data.”
Raw technical data has its uses, but these are greatly enhanced when the sensor data are combined with maintenance or financial data. This consolidation allows the information to be useful for prediction, past analysis and optimization.
Although many businesses will be wary of the perceived complexity of undergoing digital transformation, it can bring about a true competitive advantage. Plant managers of the future should embrace the opportunities digitalization brings, just as approximately 70,000 active contributors have wholeheartedly adopted Wikipedia, an opportunity produced by consumer digitalization.