Industry 4.0 Food and Beverage Manufacturing Sector

September 7, 2021

The latest evolution in manufacturing, Industry 4.0 is the next frontier in boosting productivity, reducing manufacturing costs, and enhancing process efficiency. Industrial manufacturing has come a long way since the 1700s and each incremental “industrial revolution” was based on technology that has played a role in shaping the manufacturing sector of today.

In the 1780s, Industry 1.0 emerged with mechanization and industrial production was powered by machines run on water and steam. Industry 2.0 rose on the back of electrification in the 1870s, and assembly lines enabled mass production. Nearly a century later, in the 1970s, Industry 3.0 emerged in the form of automation, thanks to the emergence of computers and electronics. Industry 3.5, or globalization, followed close in the heels of automation, and in the 1980s, production in many sectors was offshored to low-cost economies to reduce manufacturing and overhead costs. Finally, the present era has paved the way for Industry 4.0 or digitization by means of digital technologies, data, and analytics.

However, it would be inaccurate to assume that every sector followed the same cleanly charted out path towards modernization. While some ‘pioneer’ industries may have adopted incremental technology as it emerged, others lingered behind and then leapfrogged directly from Industry 2.0 to Industry 4.0. Yet others, like the food manufacturing sector in Canada, are still largely stuck in Industry 2.0, due to either real or perceived roadblocks. Even within a sector, advancement has not been uniform. For instance, in the food sector, the dairy industry has fared significantly better than the meat and meat production industry, largely because the dairy industry is in urban, accessible regions, whereas meat production is predominantly in rural areas. However, the industry does recognize the immense potential Industry 4.0 holds and is exploring adoption of digital technologies to increase its competitiveness.

What is Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 relies on the adoption of digital technologies to increase productivity, improve quality, and reduce cost of manufacturing. The use of these technologies is not limited to just manufacturing and supply chains, but spans across the end-to-end value chain to the point of customer use and beyond. Some of the potential applications of Industry 4.0 include:

  • Monitoring and controlling machinery in real-time: Sensors can be installed in machinery and equipment to monitor every step of the manufacturing process and collect real-time data. This can help track production and telemetry data, identify and rectify anomalies, measure production quality, and make strategic decisions to enhance manufacturing efficiency, reduce wastage, etc.
  • Predictive maintenance: Unscheduled downtime can disrupt manufacturing processes and can cause bottlenecks in the supply chain. Smart processes can be introduced, allowing machine data to be analyzed to predict required maintenance and automatically book maintenance appointments with technical personnel or issue alerts for new parts that may be required. Predictive maintenance can mitigate machinery breakdown and failure and ensure that issues can be preempted for timely resolution. This can also prevent downtime due to delays in technical support by scheduling maintenance well in advance.
  • Process optimization: Advanced analytics, optimization and simulations can be leveraged to identify possible scenarios for maintenance and production, enabling better decision-making to improve asset utilization and production.
  • Integrated computer networks: With digitization, organizations can use the internet to connect with not just customers, but also with their suppliers and business partners for seamless operations.
  • Smart products and devices: Smart products can be equipped with sensors to monitor usage and to alert customers of any impending maintenance requirements. This can also allow organizations to offer value-add services based on usage, offer product-as-a-service business models, or innovate based on customer feedback.
  • Paperless, digital documentation: Digitization of document processing can not only save paper and space but can also reduce manual involvement in processing paperwork like forms, orders, and invoices and allow organizations to leverage their human resources for more strategic tasks. Intelligent document processing solutions can also reduce time required for documentation and eliminate manual errors.

Transforming the Food and Beverage Manufacturing Industry with Industry 4.0

Change in the food and beverage sector has been spurred by evolving customer demands in terms of both variety and quality, strengthening legal and regulatory requirements, and the need to keep costs in check. From a consumer perspective, transparency about nutritional value, food safety, and reduction of packaging waste (or environmentally friendly packaging) are evolving concerns. Some of these concerns are addressed by legal standards such as food and environmental regulations, but with adequate consumer data, organizations can get a better understanding of consumer needs and preemptively make changes to nutritional values, shelf life, and packaging.

Industry 4.0 can enable food and beverage manufacturers to increase oversight of the end-to-end process and optimize their performance on four levels – products, equipment, manufacturing operations, and business processes and systems. By leveraging data and analytics, these manufacturers can identify and proactively resolve roadblocks, monitor operations, and gather real-time data to make smart, data-based decisions.

Broadly, Industry 4.0 helps food and beverage manufacturers in a multitude of ways, including:

Enhanced food safety surveillance, traceability, and product recall

Smart machines can interact with each other and enable greater traceability across the food manufacturing value chain. This not only helps manufacturers ensure consistency in quality, but also allows them to meet supervisory and regulatory requirements. For instance, emerging food safety regulations and other governmental norms require more detailed tracking and record-keeping, right from the point of sourcing raw materials to point of sale. With Industry 4.0, manufacturers can keep in-depth records of raw material sourcing, batch numbers, manufacturing process, storage, and transportation. Sensors in storage containers and transport vehicles, for instance, can monitor temperatures, humidity, and other telemetric data to ensure that the conditions are consistent with the standards needed to preserve the quality and shelf life of food. Automatic alerts can be issued in case of potential issues that require the intervention of food safety inspections. Further down the value chain, Industry 4.0 ensures full traceability enabling quick product recalls, where needed.

Intelligent inventory management

Connected IoT devices and machines can enable leaner, more efficient inventory management. In the food manufacturing setup, sensors can use data to track inventory, identify when stock needs to be replenished, and automatically activate or order consignments. Data regarding shelf life, expiration dates, and stock quantity can be automatically analyzed to recommend consignment size and frequency, and intelligently adapt inventory plans to market demands. Digitized, intelligent labelling also allows product status to be automatically updated on cloud-based systems or for warehouse employees to quickly track number of units available or units approaching expiry date. This ensures that the manufacturers’ inventory management is cost-effective, well-organized, and is equipped to minimize wastage due to overstocking and spoilage.

Improved food quality and reduction in wastage

In addition to smart storage and transportation sensors which ensure that ideal conditions are being maintained for food items in storage and transit, Industry 4.0 also opens avenues for anomaly detection during manufacturing itself. Image-based anomaly detection or analysis of telemetry data can identify issues in early stages and reduce the reliance on production supervisors for manual oversight and rectification of issues. Moreover, connected supply chains allow for timely usage (by tracking expiry dates) and for easy identification of deteriorating materials for disposal.

Efficient supply chain management

By using digital tags and sensors, food manufacturers can track their products at every stage within the supply chain, leading to leaner supply chain operations. Each product will essentially be traceable from the source of production to retail shelf by batch or serial numbers, enabling product recalls or efficient damage assessment, if needed. Industry 4.0 enables a clear, transparent view of the entire supply chain, exposing bottlenecks, and recommending next-best-actions for strategic decision-making.

Production efficiency with robotics and IoT

IoT-enabled devices can increase process efficiency by enabling real-time tracking and monitoring. They can also play a key role in logistics planning, such as by recommending alternative routes to ensure materials are delivered on time. Smart machines can also prevent expensive downtime by triggering warnings for maintenance and preemptive repair issues, allowing time for predictive maintenance in advance of machine failure. Self-driving vehicles and autonomous robots can minimize manpower costs, increase manufacturing and warehousing efficiency, and reduce spoilage of products during handling.

Roadblocks in Adoption of 4.0 in the Food & Beverage Manufacturing Space

Despite spending billions of dollars on machinery and equipment each year, the bulk of the Canadian food and beverage industry is still firmly entrenched in Industry 2.0 and even complete automation of the manufacturing process is yet to be done. However, the industry recognizes the advantages that automation and digitization could bring for their processes, especially in terms of reducing reliance on manual labor.

The degree of advancement within the F&B manufacturing space is highly diverse, with meat processing, seafood, and vegetable processing being at the lowest tier, and operations like dairy, juice, beverage manufacturing being fairly ahead.

Some of the major challenges that have prevented the adoption of Industry 3.0 and 4.0 are as follows:

  • Lack of labor – As most of the food manufacturing industry (except dairy industry) is based in rural areas outside of cities, there is a severe shortage of both skilled and unskilled labor. One of the major roadblocks in industrial transformation has been the underlying need for more skilled resources (instead of the previously needed unskilled labor). With Industry 4.0, however, a significant percentage of the oversight and monitoring can be done remotely, which would reduce the need for on-site resources.
  • Breakdown and repair-related challenges – Due to the location of the plants, many manufacturers have been reluctant about investing in advanced technology and equipment, fearing that their own people will be unable to resolve issues or repair equipment in the case of breakdown. Such incidents typically necessitated specialized technicians to be brought in, and the machines often lay idle in wait of repair. Smart sensors and predictive maintenance capabilities could bring respite to these manufacturers, allowing maintenance and repair needs to be preempted in advance of machine failure. This will provide ample time for technicians to be brought in, or for remote support in internet-enabled facilities.
  • Cost considerations – The cost of a transformative exercise has been a perceived barrier for many industries. Some industries equate automation to more risk, especially in times of unstable demand, and fail to acknowledge the value that automation and digitization can add to their manufacturing process. The initial cost investment in advancing to Industry 4.0 can reduce operational costs, resourcing costs, increase process efficiency, reduce wastage, and lower compliance costs for most manufacturing organizations.
  • Lack of locally-produced equipment – Canada has very limited production of machinery and equipment needed for food and beverage manufacturing, and most of the industry relies on equipment manufactured in Europe. This has created roadblocks for adoption of new technology, and already industry organizations are trying to convince players in the manufacturing space to innovate and speed up adoption of emerging technologies.
  • Inadequate government and research support – Another big drawback has been the lack of backing by the government, in terms of research and financial incentives for the adoption of new technology. Programs like the Strategic Innovation Fund are attempting to incentivize innovation, however, there is a need for focused programs targeting the food and beverage manufacturing industry.

The advantages of Industry 4.0 far outweigh the pain points faced by the food and beverage manufacturing industry. The advancement of industrial development will continue unabated, and early adopters are already seeing the returns of their investment. However, for sustainable, inclusive development, it is essential that sectors that are lagging – especially when those sectors are as critical as food and beverage manufacturing – can be brought onboard and encouraged to adopt latest technologies such as automation and digitization.

At Adastra, we have been helping industry players across sectors with end-to-end transformation in order to deliver increased productivity, efficiency, and cost-reduction. Our expertise in the area of data and analytics makes us a preferred partner for organizations in all stages of their digital transformation journey. Our experts have built and deployed advanced solutions for supply chain management, anomaly detection, and data-led monitoring and tracking for many manufacturing organizations. We offer a full suite of services, ranging from cloud migrations and data estate modernization to advanced analytics and AI solutions and managed services, to effectively meet your unique organizational needs.

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