Food firms urged to exploit intelligent supply chains

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

Food and drink companies should exploit the Industrial Internet of Things
Food and drink companies should exploit the Industrial Internet of Things

Related tags: Automation

Food and drink manufacturers need to be “nimble enough to evolve on the fly” in embracing the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) if they want to avoid losing business, a software expert has claimed.

Firms should consider all necessary steps to develop more intelligent supply chains, however small, in order to counter an increasing regulatory environment, according to John Fryer, a director at Stratus Technologies.

Reforms to regulation have manifested themselves in different ways, from new hazard analysis critical control points to new quality checks throughout the supply chain, to better traceability of source materials, Fryer said.

“At its core, however, these changes have driven a shift where food and beverage companies have needed to find ways to squeeze every ounce of speed, efficiency and responsiveness from their global supply chain,”​ he added.

Fryer recommended analysis in real-time as a way for companies to improve their supply chains without compromising food safety.

‘The future of processes’

“Historically, things like hazard analysis have been performed by manually collecting samples and sending them to labs for analysis. The future of processes like these is digital, more automated and occurring in-line,”​ he said.

Information is pushed to operators through chemical analysis, spectroscopic analysis and more, and made available immediately to centralised quality systems, Fryer explained.

“In an environment like this, manufacturers are able to identify and better understand potential problems in real-time,” ​he added.

“This is critical because the cost of quality problems grows the further down the production process you catch them. And automating these processes relieves food engineers of a variety of time-consuming processes, freeing them up to better monitor their systems and manage their operations.”

‘Rip and replace’ overhaul

With the number of moving pieces in a food and beverage operation, a complete “rip and replace​” overhaul of existing IT systems might seem like an impossibly large endeavour to many manufacturers.

However, according to fryer, the beauty of the IIoT is that it can be an evolutionary process, even if it seemed in theory like a major undertaking.

“Using IIoT technologies to connect and supplement existing automation systems are really just the low-hanging fruit that can immediately begin to deliver new insights to operators,”​ he said.

“Operators may not be able to fully analyse complex new data sets on day one after revamping industrial automation systems, but even just feeding real-time quality and production information to operators’ handhelds can be immediately valuable.”

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