Food and beverage manufacturers have always had to find a balance between maintaining food safety and maximizing productivity. Today, however, a combination of internal and external pressures can make that balance harder than ever to maintain.
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First, driven by new regulations and a desire to improve competitiveness, food and beverage manufacturers must be able to gain insights from large quantities of data. Manual data collection and paper-based records are no longer feasible strategies. Instead, manufacturers need secure, connected and information-enabled operations.
Second, production has also become more complex. As producers have expanded their product and packaging varieties to satisfy more diverse consumer preferences, their operations have transitioned to shorter production runs and more frequent changeovers. Amid this greater complexity, producers must not lose their grip on food safety.
Third, as production complexity grows, the workforce is undergoing a dramatic demographic shift. Experienced workers are retiring, and a younger generation of workers are taking their place. These younger workers don’t have the deep experience of their predecessors with the legacy plant technologies. As a result, they may not be able to identify potential food safety issues or achieve the same level of consistent quality.
Finally, recalls in the era of social media can hurt a company’s bottom line and its long-term reputation. Today, food and beverage manufacturers must be fast and laser-focused when conducting recalls to limit costs and brand damage.
So, how can producers protect food safety amid all these challenges and still increase productivity? By tapping into the power of smart manufacturing.
Smart manufacturing presents an opportunity for food and beverage manufacturers to gain better insights into food production processes, and to resolve or help prevent food safety issues in new ways.
Real-time data can be collected from virtually any aspect of an operation and contextualized to provide actionable information when and where it’s needed. That information can be seamlessly shared across all levels of an organization to improve quality- and safety-related decision-making. And the digitization of physical processes—such as data collection and reporting—can help improve both productivity and information accuracy.
For all this to happen, however, food and beverage manufacturers must first converge their operations-technology (OT) and information-technology (IT) systems into a single network architecture. They must also adopt the enabling technologies that thrive on this network architecture, like Ethernet, cloud computing, and mobile platforms.
Rockwell Automation refers to this connected, information-enabled operating environment as “The Connected Enterprise.”
Food Safety in the Digital Age
By embracing smart manufacturing in a Connected Enterprise, food and beverage manufacturers can take command of food safety in new and better ways.
Rather than having isolated islands of data, manufacturers can collect from multiple sources and centrally store information to have an entire perspective of how their products are made. Most historian software solutions are well-adapted to collecting large quantities of data. However, enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI) software can also provide workers with data-rich dashboards, offering job-specific insights into food quality and safety processes.
For example, EMI software can use existing data on variables such as speed, current, and time, and aggregate them with data coming from other systems, including batch and recipe IDs. This can turn into actionable information related to critical control points and CIP data for regulatory compliance, continuous-improvement goals, and other purposes.
On the other hand, a scalable manufacturing execution system (MES) can help manufacturers reinforce quality rules based on specific recipes, customer demands, or market constraints while tracking quality in real time. Process data can also be fed into an MES to create consistent workflows and help ensure that each batch is the same, even as raw materials vary.