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.
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.
A production-management MES module can help workers make sure they download the correct recipe with equipment specifications for each production run, and print accurate labels from production to palletizing. Accurate labels can be especially critical for consumer protection—incorrect labeling is one of the core factors in food recalls as outlined by the U.S. FDA.
A quality-management MES module can help reinforce food quality. The software can alert workers when they should take samples or which specification they should be measuring against. It can also provide integrated video instruction, notify operators when there is a deviation (SPC function) from critical limits, and collect any required production data in real time.
In addition, to meet new and emerging traceability requirements, food and beverage manufacturers can deploy a supply-chain, track-and-trace system. Beyond regulatory compliance, these systems can provide added business benefits, such as the ability to conduct more efficient product recalls and support customer-targeted marketing programs. They can also improve production costs through the mitigation of waste due to quality-related issues.
Mixing optimization solutions can help manage process changes and ingredient variability to improve product consistency. This can help in applications ranging from single repeatable processes to large processes that have complex sequencing requirements.
Rather than designing an in-house, track-and-trace system, which can be difficult to sustain over the long term, food producers should consider using an out-of-the-box system. Such systems can be easily integrated into a production line while providing buffering and translation to achieve interoperability all the way from the machine to the cloud. An MES system provides a reliable platform to maintain data integrity while being customizable for an application’s specific requirements.
Model predictive control (MPC) software can help improve product quality caused by equipment and ingredient variability. MPC systems take multiple, variable material or system inputs that may not react linearly and provide one or more outputs.
The MPC software adjusts the system as the materials enter the conversion process instead of adjusting based on the measured values after conversion. The reduced variance in output often allows the system to adjust target values closer to formula limits, resulting in higher yields.
Finally, food and beverage manufacturers shouldn’t underestimate the role that machine analytics can play in food safety. Scalable analytics software can be deployed as close to the source of data as needed, and track machine or device performance to see if it’s operating within specification limits. Manufacturers can then use that information to take preventive actions and resolve machine-degradation issues before they start to impact product quality.
The Security Factor
As food and beverage manufacturers bring their food quality applications online, they must also have a robust industrial-security program in place.
A security-through-obscurity approach is not sufficient for today’s vast and continually evolving threats. Instead, a multilayered, defense-in-depth security approach should be deployed as a natural extension of a producer’s production processes.
Defense-in-depth security establishes several lines of defense against all types of threats by deploying security measures at six levels: physical, network, computer, application, device, and policy. Every organization’s security strategy will be unique. However, key safeguards that every food and beverage manufacturer should consider include an industrial DMZ, data encryption, anomaly-detection software, and authentication, authorization, patch management, and accounting software.
Food safety issues reverberate far and wide. Most importantly, they can affect the well-being of consumers. From a business standpoint, they can seriously disrupt operations, damage brand reputation, and have financial consequences ranging from lawsuits to lost sales.
Food and beverage manufacturers have a lot at stake. They should leverage the opportunities offered by a Connected Enterprise to better manage today’s challenges and help protect the integrity of every product that rolls off the line.
Bonnet is an information solutions regional manager at Rockwell Automation. Reach him at Jlbonnet@ra.rockwell.com. Reinarts is a global technical consultant at Rockwell Automation.