By 2020, the Earth’s population is expected to rise from 7 billion to 9 billion. The agricultural sector will need to find ways to produce more food in order to meet this increasing demand for supply. However, there is another way to help address this deficit—avoiding food waste by preventing or limiting recalls.
Across the industry, people are paying attention to this issue and are focusing on preventing it. But, oddly enough, the USDA states that the amount of food recalled nationally increased by 37 million pounds between 2015 and 2016. How can that be?
This uptick is likely caused by more diligence and sophisticated analysis tools on the part of food manufacturers, making them capable of finding more issues earlier and more completely. While increased vigilance for quality is good, the resulting increase in recalls can also result in significant costs to the manufacturer—the average being $10 million in direct costs according to a study by the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association—and may tarnish the brand, leading to poor market performance against competitors.
In order to prevent recall risks, food manufacturers today are using a variety of techniques. One example, DNA analysis, can sense when ingredients are unsafe and could affect food quality or product safety. However, while manufacturers may have controls set up to monitor their own processes, they are missing specific, beginning-to-end monitoring of their entire supply chain, including raw materials through packaging and distribution, which will help them recalibrate and adjust to this new-found visibility. This need for beginning-to-end monitoring makes the food and beverage industry ripe for disruption with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Although it sounds like a large undertaking, food manufacturers looking to adopt the IIoT will only have a few main things to consider when first starting out.
Intelligent Tracking Technology
Digitization of the food supply, from farms to warehousing to food distribution and retailing, enables the IIoT to leverage technologies that monitor and analyze the entirety of the process. The IIoT has the potential to address many challenges, including food quality, timeliness of delivery, waste, spoilage, and recalls. Leveraging sensor technologies and real-time data analytics has allowed food manufacturers to precisely monitor incoming ingredients through the adoption of track and trace techniques.
This IIoT technology can gather specific details about crops, narrowing down to the exact row in a vegetable field where something was grown. Similarly, food manufacturers can now monitor finished products in real time from the manufacturing facility to the consumer, presenting manufacturers with the opportunity to mitigate issues that could lead to a food safety issue or spoiled product before it happens.
For example, this can give manufacturers insights into temperature changes during transport. A real-time monitoring, IIoT-based sensor and analytics system could quickly and accurately identify if products are being exposed to dangerous temperature shifts and gain insights into which batch of products might be affected in order to limit the damage. In addition to limiting wastage, it will provide valuable insight to help avoid future issues and can provide peace of mind to manufacturers who will know their product is being taken care of even after it has left their hands.
Implementing the IIoT
The benefits IIoT technology can bring to the food and beverage industry are undeniable, especially to help reduce recalls. Yet, thin margins and high competition are things food manufacturers need to consider before making the investment, which can sometimes make them slow or hesitant to move forward.
However, by knowing where to focus these efforts first and how it will pay off in the long run, manufacturers can make smart decisions when implementing the IIoT into existing processes. Three main factors to consider include the following.
1. Expand on and prioritize existing critical control points. Revamping an entire food production process with IIoT-based monitoring can be overwhelming and seem cost-prohibitive for most manufacturers. Instead, begin with areas that are most essential to food safety and quality, like the Hazards Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). Gathering and analyzing data in real-time from these critical supply, manufacturing, and distribution points will provide great returns in terms of mitigating recall risks by helping to find and avoid potential problems before they become costly issues. The long-term payoff of these investments can become instrumental to a plant’s success.
2. Ensure compliance through the IIoT. Implementing IIoT technologies can help food manufacturers address some of the challenges brought about by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Regulations from the FSMA increase individual food facilities’ obligations to prevent threats to the supply—the impacts of which most food manufacturers are all too familiar. The IIoT can bring about improvements such as test results that are immediately available to centralized quality systems through automated, in-line quality analysis. Through real-time chemical and spectroscopic analysis data, manufacturers can identify potential problems early in production and respond proactively before the product has been produced and shipped. This can drastically reduce the risk of a recall, large fines, and brand damage.
Another example of IIoT technology applications for supply chain compliance include the data produced, as this demonstrates to regulators that a food manufacturer is properly monitoring food quality and safety.
3. Protect and leverage data to decrease risk. Without data, the IIoT could not function and protecting the data that keep everything running is essential. In order to do that, manufacturers need to invest in systems that ensure the continuous operation of critical production and monitoring equipment. This can be done through high-availability, fault-tolerant systems that prevent data loss—from the systems that gather information throughout the supply chain to in-flight data in the cloud to permanent repositories. High availability can also increase manufacturers’ confidence in these systems.
IIoT Migration: The First Step
Forward-looking enterprises are viewing IIoT implementation as an opportunity to modernize automation systems and IT infrastructures. However, for most it is still a big undertaking. Fortunately, adopting the IIoT can be an evolutionary process. Most manufacturers will start with just a few implementations that target the most essential quality control points, as mentioned earlier. As the value from intelligent tracking, tracing and analysis of the food supply chain and production process is recognized, manufacturers can then extend IIoT infrastructure into new areas. To begin this journey, take a thorough look at your entire supply and demand chain and production process and identify which control points are most critical—and start there.
Andersen is vice president of business line management at Stratus Technologies. Reach him at email@example.com.