Is complex automation the only way to get food and beverage traceability?

I’m wondering why we are not  performing good traceability “manually” or at a simple machine level? Why does traceability systematically seem to imply large, automated SCADA solutions?

Tracibility for Process Automation

Tiger economies such as Thailand for example, face a difficult dilemma when it’s related to the Food and Beverage industry.  They are the fastest growing new economies and for now, seem to be the “growth engine” for machines and process builders from the mature economies.

In these countries, today’s operations are extremely manual because this was the most cost effective and versatile solution to produce food.  But because of their new leading position, Tiger economies have to start moving away from their “low cost” business model to a “more mature, more expensive” manufacturing model and have some challenges to overcome:

  • Labor and staff are quite efficient but have not yet reached the capabilities to manage an automated process
  • Generally speaking, labor costs are increasing in these tigers countries, even more in the technical field
  • There is no system to monitor, track, benchmark and optimize for the manual process
  • The Thai Bath (currency) is becoming stronger and stronger. This has a negative P&L impact on exportations (mainly US & Europe)
  • International regulations have become more and more demanding and do not accept lower standards for technology in Food and Beverage plants

All these challenges lead up to a difficult equation to solve.  Can these Tiger economies deal with the export margin reduction and guarantee the food safety at a global level (local consumers as well as export)?  Can they meet the need to invest in a solution that can be as versatile as the manual operation but capable of strong monitoring in order to make visible any profit or quality issues?  And finally, can they use the available skills without destabilizing the workers balance?

As I think about possible solutions, none of them seem to offer the perfect solution…

  • Delocalize production to lower labor cost countries. This won’t answer the key parts of the equation and has some limits anyway
  • Keep everything manual as it is and implement a manual traceability. How can this be acceptable by regulation entities?
  • Invest into brand new, fully automated plants. Very heavy CAPEX and it would induce a drastic change of labor skills.
  • Acquire high tech mid size brands / plants in mature economies and drop the actual manual plants. That seams to be unrealistic but keep in mind that the Food and Beverage industry is still highly fragmented, mainly maid of small / medium size companies. A quite surprising change of situation isn’t it?
  • Create “just enough” automated plant concept (simple to maintain automation, traceability at the machine level only). This may be my preferred choice, but any advice from you will be very welcome please!

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  • Adeleke Musediq Adegboyega

    10 years ago

    Really there is no substitute for automation plant this days. The development and growth in food and beverages manufacturing technologies will eventually grounded any plant or economy that fail to move with the trend. Process control and Traceability come ease with adequate automation system.
    However, this concept is capital intensive and required well plan CAPEX. The right choice is to gradually migrate from manual operation to automation. Though its easier say than done due to many known and unknown constraint the plant and concept will encounter but, its a venture that worth it risk and investment.

    • Eric Bonsignour

      10 years ago

      Thanks a lot for sharing this comments,
      Do you have any experience of such migrations to share with us please ? If so, we can discuss on line or privately.

  • lucaverre

    10 years ago

    Hi Eric,
    interesting reading.
    What about the solution of leaving the traceability as a service provided by the OEM of primary/secondary packaging machines ? I guess this is the point of the manufacturing chain where traceability becomes more critical. I could easily imagine some global Packaging OEM, or in general global F&B line manufacturers (in collaboration with SE for instance) providing cost-competitive machines (free to the limit) and earn money from services, hence moving the issue from CAPEX to OPEX and removing the problematics about low-skilled operators.
    In other words a sort of “business expansion services” which are becoming very diffused in such a market.

    • Eric Bonsignour

      10 years ago

      Thanks for sharing Luca,
      Yes, I know some Process OEMs that are working on solutions to manage by themselves traceability data for the End User. This is to reduce a bit CAPEX (not much due to all the hardware involved) & transfer some charges to OPEX. Unfortunately, traceability as it is most of the time is from farm to supermarket (fork to fork), not only at the packaging level. What I’m looking for is a solution to do pragmatic traceability without engaging into heavy SCADA that need high tech labor to handle it… Not an easy challenge but very relevant in new economies … Any ideas Luca?

  • Hany Fouda

    10 years ago

    Advances in sensing technology could potential provide this level of traceability without high CAPEX costs. MEMS combined with smart sensing technology will decentralize the need for SCADA and drive better data collection and decision support. Good enough automation plus cost effective smart sensing technology could be the answer.

    • Eric Bonsignour

      10 years ago

      Thanks Hany for sharing this vision
      Yes, intelligent sensors may be the way to go soon hopefully. DTM standard for example, is going into that direction
      What about wireless systems ? Any visions about that from your side ?

  • Traceability is a method to prove the origin and the destination of products ingredients, its packeging etc …
    The way to make this easy is to understand where it becomes difficult for operators to “follow” the process.
    And yes automation is a good way to help operators, manageers etc to follow what is happening.
    Alltough it does not need to be complex or with heavy SCADA reproting tools.
    The way is to understand the process and make a model in the software to capture start and stops and link it to production order ID or a unique reference to where you want your traceability to work.
    Traceability needs to be seen modular in different iterations “steps” products like OPC servers, MES, SCADA, Wireless button, UI,webinterfacing, level 4 interfacing, multi site linking should be taken step be step to achieve the traceability project farm to fork

    • Eric Bonsignour

      9 years ago

      Thanks a lot Peter for sharing,
      I do share the point of view Brighteye has on this matter.

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