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Food and beverage manufacturers today face pressure from shrinking margins, shifting consumer demand and increasing regulatory burdens. In search of solutions to these issues, I’ve heard increasing interest around Smart Manufacturing, Industrie 4.0, Digital Twin and/or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) initiatives. Fundamentally, these terms are all methods of describing digital transformation – the leveraging of digital technology to enable new offerings, business models and markets.
While digital transformation may sound new and unfamiliar, the truth is that the majority of businesses have 90% of the components needed in place. So don’t panic! You’re doing the right things already. Your plant is not exploding, the food isn’t rotting and nothing is on fire. There are several important considerations as you continue your digital transformation journey, the most important of which is to have a well understood strategy in place. Digital strategies vary widely, but typically include these five core elements.
By following the guidelines below, food and beverage manufacturers can improve operational performance, increase recipe agility, maximize asset reliability and ensure quality and regulatory compliance. The plant floor is the key link in every manufacturer’s value chain so the digitalization initiatives undertaken there are essential to support the desired business outcomes of cost management and revenue growth.
Empower the workforce
It’s important not to overlook the human element of digital transformation. People are responsible for the actual maintenance, operations and strategic decision making, so it’s critical that organizations focus on technologies that empower people with actionable intelligence. There are limitless opportunities with enterprise data capture, advanced analytics and other technologies, but if they can’t understand the insights your system delivers, that information is of limited value.
Integrated workflow, natural language search and mobile access capabilities are key to empowering workers with the actionable insights they need to make informed decisions, when and where they need them. The new millennial workforce is critical in an industry where 77 percent of executives list a labor shortage as their largest challenge, so providing the information and guidance needed with familiar devices and user experiences can accelerate learning and adoption.
Focus on adding incremental value
With shrinking margins, it’s critical to implement digital transformation efforts that can show ROI. Looking at existing investments, what solutions can help you unlock the next level of efficiency for your business? For instance, if you are already collecting data from the majority of your operations and assets, have strong condition-based maintenance in place and are evaluating how you can get to the next level of efficiency, predictive maintenance solutions identify problems days, weeks or months before they become operational, enabling improved asset reliability and performance. When implementing a digital transformation initiative such as predictive maintenance software, start with mission-critical assets to ensure the maximum return on investment, then consider broadening the implementation to include other assets.
Consider a lightweight deployment model
Food and beverage manufacturers have grown to scale through mergers and acquisitions and as a result, these companies operate a diverse assortment of plants and equipment, producing varied products that must comply with global regulations and standards. Consider how to deploy digital transformation initiatives across multiple, global sites with varying equipment and differing levels of existing automation.
Advances in IIoT technologies, low-cost sensing and cloud computing have enabled the development of lightweight cloud solutions for functions such as data management, advanced analytics and OEE monitoring, facilitating rapid deployment for simplified multi-site implementation. Cloud solutions have the additional benefit of collapsing the automation stack, bridging the divide across the control, operations and enterprise layer for increased communication and data access. When implementing a production control system, a model-driven Manufacturing Execution System (MES) facilitates the implementation of multi-site digital transformation.
Drive operational excellence across the value chain
Enacting digital transformation is not an “out-of-the-box” and I recommend taking a phased approach. To learn more about the benefits of digital transformation, register for our upcoming webinar.
What digital transformation initiatives have you initiated? Let us know your experiences in the comments section.