In a globalized world, more and more of the food we eat is produced non-locally. In fact, food and beverage supply chains very often span continents! The food processing industry plays a vital role in these global supply chains, ensuring the food at our table is safe to eat, nutritious, tasty, and affordable. Even with a high degree of automation and regulatory oversight, this industry is plagued by periodic outbreaks of contamination and enormous amounts of waste. Fortunately, new Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) technologies are showing us exciting possibilities in addressing these challenges.
What can IIoT enable?
Advanced sensor technologies monitor not just basic physical attributes like temperature and pressure, but also material contamination and specific bio-hazards (e.g. specific types of mold). Artificial Intelligence algorithms process images and data streams in real time to determine quality. Standard, IP-based protocols minimize waste by offering a comprehensive view of the entire food processing line and where the bottlenecks lie. Intelligent transportation solutions monitor food through the logistics chain. Block chain technologies help contain outbreaks by establishing provenance and minimizing waste. Mobile computing and small-form-factor sensors allow monitoring of processes at an incredible granularity. Disruptive open source hardware and software are breaking the shackles of proprietary vendor technologies. If sensors, gateways and cloud-computing are the vital organs of this complex ecosystem, Industrial IoT software is the nervous system that brings them together to deliver business outcomes.
The food and beverage industry operates in an environment of intense competition, ever-changing customer preferences and constant scrutiny of regulatory bodies. Of all its priorities, the highest one is to guarantee safety of our food. Sensors that can zero-in on specific contaminants and are embedded in each granular step in the processing line are vital in detecting problems early. This allows corrective action before the batch goes further through the supply chain, avoiding millions of dollars spent in recalls, lost customers and damaged brand reputation. Moreover, automation of regulatory reporting requirements is a huge cost-saver, eliminating expensive yet unreliable methods of sampling and manual measurements.
Running an efficient food and beverage processing line is contingent on just-in-time sourcing, high Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE), pervasive monitoring and real-time control. Managing inventory through visual, weight and proximity sensors ensures ingredients are available just when they are needed. When supplies dwindle, orders can be placed through the ERP systems and stock updated - all automatically. Here again, standard IoT protocols help integrate “IT” systems such as ERP with “OT” systems such as storage tanks. High equipment efficiency (OEE) can be ensured by monitoring equipment for early signals of breakdown - preventing line stops and scrap. Pervasive monitoring can be accomplished by instrumenting IoT-ready equipment and retrofitting legacy equipment, using analytics/AI to help uncover inefficiencies and optimization strategies. Finally, monitoring is not enough - humans and increasingly, machines have to take action based on monitoring. Here, building intelligence at the edge to process monitoring data, determining the right course of action through a rules engine and fast real-time control of the line are key success factors.
How can it be implemented?
While industry pioneers have demonstrated the potential, far too many in this industry continue to face a hard choice between protecting their legacy investments and embracing the cutting edge. To realize its true potential, Industrial IoT has to offer cost-efficient solutions to retrofit legacy machinery and “connect the unconnected”. Here, some of the successful strategies have been - connecting existing analog sensors to IP-enabled controllers or gateways, leveraging routers and access points to provide local intelligence and attaching non-invasive auxiliary sensors (e.g. sonic or electromagnetic sensors).
To prove these strategies, we recommend a rapid prototype that solves your most important business problem, with a small representative set of sensors, an industrial-grade gateway and customizable off-the-shelf software. The Industrial Starter Kit developed by relayr in partnership with Tech Data, Cisco and IFM is specifically designed for this purpose. The Industrial Starter Kit also includes consulting from IIOT experts at relayr and an optional business outcome guarantee.
We have just scratched the surface - IIOT opens a new world of opportunities not just for the food and beverage industry but for us, the consumers in making our food safer, affordable and sustainable. We say Bon Appetit to the new possibilities!