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Food processing and Industry 4.0

The food processing industry has been innovating for many years, now with bespoke production lines created to perform many tasks. And today it has a new challenge … to embrace the fourth industrial revolution, or more widely known in this digital age as Industry 4.0.

From steam power and mass production assembly lines through to computerised automation, we now see industry being led by cyber physical production systems (CPPS) where data is collected for the purposes of creating fully automated systems that interact, update and share to deliver design and production excellence.

The automotive industry has this mastered. The production line will know that this next car needs to be black, with red leather trim, 19-inch alloy wheels and will house a hybrid engine, among a thousand more intricate commands to produce, at the end of the line, the desired vehicle.

Ok, so in our protein, bakery or dairy worlds, our wants and demands are very different. But what we do share is a LEAN objective, and that’s to have optimum productivity and next to zero downtime. Zero would be nice but let’s not get too carried away just yet.

Food processing invariably involves many processes, delivered by individual machines that are linked together. Many smart thinking manufacturers are now integrating these systems, even for retro-fit, but other factories still operate with a solution that is bolted together.

Therefore, the food-processing environment seems ready-made for such advancements. But how will this benefit our customers, and us?

Firstly, we should consider our objectives. In addition to delivering a brief on time, we need to ensure that productivity is at its highest, downtime is reduced as far as is possible and with less wastage.

Sparc’s machines can ensure that the product is the correct size, specification and weight, is free from contaminants and is labelled and packaged correctly.

And one of the ways we’re helping to reduce downtime (and even to predict it) is by delivering live data and messages from the machine to either super users or host systems.

Efficient automation, monitoring and delivery allow us to be more agile, and react quicker to shorter, longer or more bespoke runs. This way we aren’t just being LEAN, we are diversifying.

That means front, middle and end of lines are collaborating to include checkweighing, X-raying, labelling and inspection. It will also help with the implementation of future track and trace processes, for a whole host of uses around managing the journey of a product.


Eliminating one of the biggest threats to our livelihoods

At Sparc, we are striving to meet this vision and, coming from a pharmaceutical beginning, we have learned how to be painstaking in our approach.

For example, our SparcEye technology addresses the increased need for visual packaging control due to smaller batch sizes and the avoidance of mistakes during product switchovers.

In fact, due to shorter batch runs and increased numbers of line switchovers, all Sparc systems can change three technologies in one human machine interface (HMI) and one button. This compares to competitors offering three HMIs on different machines.

The move to greater automation and efficient technologies will also help to eliminate one of the biggest threats to our livelihoods – product recalls. A product recall is quite possibly a manufacturer’s worst nightmare. It has both seen and unseen costs and can have huge impacts, internally for the business and, indeed, externally to our public and stakeholders.

There is a cost to both create and recall the product that can often be confounded by external professional services – legal, PR, the list goes on.

Furthermore, and crucially, a product recall, or an “alien” ingredient in food produce, can have a detrimental health impact upon the consumer. In the age of the ether in which we now all live, bad news can travel quite literally at the speed of light.

Our factories are very smart, but we could still move further, and into the arena of the “smart factory” where the “Internet of Things” is really playing its part – or the “Internet of Services” as it’s being called in manufacturing.

By incorporating greater interoperability, enhanced information transparency, improved technical assistance and decentralised decisions – we’ll be combining the four design principles of Industry 4.0.

A smart factory encapsulates all that our industry has stood for in the past and I’m fully aware that manufacturers of machinery are developing such ideas to meet the growing and often complex demands of our customers.

We should embrace Industry 4.0. It’s not the future, it’s the present.

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