Benefits of digitalisation give F&B plenty to chew on

The F&B industry has been slow to embrace technology, mainly because factories are typically between 30 and 50 years old, and many still rely on spreadsheets and paper production schedules. Organisations lumbered with legacy systems might have a complex conglomeration of equipment from across the ages, which lacks the connectivity that can provide data or be used as an internet of things (IoT) solution.

Also the F&B industry is traditionally conservative and because of food-safety issues those in charge of plants are naturally not overly keen on sharing data with the outside world. In addition, there are the fundamental problems of not knowing where to start with digital transformation or how much it will cost.

The pressure on F&B makers has never been higher. They must manage many complexities in parallel: uncompromising safety, hygiene, traceability and transparency; continuous, reliable operations in extreme temperatures and corrosive environments; and shorter product cycles with greater variation.

Many leaders of F&B organisations realise that it is becoming critical to adopt automation and other tech-powered solutions, as they will sharpen quality and improve productivity, and help them stay ahead of ever-increasing expectations of customers with competitiveness and agility. Some plants have only rudimentary, isolated pockets of automation, limited to programmable logic controllers (PLCs), and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. Another challenge has been connecting IoT solutions from different vendors and being unable to optimise efficiency as they will not communicate together.

Now, however, technology has caught up with expectation. ABB offers a range of end-to-end solutions, through plant assessments, our ABB Ability™ portfolio and centres of excellence, to help manufacturers benefit most from today’s technological opportunities.

We deliver technology that is used in factory machines and process lines to support flexible, cost-effective production. Specifically, we can assist with advanced scheduling, quality control, monitoring, tracking and tracing within the factory, as well as to and from the consumer, plus predictive maintenance, all while optimising energy efficiency.

For instance, the ABB Ability™ platform is a unified, cross-industry digital offering, extending from device to edge, to cloud, with devices, systems, solutions and services. It uses a standardised set of digital building blocks that can communicate with other platforms.

We provide plant assessments, interviewing the factory management team and analysing the current status of digitalisation. We then propose a list of potential solutions. These range from low-hanging fruit to more longer-term solutions that align with the organisation’s objectives. ABB implements the solutions and helps with training, which is essential in change management.

Low-hanging-fruit solutions can be installed relatively quickly and generate a quick return on investment, such as smart sensors that convert traditional motors, pumps and mounted bearings into smart, wirelessly connected devices. Another example is our Orange Box product that can be implemented in a day. It collects data from PLC connection points, sensors and other data sources, and thereby helps calculate the factory’s overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and identify where improvements can be made.

We have a group of F&B experts and industry customers who meet to discuss common challenges. We then collaborate with our partners to develop solutions for these challenges.

ABB is also driving innovation in the F&B industry and co-develop customised solutions through our ABB Customer Experience Centres and smart labs, dotted around the world.

Ultimately, all F&B plants will need to undergo digitalisation to some degree to keep pace with change. Early adopters in the industry are reaping the rewards and, after taking advantage of quick wins and establishing a long-term digital strategy, they stand the best chance of success in the future.

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