Chris Potts discusses maximising real-time information in the food processing industry
The use of technology is becoming increasingly intertwined with our everyday lives, and even more so within numerous industry operations. Covid-19 has of course exacerbated this fact, highlighting the importance of technology and encouraging companies to think innovatively to overcome the challenges they face.
There is no doubt that over the next decade investments in robotics, AI and IoT will transform manufacturing processes. The rise of the machine is evident and with predictions that machines will be responsible for half of all work tasks by 2025, it is clear that organisations must be able to respond to these changes.
With the further incorporation of automation within the food processing industry in particular, companies must maximise the use of real-time information to deliver operational efficiencies. With technology such as smart condition monitoring and communication tools, organisations can improve processes and employee safety – capitalising on innovation that can help businesses to adapt and thrive.
In the UK the food manufacturing industry is worth £83.7bn, with £95.5bn spent by consumers on food products in 2020. The pressure is on to produce food in the right way at the right time, to meet demand and limit wastage, and in the competitive landscape this has never been more important.
There have also been many external factors that have pushed the food production industry towards an automated future. Brexit, for example, has highlighted the need for low-skilled, more economically viable workers within the industry, as a points-based system has been introduced to encourage more skilled workers into the UK from the EU. Additionally, with rising prices on products due to Brexit, companies must look to technology to promote business continuity.
This has only been amplified by coronavirus with the limitation of workers available due to social distancing guidelines. Outbreaks at factories have also emphasised the need for companies to rationalise their portfolio. With longer production runs, fewer product variants and less changeovers due to the coronavirus restrictions, automation has become a more viable option, allowing companies to speed up production in order to meet demand. But the rise of automation doesn’t come without challenges, how can we ensure that businesses continue to operate efficiently and safely with fewer workers?
Wireless condition monitoring
With automation being increasingly adopted within the food manufacturing industry, it is important that companies have mechanisms in place to ensure greater operational efficiency and sustainability of their processes. Wireless monitoring using state-of-the-art LoRa (long-range) technology offers a way for companies to use the Internet of Things (IoT) to monitor the condition of both hard and soft assets. That is to say, everything from the GPS location of and temperature inside the refrigerated vehicles that deliver the food to the probes that continuously measure the temperature inside food stored frozen, refrigerated or at ambient temperatures.
Wireless sensors transmit encrypted data over low band long distance radio frequencies to 4G/WiFi gateways that in turn update an external portal, providing full visibility to registered users from any device. The sensors are quick to install, which means replacing legacy technology to comply with food safety regulation becomes significantly easier. Companies are assured they are providing the best quality products in the most sustainable way.
The monitoring of assets allows businesses a complete picture of their performance using real-time data to make certain that their machines are working at optimum performance. Equipment such as ovens, refrigerators, freezers, and even rooms can be monitored for problems ranging from humidity, temperature, and power supply to leaks and pest control. Staff are alerted to underperforming assets and remedial action can take place immediately. This ability to protect assets in real-time means safer food and less waste. It also means that staff can focus on their jobs and maintenance visits are pro rather than re-active.
Workers collaborating effectively is key when it comes to unlocking productivity and efficiency across food production sites. And with greater automation resulting in an increase of lone workers, an effective communication solution can help maintain high production standards and volumes while most importantly, complying with health and safety standards.
Therefore, technology that provides both effective mobile communication and lone working functionality within a single platform is essential for food production companies to adopt. Solutions that also incorporate panic buttons and tilt sensors on the handsets with the functionality to escalate alarms to response teams are also critical for ensuring the safety of lone workers.
The additional benefits of allowing responders to receive machine alarms on their preferred device, whether that be a smartphone or radio handset allows for organisations to remain dynamic within their communication. Companies can be secure in the knowledge that their lone workers are safe and connected, especially with the increase in automation used in production lines.
As food production companies adopt more automation within their processes to keep up with the changing times and make sure their output is as efficient as possible, organisations will need to employ technologies to maximise real-time information to support this.
With condition monitoring and communication tools, companies can ensure their assets are performing optimally and their employees are safe and secure at work. The rise of the machines is inevitable and food manufacturing companies must adopt up-to-date technology so that production is as smooth, safe and productive as possible.
Chris Potts is with ANT Telecom