Like many other essential industries, Food and Beverage (F&B) is moving towards a digitised approach to among others optimise supply chain data collection, visibility and (importantly) traceability to give customers more transparency and build more sustainable and resilient supply chains, writes George Senzere, solutions architect: Secure Power at Schneider Electric. Today’s customers want to know more about the source and production of their food. They want to know that the food they are buying is not only safe, but also sustainable and ethical.

Through the use of intelligent devices and sensors, digitalisation can collect data from equipment, optimising the supply chain and manufacture processes, and the resultant product.

Across the world, including South Africa, there are still a considerable number of F&B organisations that are lagging in the implementation and utilisation of analytics and business intelligence capabilities.

If implemented effectively, F&B organisations can reap considerable gains from digitalisation:

  1. Asset value

Investing in technologies such as IoT and data analytics and can lengthen the lifecycle of assets. Sensors used on systems and equipment provide a continuous flow of data which allows for predictive maintenance.

This in turn allows organisations to predict equipment failure. Imagine a conveyor belt with ingredients such as tomatoes suddenly breaking down, not only causing a messy pileup but also grinding the entire manufacturing lifecycle to a halt, wasting precious time and ingredients.

  1. Operational efficiency

F&B companies have to track millions of data points as the stock keeping units (SKUs) continue to grow. SKU-related data, including information on packaging lines, requires real-time processing, and this is where digital technologies improve efficiency, profitability, and yield.

  1. Quality and compliance

The F&B industry is heavily regulated particularly when it comes to product quality.  Additionally, organisations must be completely transparent when it comes to their suppliers, food sources and other ingredients. This requires granular levels of traceability throughout the food supply chain, and technology can be a valuable partner during these processes.

Add edge computing to the recipe

Now that we’ve discussed the benefit of digitalisation, how do F&B organisations process and analyse all this information, in real-time no less? Industry edge computing and solutions provide the visibility and traceability required to maximise data while also meeting regulatory requirements.

As mentioned, predictive maintenance plays a fundamental role equipment and process reliability.  Furthermore, coupled with edge computing, supply chain data can be analysed in real-time, ensuring decisions are made immediately, preventing possible catastrophic failures and downtime.

(Non) space invader

Like many manufacturing facilities, F&B organisations don’t always have the space to implement a traditional datacentre and may also be too big for the purpose.  Edge computing overcomes this issue as it does not take up a lot of space and is quite flexible – adapting to the space available.

Depending on the setup, solutions may co-exist with machinery on the factory floor or reside in a separate room close to the production area.  Furthermore, to be effective, edge computing solutions are standardised, repeatable, and easy to deploy and configure.

Edge also features remote management capability to monitor performance, security, and availability.  Schneider Electric, together with its strategic partners offer fully compatible solutions that give F&B companies ample choices of IT/OT equipment for digitalisation.

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