Smart machines and equipment can play a key role in helping food and beverage producers overcome the many obstacles and demands that come with satisfying today’s changing consumer preferences. A smart machine — which generally means one that is leveraging data and information to improve performance — can bring unprecedented flexibility, increased productivity and cutting-edge efficiency to the plant floor.
Despite this vast potential for increased innovation and competitiveness, the adoption of smart machines by food and beverage companies has been gradual, at best. Gardner, Inc., estimates that smart machines will enter mainstream adoption by 2021, with 30 percent adoption by large companies.
Food and beverage companies, understandably, have questions about how these intelligent technologies can fit into their operations. The right original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partner can help answer those questions and optimize producers’ benefits from their smart machine investments. Here are some of the factors food and beverage companies should consider:
Smart machines and equipment offer a new era of flexible production, which is especially important to food and beverage companies eager to please consumers’ tastes. Today’s customers want choices. Consider the proliferation of options in packaged snacks. Chips and crackers are no longer just available in family size. Consumers have their pick from snack packages to large cartons, with more options in between.
This modern appetite for variety among consumers means food and beverage companies need machines that do more, faster — without adding production lines for each new product. That means more frequent changeovers, effective batch and recipe management tools, using the same machine for multiple jobs and being flexible enough to meet future consumer demands.
Technology solutions like independent cart technology (ICT) and robotics can deliver much-needed flexibility on a production line. ICT provides the foundation for intelligent conveyance systems — advanced and efficient alternatives to conventional systems. These unique systems can safely and efficiently manage many carts across a network of linear motors. Using ICT, some OEMs have reduced changeovers from 45 minutes to just one. Overall, ICT minimizes complications and reduces time to market for food and beverage producers.
Robotics can also offer more flexibility to end-of-the-line operations, like packaging. Smart machines based around a single control system with robotic controls can enable faster communication of control, safety and process information, and more accurate control of machine movements.
In addition, advances in scalable batch and recipe management tools allow food companies to build more flexible production lines. In the past, a line may have been dedicated to a single product, but companies can now easily and efficiently change recipes on the same line.