Historically speaking, small and medium-sized food manufacturing companies have been largely reticent to adopt automated industrial solutions to their manual-based plants. Nonetheless, rapid advancements in automation and emergent computer technologies present a promising new landscape for businesses looking to implement automation into their digital transformation initiatives.
Heightened consumer demand along with a precipitously astringent regulatory environment for food quality and safety have put many food manufacturing businesses in the position of reconsidering any automation plans they currently have on the back burner. While the food processing sector faces several unique challenges to automating, the industry is finally beginning to realize the benefits of process flow automation and control engineering as it continues implementing the solution at an ever-increasing pace.
Most operations have been automating their facilities in stages as they anticipate an overall system of plant automation in the coming years. This means everything from the receipt of raw materials to delivery of the finished food product to retailers will ultimately be executed by a fully automated workflow. Recent innovations in computer vision, flexible manufacturing systems, computer integrated manufacturing, expert systems, and more allow companies to incorporate several different types of batch operations into their existing manufacturing infrastructure for increased visibility and enhanced control.
The background and history of automation in food processing
Large manufacturing plants have been automating for more than half a century and continue to aggressively adopt the latest systems engineering and automation technology as it comes to market. This latest wave of enthusiasm among small and medium-sized businesses, however, is attributable to the proliferation of new computer hardware and software specifically catering to their needs. As society and culture become more reliant upon programmable devices to complete previously manual tasks, one can expect only high levels of automation to impact every stage of the manufacturing process in the years ahead.
The extent to which automated solutions can be deployed is highly dependent upon the industry. Semiconductor foundries and the automobile industry have benefited from automation the longest, with nearly all of its processes adhering to the principles of automation to represent fully-automated industries. Food production, however, has remained an outlier on this front, with lower levels of automation on the whole. But the pattern is shifting, and the food and beverage sector accounts for one of the largest growing sectors in plant automation.
Why should food processing plants automate?
For most companies, the decision to automate is driven by the need to keep their companies competitive and up-to-date. Automating has been shown to improve food production plants in the following three ways:
- Increased productivity
- Better product consistency and quality
- An improved bottom line
As the above represent the three key elements that keep manufacturing plants viable over the long haul, let’s take a look at them below in further detail:
How productive your plant depends upon the volume of end products manufactured at the plant per unit of operating parameters such as the size of your facility, the number of workers you employ, and hours of operation. Your business output is directly linked to how efficient your input resources are at utilizing themselves to generate a marketable outcome.
As businesses ramp up their industrial automation solutions, their process flows become more efficient while their labor requirements are considerably reduced. It’s easier to maintain good records, owing to the increased real-time visibility into their supply chains. Food manufacturing facilities can find up to 30 percent more productivity after deploying automation and control engineering solutions to address performance deficiencies in the production flow. In addition to this, software and information control solutions provided by EZSoft also help optimize recipe management, production scheduling, process modeling at your plant.
Every food and beverage company strives for optimal product outcomes. Consistency and quality are the keys to both brand development and protection. Consumers expect top manufacturers to produce high-quality food products that are the same in size, shape, and texture, and this forms the basis of how businesses communicate with their customers and retain their loyal business.
With the goal of expanding their market share always at the forefront, an accurate and dependable quality assurance process is paramount. Traditionally, quality and inspections involved tedious and resource-intensive human-led visual inspections that were both costly and degraded plant productivity. It is for this reason that quality assurance has garnered the most attention from the automation industry and leading software controls providers like EZSoft. After companies implement new advancements, such as computer visions technology, food plants have seen drastic improvements to their quality assurance processes.
The improvement of your bottom line is by and large the main reason why your business should consider automating sooner rather than later. With most operating expenditures going up, it is not outside of reason that the cost to automate should increase along with them. Better profitability adds shareholder value and makes strategic long-term planning easier for your management team.
As mentioned above, product accuracy and plant productivity and both direct contributors to an improved bottom line. Moreover, automation contributes to a safer workplace with fewer human operators in strenuous or dangerous roles that involve repetitive motion tasks. Advanced software controls allow for better record keeping which makes it easier to comply with food safety and environmental regulatory authorities.
Automation provides the necessary traceability and visibility into your site’s data allowing plant managers to rectify problems before they escalate into more severe issues. Having more control over your valuable data at your food manufacturing warehouse undoubtedly lends itself to increased profitability. Usage reports can be generated on-demand, using live-time data to give a quantitative overview to help your procurement and accounting teams with future planning.
Learn more about automating your food manufacturing plant
Automating your food production facility reduces downtime, improves productivity, and eases several common operational headaches through more agile and flexible solutions.
Reach out to EZSoft today at (484) 568-5040 for more information on how to automate your manufacturing process quality control for optimal product outcomes and bigger profits.