Capital investments across multiple industry segments are at increasingly high levels and showing little sign of slowing down their acceleration. This reflects the combination of growing confidence in the economy and pent-up demand of previously under-invested years. This welcome phenomenon is unleashing jobs, efficiency improvements, and technological advances in manufacturing and production portions of American industry.
Here at Optimation, we are experiencing significant demand for our turnkey systems and equipment engineering and manufacturing expertise. The glass and chemical industries’ appetites for expansion and the tremendous explosion in food varieties and processing improvements are contributing to the growth. This made me want to write about the drivers of the increased attention, spending, and innovation in food industry automation.
A recent article in Food Logistics discussed the relevance and relationship of "Industry 4.0" and its technologies and philosophies to its application in food industry automation.
The article observes:
1.) Consumer demand
2.) Expanding value chain pressures to improve margins
3.) The drive to improve safe and high-quality food are all increasing.
And all benefit dramatically from automation which delivers high-probability rates of return quickly and with low cost of ownership. Nearly every food manufacturer, regardless of scope and size, has access now to previously esoteric and expensive, difficult to enable technologies. Now these advancements are within reach of nearly every producer and packager through adoption of new standards, manufacturing and engineering services such as offered by skid systems integrators, and an increasingly favorable investment climate.
You must be noticing the tremendous variety and diversity of products lining retail shelves. Cheerios? Not just one, there are 16 varieties in the General Mills product list today.
Consumer tastes, their (our) sophistication and fickleness, and the ability of producers to accommodate rapidly growing and shifting trends are contributing to the drive to produce more flexibly. In volumes and quantity greater than ever before, food manufacturers are employing skid-based systems to quickly and easily integrate new elements into their existing production systems. They also are looking for additional capacity (production lines) and greatly increasing their capacity for output (rates) while simultaneously avoiding extra costs in labor.
Of course, consumers often are not interested in paying more, so the pressure is on the expedite and elimination of processes. From logistics and warehousing to transportation and handling, there is a constant push to keep only what adds value, and to tolerate non-value-add touches and costs only when all options have been tested and vetted.
Safe and high-performance operations can be achieved virtually immediately with automation. This is safer for the workers and the consumers. Alarms sounding for listeria, salmonella and other health threats to the food chain and consumers can destroy whole markets segments, let alone companies.
People are very attentive to food safety warnings, being more aware of advisories and recalls, and handling/storing food better themselves. Machine safety is being increasingly demanded and wanted in production automation. This means keeping workers safely away from potentially dangerous processes (sharps, chemicals, pinch-points, etc.). Where processes are automated and properly guarded and controlled the risks to workers and product alike are best managed, monitored, reported, and assured.
Many produce, dairy, fruit, processed, and other food producers want to have a single-source provider deliver a highly engineered system. It must be compliant with regulatory (FDA, USDA, FMSA, etc.) requirements and best practices. Also, state-of-the-art technologies in an easy-to-install and operate form-factor, such as on a skid, greatly increases the availability and accessibility of the kind of desired immediate benefits mentioned above. More producers making advances into automation and optimization for their manufacturing and production will reap the benefits when effectively and efficiently executed and maintained with good partners.
We work with some of the most innovative and groundbreaking pioneers and young start-ups in the food industries. We have also long worked alongside the blue-chip firms that have long invested in automation and optimization. As we continue, our knowledge base and repertoire deliver increased value and new types of solutions to all comers. Whether it’s novel coating and dispensing capabilities, packaging or material handling techniques, or other means to deliver product for our clients, we are experiencing demand and growth that we have not seen in years.
This is manifesting itself in so many benefits to consumers, retailers, other participants in the supply chain, and the growers and manufacturers themselves. It’s an exciting time to be involved in the capital investment side of the business, watching capacity and quality grow together. The products coming out of the systems are unequaled and look to continue to be improving even beyond their present high levels. New technologies such as those offered by Industry 4.0 and IIoT are just getting started in or just the tip of the iceberg; it’s an exciting ride and we hope and expect it to last a good, long time.