Digitalisation of Food Processing Industry
Published on : Friday 10-12-2021
Modern smart factories for food processing are adopting digital transformation in their manufacturing by adding the latest digital technology, says Darshana Thakkar.
India’s food processing sector is one of the largest in the world and its output is expected to reach $535 bn by 2025-26.
The Indian food processing industry is expanding at a CAGR of 11% and the food processing sector accounts for 32% of the total food industry.
The food processing industry engages approximately 20 lakh people in around 39,748 registered units. The unregistered small businesses employ many more people.
Major sectors constituting the food processing industry in India are grains, sugar, edible oils, beverages, dairy products, packaged foods and preserved and ready-to-eat food.
The Indian government is very supportive in the efforts to increase food processing across the various sectors. PLI scheme and FDI are the key drivers to promote the food industry in India. Increasing awareness about hygiene, quality and nutrition value of food products among the citizens has opened the door for the organised sector in the food processing industries. Moreover, the busier life of today’s double-income groups of citizens has a vast impact on the food processing sector.
In this scenario, the adoption of the latest technology has paved the way for the food processing industry. Due to the high level of product variants, strict requirements for food safety and the constant shift of regulations, the embracing of Industry 4.0 in the food and beverages sector is expected to be progressive in coming years.
The customer is demanding a wider variety of increasingly customised products in a short time. Hence, food processing companies need to stay competitive and robust by being flexible, with faster responsiveness, producing efficiently and with required quality. Such requirements are feasible with the technological advancement in Industry 4.0. These technologies enable data linkages, gatherings and analyses across organisations in the food supply chain, which sequentially alters the business model provides a new environment for the production processes.
Some of the benefits of technology in food processing:
1. Enhanced food quality
2. Increased operational productivity and compliance
3. Mass customisation
4. Simplify operations and improve efficiency
5. Increase food and beverage safety
6. Leaner Inventory Management
7. Reduction in food wastage
8. Supply chain management, and
9. Traceability and product recall.
The following emerging technologies add value in terms of quality, speed, and competitiveness in the food processing business.
Smart Factories are a combination of the virtual and the physical (actual) worlds using the application of cyber-physical systems, IIoT and cloud computing.
Modern smart factories of food processing are adopting digital transformation in their manufacturing by adding the latest digital technology consisting of advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, hi-tech sensors, cloud computing, IIoT, data capture and analytics, 3D printers, software-as-a-service, and other advanced marketing models.
In such factories production lines are automated and machines can communicate with one another, analyse and resolve the problem on a real-time basis up to some extent. Any such problem resolution is done by the system with minimal human intervention.
Other Industry 4.0 technologies
In our country fully automated food processing is limited to large organisations. But many small companies are also adopting partial automation and other digital tools for better customer satisfaction and competitiveness.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Manufacturing Execution System (MES), Food Quality Assurance, Research and Development, Facilities Management, and many more departments are available on a common food enterprise platform.
On the manufacturing floor, process monitoring and control can be automated whereby the machines can monitor and analyse the current process, detect the deviation and trigger the necessary adjustments as corrective action without human operator's involvement.
Industrial robots for quality and inspection
Apart from increasing productivity industrial robots are also very effective in quality control which is a vital function especially in food processing. Robots with high-resolution smart cameras and integrated with high-tech image processing systems can “see” and quickly react to different situations based on pre-set parameters. This includes identifying different food products on the same processing plant. They can perform different tasks in milliseconds and seconds. Such robots with digital image processing units consist of a series of a process beginning by capturing real-time images in a contactless manner. This is very helpful to monitor the quality of food, colours, shape, volume, and labelling accuracy. Even these high-resolution cameras in the inspection system helps to identify any foreign substance as small as 1.5 x 1.5 mm on the product surface.
In this way, technology has resolved the limitation due to human imprecision, fatigue, and variation in operators’ judgment. Moreover, the technology can store data for the documentation purpose and evidence in the event of customer complaint
Robots for repetitive application
Some repetitive tasks like sorting, piling, pick and place, packaging, palletisation, loading/unloading, assembly, and spacing at very high speeds, have been the specialisation of robots in the food sector. The most popular and relevant technology for such an application is gripper. These types of robots are comparatively lower in cost. Robotic manufacturers are also developing robots with 3 and 4 axes in the form of a gripper that can be cost-effective for such applications. This type of robotic application transforms the adoption of technology in the food industry and offers enhanced food safety and hygiene along with simplification of maintenance and increased human safety. Vacuum griper specially developed for the food industry ensures contactless hygiene standards and that too without leaving any visible marks on the product after griping.
Simulation software for plant design
The simulation software can leverage the real-time data and model the physical manufacturing system in a virtual model that includes materials, product (food), process, machine, processing line, humans, material handling system, and other elements in the manufacturing ecosystem. Hence, the testing, analysing and optimisation can be performed in the virtual world before any physical changeover is conducted at the actual factory. This is very much helpful to establish an almost perfect process line without any wastage and with the highest accuracy in a cost-effective manner. Such software adds value to decision-making for an initial investment in plant and machinery, manpower requirement and reduces downtime.
Some popular software for such simulations are:
a. ARENA Simulation Software
b. Tecnomatix Plant Simulation, and
c. TrakSYS and FlexSim.
An example: QR and RFID for a food traceability system
Food items are perishable and have a very short self-life depending on the product and its biotechnological characteristics. Food processing units need to keep strict control and record for input material, ingredients, and final products. This is very important across the whole value chain forward (from source to consumer) or backward (from consumer to source).
The traceability becomes costly and inefficient as the complexity of the value chain increases. The complexity can be linked to the unique characteristics of the food materials that undergo a dynamic transformation from the bulk raw material to individual food products during the manufacturing processes.
To monitor this whole process manually with human operations is very much difficult.
Quick Response (QR) code and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is well adopted in food industries to automate the identification and tracking of food materials.
With the help of a QR code, consumers can obtain information related to the food item by scanning the code. This is done by a QR code reader application installed on smartphones. RFID is also similar technology for traceability of food from farm to warehouse, producer, retailer, and consumers. Information of the products with RFID can be read by RFID readers provided by sellers or through a website or mobile app by inserting an RFID code. Food products such as dairy, bakery, beverages, chicken, meats, etc., are popular to use RFID technology.
In this new era, sensors, machines, workpieces, and IT systems are linked along the value chain beyond a single organisation. The cyber-physical systems can communicate with one another using standard Internet-based protocols and analyse data for decision-making processes. Some major benefits of these technologies are the improvement in resource efficiency, cost reduction, market access, customer satisfaction, systematic management, enhanced food safety, and transparency.
Despite having these all lucrative advantages of emerging technologies in the food sector the adoption of technology is at a very slow pace. The main reason behind this is the higher initial investment, scarcity of skilled manpower, and maintenance of relevant protocols. This is because the majority of food processing companies are small and medium-sized organisations.
The main challenges of these SME companies are the technical readiness related to data management, infrastructure, data mining, privacy, security, and chaos. With the increased connectivity and use of standard communication protocols, the requirement for protecting industrial systems from cybersecurity threats increases significantly. As a result, continuous improvements will have to be made for secure communication, sophisticated data management, and effective policy enforcement.
Darshana Thakkar is MSME Transformation Specialist and Founder, Transformation – The Strategy Hub. An Electrical Engineer followed by MBA – Operations with rich industry experience, Darshana is an expert in transformation, cost reduction, and utilisation of resources. She has invested 25 years in transforming Micro and Small Enterprises. Her rich experience in resolving pain areas and real-life problems of SMEs helps organisations achieve quick results. Her expertise in managing business operations with limited resources helps clients transform their business practices from person driven to system driven with existing resources.
Darshana has helped many organisations to increase profitability and achieve sustainable growth. She is passionate to support the start-up ecosystem of our country. She is associated with CED, Government of Gujarat as a Business Function Expert in the Entrepreneurship Development program, as faculty for industrial subjects in the Second Generation Program (SGP), and as a start-up mentor and member of the start-up selection committee in the CED incubation centre.