The world – particularly the world of food – is changing faster than ever before, with technological advancements and innovation fueling a whole new set of business requirements and consumer behaviors. With consumers already living in a digital world, the food processing industry is looking towards smart food processing and the ‘digital transformation’ required to digitalize their processes, enhance production, optimize efficiency and, generally, increase the overall quality and speed of their entire operation.
This article was originally written by Dan Orehov
Trending topics and phrases like ‘blockchain’, ‘going digital’ and ‘internet 4.0’ all underline the growing need for food processors to adapt to a rapidly advancing industry by adopting the necessary sensors, data capture points and connectivity that work in tandem to enable enhanced operational and strategic decision making; elements that combine to benefit the entire food chain.
THE OPERATIONAL BENEFITS OF SMART FOOD PROCESSING
Technology doesn’t stand still, and sensing technologies continue to evolve at a rapid rate. The latest generation of steam peelers and sorters, for example, are delivered with enhanced data collection and processing monitoring, a trend set to grow as the data transformation takes hold.
To understand the operational benefits of smart food processing, we only have to look at a food processor and the challenges they face in their day-to-day operations.
For example, when a major supermarket chain requests a change to a convenience food order, the producer needs to react quickly in order to make changes to the processing process. Today, such a change would require many people making multiple changes to process equipment at every stage. This can take a considerable amount of time and result in additional waste at several points. On top of this, there is also the need to contact suppliers and logistics companies to change the schedule of incoming produce and the dispatch of finished product. However, with smart food processing this same change could be implemented in a fraction of the time with enhanced efficiency and in a far more sustainable way. Additionally, the technology finally makes it possible to have a secure transaction history of the movement of the food through each part of the process, feeding into a growing demand for traceability at every level of the supply chain.
THE ROAD TOWARDS DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION: PAVED WITH CHALLENGES
While the benefits may be endless, significant challenges exist when it comes to creating modules that connect seamlessly and share data continuously. This includes data formatting, communication protocols and shared network design. To deliver this you need a single technology group dedicated to this task and operating as part of the research and development teams working on the process equipment. Equipment manufacturers tuned into the future of food are already introducing a greater number of sensor onboard solutions and are collecting a wider range of data. This will include collecting data regarding the potato size, quality and yield. Another important aspect is the standardization of connectivity and data formatting to ensure that real-time data comparisons can be viewed instantly.
CONNECTIVITY, CLOSED LOOP SYSTEMS AND CIRCULAR PROCESSES
Whole product sorters can see every piece of produce on its own. This detection is happening at the farm before reaching the processor. The farmer is taking his/her harvest from the field and then completing a quality, defect and size sort before it leaves. The same product is inspected at the storage facility and at the processing facility. The data collected for every piece of raw material is present, but when you have the same data collection format and a common network to share the data, then that data can be used not only to assess the processing setup required, but to trace the product to its source. Connectivity of not only sorters, but connectivity of sorters to other processing equipment is another big step that we see. Steam peelers have always been controlled by PLC devices that are extremely robust and reliable but have limited capability in terms of data analysis. The introduction of a steam peeler module which connects the peeling line and sorter together presents the processor with a more complete picture of the process.
The integration of modules enables the introduction of closed loop control, an element necessary to deliver increased yield and reduced waste. Steam peelers control the line flow rate of produce at an important stage of the food process, while providing the most efficient way of removing skin. Whole product sorters see the result of the steam peeling process within 2 minutes and adjust the steam peeler, to avoid unnecessary waste and steam usage. The same sorters also sort the product in terms of quality and size and use a repeel unit to ensure that the final output from the integrated solution is as per the customers’ expectations. Creating a digital log of all food that enters the processing facility is still in its infancy. Companies like TOMRA Food, who supply sorters at every stage of the process, now have the opportunity to play a pivotal role in the digital transformation of the food processing industry by providing integrated digital solutions that include the necessary sensors, connectivity and data collection that, together, will help to fuel the smart food revolution.