Nevertheless, some of these areas of change were already well underway before this crisis; the arrival of the Covid-19 virus has merely further accelerated their progress. Internet shopping, for example, was a very strong growth sector long before the temporary closure of many retailers, and it is several years since supermarkets introduced home deliveries.
In the industrial sector, meanwhile, factory restrictions on external visits and the implementation of social distancing measures have brought into even sharper focus the benefits of increased automation and remote management of operations. However, these were already being implemented by many businesses as part of Industry 4.0 and the establishment of the Smart Factory.
Smarter technology for data capture, streamlining operations and automating processes can provide biscuit producers with a critical competitive advantage, explains Torsten Giese of Ishida Europe
Indeed, as the economic recovery continues, the advantages of Industry 4.0 in terms of increased productivity and efficiencies throughout the factory will remain just as relevant in increasingly competitive markets.
Automation is of course not a new concept. On the processing and packing line, equipment suppliers have over the years developed and enhanced automated solutions for practically every task and integrated these processes so that machines communicate and work in conjunction with each other.
Automating systems helps to reduce manual operation and the interventions required, which in turn reduce overheads or enable the redeployment of staff to other areas. An automated process will also ensure an identical output every time and remove the risk of human error on the production line. Indeed, one of the most notable advances, and a key factor in delivering these benefits, has been the increasing integration of packing lines, with the ability for machines to exchange live data with centralised and remote systems.
Image 1: Automating systems helps to reduce overheads and ensure an identical output every time
At the same time, the importance of achieving maximum levels of uptime from packing equipment remains as critical as ever to achieve the desired throughout, while also maximising yield.
An effective monitoring system, such as our own Ishida Sentinel software, is therefore invaluable in allowing individual machines, as well as complete single and multiple packing lines, to be monitored by both the equipment supplier and the processor and packer. This provides a high level of preventative maintenance where potential issues can be anticipated, and action taken before machines and packing lines experience even one minute of downtime.
Such systems also allow the planning of servicing and engineer visits, avoiding the need for any unscheduled calls which have been a particular challenge in the current pandemic.
Equally important, the data capture and analytical abilities of these systems are able to help companies manage their operations more profitably. Businesses need to know exactly how much it costs to get a product or pack out of the factory and be able to easily identify bottlenecks in production or areas where there are opportunities for improvement.
Capturing data allows companies to monitor remotely rather than deploying staff simply to monitor the systems. And the information gathered gives businesses the competitive advantage of being able to optimise production and work as efficiently as possible.
Just as the integration of equipment streamlines processes in order to deliver greater efficiencies, the capture of data from multiple areas of the production line enables the building of a more complete picture. This allows companies to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to improving practices or methods, by using comprehensive reporting to give a breadth of information.
The systems can provide direct performance analysis in real time, focusing on the most important key indicators for individual companies. Along with trends, batch information, and statistics, there is also the possibility to compare the performance of different packing lines, even those located in different factories or countries, enabling best practices to be identified and shared throughout the business. The result can be a marked improvement in Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE).
The wealth of information available can also support future planning and investment decisions. While it can be tempting to run cap-ex investments to the very end of their life to maximise spend, the performance data may help to identify areas where new technology could deliver more substantial long-term cost savings and a faster return on investment.
These types of monitoring systems need not be restricted to large scale companies. Smaller businesses, even those with a single line, can benefit just as much from integrated processes, in-depth data, and information transparency, to help them maximise profitability and provide the foundations for future growth.
While the coronavirus pandemic may have focused minds on the benefits of new smarter technologies, it has always been important for companies to take a long-term view in their planning. Whether in times of boom or bust, businesses that are able to deliver high output at maximum efficiency will be best placed to succeed.
Data will therefore have an increasingly important role in the production lines of the future, giving companies the ability to make appropriate decisions quickly that will have a positive outcome on the entire production process.
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Leading image: Olivier Le Moal/Shutterstock.com