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Time for Industrial IoT – The Food & Beverages Use Case


Like we already covered in our previous article, the food industry is undergoing a paradigm shift. It’s one that is redefining and smartening it. In this new startup fueled ecosystem, technology plays a major role. Now that the Internet of Things (IoT) is at our doorsteps, food processors and suppliers are eager to harness its magic. Promises vary from curbing maintenance costs, enhancing productivity, to transparently tracking every aspect of the food supply chain.

IIoT or the “Industrial Internet of Things” is a term used for a vast network - typically within an industry or a smart factory - where almost any equipment, sensor, device or actuator (valve, pump, motor, etc.) can be connected to the Internet - and to other devices.

Ultimately, the purpose is to allow us (humans) to remotely monitor, supervise, and take actions without setting foot on the factory and to gather huge amounts of data for processing (deep learning) and optimizing future actions based on metrics. To better understand this, let’s take the example of a connected refrigerator that allows you to quickly create shopping lists by monitoring your current groceries and their expiration dates. It also uses the Internet to pinpoint the best available shopping options, browse for recipes, and make sure you won’t fail your next Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie!

Sounds like a sci-fi? Well, let’s get a reality check: if IIoT is to become more than a “hype”, it will have to deliver more than vague promises of “disruption”. It has to provide companies with scalable business models and clear returns on investment.

To date, many startups exist within the food value chain. But none has emerged in food manufacturing. (It comes at no surprise, an  analysis by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that factories will benefit the most from the Industrial Internet of Things by 2025).

From our malty craft beers and APIs, to the daily pasta, here are some ways equipment manufacturers are adopting IoT to the food industry. Furthermore, we will find out how food processors are expected to benefit from the capabilities of the IoT.

From the Farm …

Farm production is a broad term that includes agriculture, stockbreeding and fishing. To a certain extent, it’s the part of the food value chain that brings to mind pictures of thick-skinned, hardworking individuals carrying manual tasks.

Connecting the farm to the IoT comes with many challenges, starting with a substantial initial cost. Furthermore, there are climate changes issues, sustainability concerns, quality and authenticity of products and commodity market prices.

There is a lot at stake, and connected machines and big data will (in a near future) substantially increase crops yield. To achieve this, scientific, chemical, biological and OGM studies on seeds and animal feeding food, and the adoption of

Precision Agriculture also known as “smart farming” seem to give a great insight. Precision Agriculture makes use of electronic sophisticated equipped tractors able to communicate and to be monitored or even driven remotely. These connected tractors are able to recognize the different soils (through sensor technologies) and to process and seed them appropriately.

What used to be tradition and well-preserved farming know-how is know loaded into machines, optimized through research, and implemented remotely. Back to our connected tractor used in precision agriculture, such machines spread fertilizers and pesticides precisely with no human implication, hence optimizing the needed quantities to be sprayed on plants and saving farmers money and - most importantly - health.



"In the past, precision agriculture technology was implemented by big agribusinesses due to high costs," says Dr. Michael Valivullah, chief technology officer with the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

"Nowadays, a continuing decrease in remote sensor costs and advances in cloud-computing technology, tablets, and smart devices have made precision agriculture affordable to many farmers." He added.


Camso’s smart tractor, expected to be out late 2018 – Source: Camso’s website

… To the Food Processing Facility!

The products coming out the farm (agricultural, animal and fishing products) are the input sources of the food processing industry, which is part of the manufacturing sector.

A quick glimpse to the numbers reveals that food manufacturing is a patent intensive industry with more than 6 percent of firms owning a patent between 2000 and 2011, the majority of patenting firms are in the services and wholesale sectors. (According to the US Patents and Trademark Office’s report on “Intellectual Property and the U.S. Economy: 2016 Update”).

IoT transforms the food processing facility at a gross root level by gathering, collecting, and displaying process and control data everywhere it’s needed. Think of a KPI that measures the performance of a yogurt fermentation vet. At all times, shift supervisors should maintain a temperature of 43° C for 2 to 2.5 hours under quiescent (no agitation) conditions. (It’s the temperature-compromise between the optimums for the two microorganisms: ST 39° C and LB 45° C). Furthermore, the titratable acidity has to be carefully monitored until reaching 0.85 to 0.90 per cent (pH 4.5). Such complex data is directly reported to the control system. What IoT adds is the power to make this available outside the control room.

Smart Diary Processing facility, as imagined by Siemens. Source Siemens PLM

Using IIoT, acting on the pump that feeds the fermentation vent, or on the upstream heater to adjust product temperature can be made online. Obviously, this comes at a certain expense.

In fact, a survey by Food Processing ABB automation shows that plant operations professionals were twice as likely to remotely access machine controls as compared to C-suite executives. They also had a much more favorable view of vendor access to controls data and the connection of field devices to a wireless network.

Clearly, C-suites have a great decisional power in the factory. To prevent undesirable access to “sensitive data” from outside the plant, food manufacturers are placing big restrictions on data reporting and sharing. “One word: firewalls,” summarizes Ola Wesstrom, senior industry manager-food and beverage for instrument supplier Endress+Hauser. Hence, the gas that fuels IoT – data – can slow its rally to convert food factories, until clearly identifying what can and what can’t be made public.

From a technology standpoint, IoT may play a great role in products safety and quality in the processing plant. Through an integrated monitoring system of sensors along the production line and control systems, IoT applications typically encompass:

  • Monitoring of temperature and time during the different processing operations;

  • PH and conductivity during cleaning in place operations;

  • Detection of foreign bodies in process lines;

  • Detection of chemical contaminations and microbial contaminants;

  • Monitoring of allergens;

  • Measurement of food quality characteristics, like texture, color and flavors;

  • Monitoring of micronutrients, moisture content, fat content and other food components.



Tags: Food & beverages, IOT, IIOT


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