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The paradigm of consumption in the food sector has undergone drastic changes in recent decades, accelerating online shopping, the demand for low-cost fresh produce and a growing interest in having clear and accurate information on each of the products consumed.

This is why we must have a solid industrial and digital plan, applying enabling technologies that allow us to improve the efficiency and productivity of our processes.

The food and beverage industry has been adopting industrial automation technologies for years. In this sense, in the food industry we find continuous advances in the integration of robotics, sensors, AGVS, conveyors, among others. These automated solutions increase the efficiency and safety of processes.

Today, the sector is also immersed in the digital era, which means abandoning classic strategies and opting for new Industry 4.0 solutions. By integrating technologies, they seek to save costs and improve profitability without reducing the quality of their products. To do so, both experience and historical data are used to create tailor-made production plans that are truly efficient. The integration of production management systems (MES/MOM) in real time makes it possible to plan, coordinate and monitor all factory processes (quality, maintenance, logistics, planning, etc.).

Making processes more flexible, safe and environmentally sustainable is the challenge for factories in the food sector. In the following, we will look at aspects such as production planning and batch management, which are key issues in the food industry.

Production planning

The aim of companies in the sector is to maintain a competitive cost policy, increasing overall profitability without reducing quality. This is a major challenge, which is addressed by applying innovation, new technologies, and the fundamentals of new data-driven models. This covers the entire value chain, which means a big change for all parts of the production process, from the raw material to the end customer.

Therefore, such systems take into account all resources, not only those related to the product, but also to the personnel on the shop floor and the equipment. All these areas will depend on such a system. Robust food production planning software allows you to optimise resources and costs through a solid configuration. Such a configuration can facilitate the calculation of load capacity per time period, track overlap and slack times to improve them, offer the possibility to add downtime for maintenance, overtime in periods of high demand, etc.

The system also provides the production planning team with the information it needs to balance supply and demand and to take into account made-to-order items. In addition, it will automatically send alerts to stakeholders when certain decisions alter the supply/demand balance, so that they are aware and can take corrective action if necessary.

Thanks to the high traceability offered by technologies such as the MES System (Manufacturing Execution System), it is easier and cheaper to have a quality control of the product, ensuring not only a better performance and results, but also the security of controlling the sanitary and quality parameters required, especially in the food sector. It is thanks to having real-time data, that we can detect at any time, failures or incidents that may occur, and remedy them quickly or even anticipate them.

IoT and artificial intelligence are also helping companies to achieve high levels of food safety, while also reducing waste, costs and risks at the various stages the product goes through. Data has taken on an essential role in all sectors of industry.

Batch, bottleneck and capacity management

Production planning software helps to create orders quickly using supplier item catalogues, while minimising the potential for manual errors. These systems also allow defining different production scenarios and assigning a primary or reserve status to each, which can help the company to overcome supply shortages and/or surpluses. They also allow us to easily track batches in plant and in transit from suppliers to the customer.

Thanks to the MES platforms, the tedious task of manual data entry is avoided. It helps us define expiry dates and displays proactive warnings when products are nearing the end of their viability range so that they can be put to use before they spoil. All this is collected in a database that automatically generates lists of materials, allergen declarations, lists of ingredients and nutritional values.

Such systems help to avoid bottlenecks through complete visualisation of inventories and locations, products by individual, container, or batch. This helps the logistics manager to schedule activities accordingly so that customer orders can be executed on time.

Process automation success stories in the food industry at Geprom