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Bite-Sized Steps to Digital Transformation in the Food and Beverage Industry

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For manufacturers, digital transformation isn’t a question of if – it’s a question of when. The faster you get started down the path of connecting smart assets, the faster you can build your competitive edge.

However, understanding the importance of digital transformation is one thing. Making it happen is another. Food and beverage processors say they’re facing multiple obstacles, including workforce limitations (80 percent of CPG organizations don’t have the human capital they need), siloed data and a lack of interconnectivity. Sound familiar?

The good news is that transformation is a journey. What starts you off on the right foot is an information platform that connects physical assets and digital systems, creating one source of information across all processes and facilities. You can then apply specific capabilities in the areas that make sense for your operations today.

The types of capabilities offered vary, but to give you a taste, we’ll review an example for beer production: model predictive control and predictive analytics to operate a fermenter more efficiently and streamline maintenance.

Introducing MPC and Analytics

Model predictive control (MPC) technology helps operators maintain quality while optimizing production by managing minute details and adjustments that allow you to push against process constraints. Based on a model of your process, the technology makes constant adjustments to maintain the ideal recipe. Wherever adjustments are made earlier in a process, MPC helps you make any related adjustments needed downstream.

Predictive analytics look for faults in operations using advanced machine learning and other data processing techniques. Analytics applications create models for how equipment should perform normally and alerts operators when there’s a deviation.

Together, the technologies help flag problems quickly, identifying the source and enabling an early fix. You can even catch potential problems before they occur.

How to Ferment Improvements

To get a closer look at the technology in action, let’s consider an example issue with the process of emptying a fermenter. The connectivity to multiple data sources enabled by an information platform can pull data from multiple sensors that indicate a pump is running at its normal speed, or the tank level is dropping at its usual rate, but the product flow is lower than expected based on the established models. Such a situation indicates a possible problem with the flow meter, or a leak somewhere in the system.

Putting analytics such as these alongside of MPC provide additional value from the existing instrumentation and platforms.

With further analysis, it could be decided that the MPC application might identify a needed process adjustment, such as running the pump faster, helping to close the gap and correct the model. There also could be a glitch that needs to be fixed in a different part of the process, such as another pump adding new materials to the fermenter while you’re still emptying the previous batch – an issue we’ve seen with ethanol in other industries.

Of course, the process might be working fine – but one of the sensors is failing and needs to be repaired, recalibrated or replaced. While MPC makes the best corrections possible, predictive analytics can scour the system and identify the source of a potential issue. By flagging the discrepancy, maintenance personnel can check the status of the sensor and make any needed fixes.

Ultimately, whatever the issue, MPC and analytics applications will save you precious time by adjusting the process to keep it working while an issue is identified. Acting quickly allows you to protect product quality and yield, reduce waste as well as reduce unplanned downtime and wear and tear on your equipment.

Pairing these two technologies – just one element of what an information platform can provide – can significantly enhance the day-to-day operations of your facilities. Your workforce has a clearer picture of what’s happening in the environment around them. Quality control becomes more efficient than a series of routine manual tasks unlikely to uncover problems in real time.

On the path to digital transformation, smaller steps can still have a huge impact on your business. Are you ready to get started?

Learn more about MPC from Rockwell Automation.

Keith Smith
Keith Smith
Sr. Applications Engineer, Rockwell Automation
Keith Smith

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