Fourth Industrial Revolution for the food industry

ATS Applied Tech Systems Pty Ltd

By Armin Fahnle, Managing Director, ATS Applied Tech Systems
Wednesday, 08 May, 2019

Fourth Industrial Revolution for the food industry

After reading that researchers in the United Kingdom were growing meat on blades of grass, I was reminded that while engineers like me look to pursue the opportunities afforded by Industry 4.0 as an economically driven (but otherwise largely technical) initiative of the German government, the much broader Fourth Industrial Revolution is much, much bigger!

The ‘Fourth’ is not just about technology; but rather it is about an emerging and disruptive symbiosis of demand-driven business models and supply-driven technological innovations deeply effecting dramatic changes in the way people learn, work and live.

At a recent visit to the CSIRO Division of Manufacturing in Melbourne, I saw first-hand how the biological, digital and physical domains are coming together in order to print replacement body parts on demand — and being shipped across the world.

Innovative prosthetic parts are one thing, but according to World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwabb, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will even change what we understand to be human. Our perceptions of humanity will shift as intelligence is increasingly augmented, personality is present in machines, tissue is being regrown and renewed, musculoskeletal systems are augmented and brains are retrained to respond to compensatory artificial stimuli.

Less amazing is the simple observation that disruptive technology enables disruptive business models to proliferate and that these new models allow for change to the very nature of society including the nature, location and value of work — changes that are occurring more rapidly than ever before.

Yet not all countries and regions are as quick to adapt and respond as they need to be.

Impact on food and beverage processors

Talk of cyber-physical systems, IoT, batch size one, digital twins, and so on, leaves bulk manufacturers wondering where they fit in to this new world. How can the concept of the individualisation of the manufacturing process and ‘batch size one’ impact on the business of a bulk dairy, vegetable oil or grain producer, for example?

The answer is, of course, that if they haven’t yet been impacted, then they will be in the near future, even if we don’t yet know how. The degree of foresight necessary to appreciate the change that is coming is a function of business and manufacturing maturity.

The Singapore Smart Manufacturing Readiness Index identifies a readiness or maturity model built on processes, technology and organisation as the core building blocks. These need to be worked on to become smarter and better manufacturers in the world of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Its practical advice to manufacturing leaders is to:

  • learn the Industry 4.0 concepts;
  • evaluate the state of the manufacturing enterprise paying attention to 16 different dimensions across the three pillars above;
  • architect a digital transformation roadmap designed to improve the maturity level in each dimension of manufacturing readiness; and
  • deliver (and sustain) digital transformation initiatives in line with the roadmap over an extended period.

If the visions can be capitalised on, then the rewards are considerable. It has been estimated that S$36bn of additional value will be created in the Singapore economy and US$7bn in the Michigan automotive sector alone. Such estimates seem to be very conservative if one considers the long-term impact generated by the previous three industrial revolutions. What has been the long-term impact of electrification, for example?

My personal observation is that most food manufacturing businesses in Australia have a generally low level of awareness of the impact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will have on their business. They do so at their peril, and with generally quite low levels of digitalisation at the operations management level, there is genuine cause to be concerned that the food manufacturing industry is acting too slowly.

At best, initiatives are mostly focused on the well-established ‘Industry 3.0’ digitalisation initiatives of labour savings, improved real-time visibility, waste reduction, quality management and data warehousing. At worst, manufacturers are highly reliant on paper records, tacit operator and supervisor knowledge, standardisation of operating procedures that assume long product lifecycles and compliant, hazard control practices.

A well-digitalised manufacturer will have digitalised manufacturing operations management (MOM), energy management, asset performance management, product lifecycle management and management systems for environment, quality, risk, and health and safety.

Many food manufacturers, especially food ingredient manufacturers, collect large amounts of process data in SCADA systems, but have almost no capacity to analyse that data. For them, the opportunities to drive machine learning and to use process analysis to characterise process behaviour and to drive process improvement are lost.

On the execution side, recipe systems are often embedded into SCADA systems and ad hoc databases with poor integration into master recipe management, product lifecycle management or the laboratory activities for product release.

Planning may also be ad hoc, with wall charts and Excel spreadsheets being more the norm than the exception. Production planners struggle to keep up with an increasing requirement for plans to be flexible and adaptive around the needs of the supply chain, unscheduled maintenance and people availability.

Lifting the maturity level to allow progression towards Industry 4.0 requires, first, a commitment at board level; and the establishment of a strategy for the business to become innovative, agile and adaptive — responding to the rapidly changing market by creating or adapting to new business models that leverage the emerging technologies. It is only when the board commits the business to the Fourth Industrial Revolution that the business can embark on the digital transformation journey. And only when that digitalisation journey is well underway, can the business leverage the potential of Industry 4.0.

There is no substitute for doing the ‘hard work’ of manufacturing operations management. Establishing digitalised planning and control systems, including finite capacity scheduling, ensures that customer demand drives the production process and that the available production resources are optimally available. The drivers of the production process need to be right.

Manufacturing and other business processes must also be standardised to ensure that they are repeatable and, therefore, able to be captured in workflows and visual work instructions that can eliminate reliance on tacit knowledge, which works against well-controlled and rapid deployment of market-responsive product formulation, processing and configuration. If Industry 4.0 batch size one is to be achieved, then recipes and processes cannot be the outcome of learned operator practice.

With good volumes of high-quality data that is appropriately turned into information through analytics, baseline performance can be established in a way that is transparent and consistent. A digital baseline allows for the prediction of future performance and the establishment of a continuous improvement practice based on data-driven decision-making.

People, processes, technology and structure must mature together to create the right environment for Industry 4.0 practices and technology to be successful.

The opportunities for Australian industry are considerable, but the confidence level in the region is considerably lower than in Europe and North America. Only when our boards embrace the opportunities and empower their business to embark on the Industry 4.0 journey will the revolution bring rewards.

Image credit: ©

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