Smart Technology Empowers Manufacturers

Digital transformation solutions, like edge devices and smart pneumatics, enable food and beverage packaging operations to improve business performance. Image courtesy of Emerson.

Three Ways Digital Solutions Transform Hybrid Food and Beverage Packaging Operations

By Jennifer Williams, Product Marketing Manager of Hybrid Markets at Emerson 

Hybrid food and beverage manufacturers face increasingly complex challenges to produce and package products under one roof. Against shrinking margins, rising material costs and ambitious sustainability goals, manufacturers also face evolving consumer and regulatory demands and shifting workplace demographics.

New and emerging digital transformation solutions can help manufacturers meet these challenges. In this approach, connected hardware and software automate and optimize food and beverage processes, replacing legacy or manual manufacturing. By connecting smart solutions with facility operations, digital transformation equips factory personnel with the actionable data needed to improve output, reduce resource and energy use, meet consumer and regulatory demands and empower the workforce.

As manufacturers look to improve their processes, here are three ways to incorporate digital transformation technologies into hybrid packaging and processing for food and beverage.

Improve clean-in-place (CIP) and steam-in-place (SIP) operations

Manufacturers need confidence that their batch tanks are clean and ready to produce consumable products. CIP and SIP systems help keep tanks free from harmful bacteria, cleaning agents and sanitizing chemicals. While essential, CIP/SIP operations use nearly 30% of a plant’s utilities, and many manufacturers lack the technology and data to understand how much energy or media each cleaning cycle consumes. Cleaning cycles that run for preset periods of time may extend longer than required for proper cleaning, and changeovers consume a considerable amount of time. Often, this results in processes that use more resources and time than necessary, wasting air, water, steam, energy and chemicals.

Digital transformation technologies can help manufacturers better capture and analyze critical process data. Analytics software solutions use sensors to reliably gather data on air, water, steam, chemicals and energy and provide a range and depth of reporting that goes beyond the cleaning process itself. In this way, CIP solutions can help manufacturers track utilities, generate automated reports and compare cycles.

Emerging solutions also make it easier for manufacturers to scale implementation. With modular, multimedia software, it’s possible to take small steps and focus on improvement in one or two CIP/SIP areas, such as using electricity and water flow monitoring to improve and reduce runtime. The cost savings can help justify additional digital improvements, whether that involves purchasing additional devices, software or controls add-ons.

Incorporating digitalization within CIP/SIP operations can also improve workplace safety. By eliminating manual steps, employees reduce the number of times they must interact with harmful chemicals or enter areas that expose them to risks like high temperatures or moving process machinery.

Optimize compressed air use

Factories dedicate as much as 30% of their total energy usage to compressed air generation — and leaks and process inefficiencies can consume up to a third of what’s produced. While it’s common for factories to check periodically for leaks, the gap between checks allows leaks to grow. This can waste energy otherwise saved by early-stage detection.

Digital technology can help transform compressed air use with real-time monitoring that detects and addresses leaks sooner. Smart airflow sensors assess a range of factors, from pressure and temperature to humidity and moisture, allowing operators to continuously monitor their compressed air circuit. An edge computing device aggregates the collected data streams and sends them to software that contextualizes the data on a dashboard. Operators can view the dashboard to understand the trends and diagnostics, allowing them to make informed decisions that prevent air loss, minimize energy use and reduce emissions.

Digital transformation solutions help OEMs optimize their machines to boost production, improve product quality, enhance sustainability and better meet regulations. Image courtesy of Emerson.

Automate reporting and product tracking

Food and beverage manufacturers face strict safety, hygiene and compliance standards, requiring factories to collect, maintain or share critical information. Many facilities use pencil-and-paper methods that are not only time-consuming, but they also introduce the risk for human error during the recording process. These errors are magnified if transferred to other types of records or documentation. Digitalization replaces clipboard recordkeeping with process data converted into organized reports that help facilities meet regulations and give employees the insights they need, when they need them.

For example, digital transformation can streamline batch/lot records so that quality assurance (QA) teams can more efficiently and accurately ensure that products are up to required standards. If there are deviations, smart technology can also help QA better perform root cause analyses. Taking this organized, controlled step to record keeping improves the food safety process and speeds up investigations involving recalls. Digital transformation is also a proactive approach for staying compliant with future part releases under CFR Title 21 FDA regulation.

Better record keeping translates to better tracking. Proper tracking of food product with coding and labeling is essential. Tracking during production allows manufacturers to track and document both the input and output of their processes. Not only does this help identify potential risks during production, it also can support consumer safety after the product leaves the facility. Streamlining this process through digitalization allows for smooth transactions between internal departments and external entities.

Staying competitive

Emerging technology makes it easier than ever for manufacturers to scale their entry into digital transformation. And each factory’s approach to digital transformation will be as unique as the products they produce. Full solutions offer manufacturers a range of automation and control technologies that support their distinct goals and requirements. To determine application needs, it’s important that manufacturers work with an expert provider to source a comprehensive solution, from the factory floor to the cloud, that combines smart devices and sensors, hardware, software and applications expertise into one package.

With a combined solution, manufacturers can align various layers of automation for their application, whether it’s a single asset like a production line or across multiple sites. A combined solution eliminates the need to outsource different components from various providers, prevents incompatible components and reduces engineering time and effort as well as downtime during installation.

Whether companies are taking the first step with smart technology or fully incorporating it into greenfield projects, digital transformation will become a necessity as manufacturing moves into the future. Emerging, scalable technologies now allow manufacturers to fully connect these digital, automated technologies within facilities and throughout multisite operations, creating powerful, optimized ecosystems that improve business performance.

About the Author

Jennifer Williams specializes in hybrid markets, and is a product marketing manager with Emerson. Learn more at

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