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Competition, increasing consumer demand driving automation in F&B industry

Manu Tiwari, industry principal, industrial practice, Frost & Sullivan, explains the benefits of automation

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Manu Tiwri, Frost & Sullivan, Indian food processing market, COVID-19 pandemic, Comply with FDA, Food safety and quality, Automation in F&B, World-class manufacturing practices, Benefits of automation, Improves traceability, Brand consistency, Personnel safety, Predictive maintenance, Automated storage and retrieval system, ASRS, Automate warehousing., Accuracy of packing, SCADA, PLC-based controllers, Digitalization for backward integration, Industry 4.0, IoT integration support, Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Cloud computing

The Indian food processing market was worth Rs 27,452 billion in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has created an atmosphere of uncertainty in 2020. However, it is estimated that future growth will be strong, mainly driven by a surge in domestic demand, rising exports and increasing investments and government support.

Today, food manufacturers across the country are under pressure to increase profits and reduce costs. The industry has to comply with FDA and other regulations that ensure food safety and quality. The industry handles large volumes of products, and to produce high-quality and consistent products, the country’s leading players in the segment have gradually started implementing automation in their plants.

Factors fuelling growth of automation in F&B:
*Fierce competition among various food companies, forcing players to introduce world-class manufacturing practises
*Increasing customer demand for supreme-quality food products
*With health and hygiene becoming the main concern in today’s world, reducing human intervention as much as possible is the distinguishing element to choose a particular brand

Benefits of automation:

*Improved traceability
Traceability is highly critical for the food and beverage industry, especially during product recalls. Automation significantly improves traceability, which provides valuable data to manufacturers to ensure regulatory compliance, and brings down the compliance cost. This data also helps in identifying and troubleshooting the issues in the supply chain, thus supporting continuous enhancement of overall quality, safety, and profitability.

*Brand consistency
Consistency is crucial for the food and beverage industry. Customers would buy the same product again if they have the same texture, flavour, taste, and other characteristics that they liked. Through automation, product consistency is achieved, thus safeguarding the brand’s reputation. Also, automation improves quality by streamlining the production process and reducing the risk of product recalls.

*Emphasis on personnel safety
When hazardous tasks such as picking up heavy objects and other potentially dangerous or monotonous tasks are performed by robots and other automation solutions, the safety and welfare of the human workforce are addressed.

*Provides flexibility
Automation allows manufacturers to be more quick and agile and adapt to changing production needs, such as retooling for new products, changing regulatory compliance requirements, etc. The desired changes are programmed into the automation software, hence eliminating the need for personnel training.

*Increases efficiency
Predictive maintenance is a bonus that comes along with automation. Real-time data is used to identify potential issues and send alerts when maintenance is needed, further eliminating production downtimes.

The latest automation developments in the F&B industry include:

*The major automation applications in the food & beverage industry have been observed in the supply chain and logistics segment, owing to the growing pace and scale of business.
*Before, the major chunk of investment for automation went into food processing. However, currently, the focus is more on food packaging, cartoning and distribution management of the whole warehouse automatically. An automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) is one of the most successful processes to efficiently automate warehousing.
*Automation trends in India are geared towards centralization, such as setting up central control rooms for monitoring and controlling operations.
*A growing trend is the automation of packaging lines to improve the speed and accuracy of packing.
*Other areas of automation in the food and beverage industry are quality testing/inspection and integration of all machines into a SCADA or PLC-based controllers that can be remotely controlled and monitored to improve manpower productivity and reduce process deviations.
Industry players are using digitalization for backward integration and to monitor their forward linkages.
*Industry 4.0 and IoT integration support manufacturing systems to generate necessary analytics to self-correct the processes. Similarly, Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cloud computing help with real-time analysis and quick decision-making.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic scenario, the use of automated systems can ensure continued manufacturing and supply of food products with minimal human movement. Auto controls and digital twins give the virtual operations controls to perform hygiene and closed-room operations, without human intervention. A fully automated system can also ensure a complete sterilization and disinfection process.

Automation and robotics in the food and beverage industry in India are not being widely applied but are heading in that direction, especially as the sector transforms in terms of demand and becomes a multi-brand market. Companies in the industry need to opt for a defined approach to implement the right automation and digitalization strategy. It is pivotal for them to be aware of the challenges that stand in the way to overcome them and rise to global standards.

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