How disruptive technology is changing the food manufacturing industry

By Johan du Toit, strategic sales executive for SYSPRO Africa.

The food and beverage industry plays a significant role in contributing to the South African economy, providing economic growth and employment creation. The industry is the third-largest manufacturing sector in South Africa, contributing 27% of the country’s manufacturing GDP. It’s a demanding market – food and beverage manufacturers must meet consumer expectations, avoid quality breaches, and constantly increase food safety while staying up to date with industry regulations.

With constantly changing consumer preferences and evolving compliance requirements, technological innovation is a cornerstone of the food and beverage industry. Disruptive technology is changing the way the food and beverage manufacturing industry produces, distributes and consumes food products. Food manufacturers can acquire a competitive advantage by using smart value chains and adopting Industry 4.0 technologies such as big data analytics, Internet of things (IoT), AI, Machine Learning (ML) and robotics. By adopting these technologies across the value chain, manufacturers can overcome production bottlenecks, improve productivity and efficiency, provide better customer service and stay competitive.

Using technology to streamline production

 There is great potential for the application of IoT technology in the food manufacturing industry. IoT sensors and devices that feed data through to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems can reduce maintenance costs by flagging anomalies in machinery performance, boost productivity by decreasing maintenance downtime and costs through predictive maintenance, and help manufacturers provide transparency in the supply chain – something that is becoming increasingly important to consumers as the ‘farm to fork’ movement continues to grow in popularity.

Consumers are more discerning than ever, and are increasingly demanding transparency about not only where their food comes from, but also how it is handled throughout the food supply chain. Manufacturers can implement IoT devices throughout to meet the consumer demand for knowledge and information. And as food and beverage manufacturers increase and extend their partner networks, it is essential to be able to provide the necessary assurance, trust and traceability along the entire chain, not just in the manufacturer’s own environment.

Automation is inevitable

Just as the automotive industry has adapted to incorporate robotics on its factory floors, so too the food industry is increasingly looking to food robotics to improve food quality, increase output and reduce overheads. Robotics integrates with ERP systems by using sensors and data to perform tasks in the food production process, helping manufacturers increase their productivity, accuracy, safety and flexibility. And because strict safety regulations apply, manufacturers meet advanced product consistency and overall efficiency goals.

Data, data, everywhere

One of the most notable impacts of the proliferation of disruptive tech is the massive increase in data points throughout the supply chain from embedded digital technologies. These are playing an increasingly important role to help manufacturers ensure that the products that consumers receive are safe to consume or use and arrive in the condition intended. Smart packaging tools can provide a huge stream of data for the manufacturer, capturing data points on everything from factors like product location, temperature and handling conditions to end-to-end visibility in the supply chain.

Paired with AI solutions, manufacturers can use the data amassed from the thousands of IoT sensors and devices throughout the food chain to increase efficiency, streamline their operations, enhance quality control, and reduce waste, effecting cost savings without reducing output or product quality. ERP systems can seamlessly integrate with these technologies, coupled with AI, to enable predictive analytics, machine learning and intelligent automation, all of which help food manufacturers optimise their production planning, demand forecasting, quality control, maintenance, and customer service. AI and automation services are already proving their ability to decrease operational costs and improve service levels and speed in many areas along the supply chain.

AI and ML technologies allow manufacturers to leverage data, algorithms, and models to improve their capabilities and efficiency. Automating complex and repetitive tasks like defect detection and analysing large data sets to uncover patterns, anomalies and insights can help manufacturers to predict and prevent possible quality issues. Monitoring and analysing all of the variables that can influence product quality, generates streams of valuable data, and this is where an ERP system can help identify critical patterns and help mitigate any issues.

All these disruptive technologies within the food manufacturing industry feed data through to ERP systems, which helps manufacturers create better outcomes and efficiency by enhancing the performance and functionality of their systems. This provides food and beverage manufacturers with a competitive advantage in the marketplace, and makes them well-positioned to respond quickly to the evolving demands of their consumers. Having ERP deployed throughout the manufacturing process goes beyond just providing data – it enables manufacturers to leverage disruptive technology to maximum effect for maximum efficiency and productivity.


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