The adage is old but true: Variety is the spice of life. These days, the need for variety means that about 33 percent of consumers are willing to pay 10 percent more for a craft version of a product.
And variety goes beyond new products. Consumer tastes are becoming more selective. Gone are the days when new flavors could entice someone at the shelf. Many consumers choose a product based on their health and wellness concerns.
Others are looking for brands that fit their lifestyle. For example, food packaging design has shifted to smaller sizes to accommodate the 61 percent of all U.S. households that are one- or two-person households. Such formats include single-serve packaging, meals for two, multipacks of individual portions and re-sealable packaging.
Being able to quickly respond to changing customer tastes is posing a challenge to food and beverage companies. That’s because historically, the most profitable production lines are those that run for as long as possible with a single product manufactured.
For most producers, frequent changeovers have significant impact on yield, quality and the amount of scrap produced. Changeovers take time to set up. There are material costs from clean-in-place processes. And a standard line seldom caters to flexibility.
But being flexible doesn’t have to be time-consuming and expensive. Proven automation technology exists that can help you create a balance between improving yield and maintaining flexible production.
This balance hinges on the use of automation, particularly mechanical flexibility, advanced control techniques and accessible information. Taken together, this can help you monitor, analyze and control your process.
Built for Flexibility
A traditional packaging line is arranged for a single product. The motion system alone must be manually configured to handle varying speeds or intermittent motion tasks, even for something as basic as changing from 28-unit packs to 24-unit packs.
New equipment can offer greater flexibility to reduce such time-consuming configuration challenges.
For example, modular and intelligent track systems use production information to automatically adapt for real-time production. If a new product is introduced, the system can prepare for new sizes automatically, varying the speeds and spacing required.
Take Out the Guesswork
Changeovers take time and can generate waste. Even if operators correctly configure the recipe, costly mistakes can occur without automated work flows.
In large-scale food production, a fractional error could mean a large variance in a batch. That whole batch then either needs to be tossed or adjusted to bring it back within specifications.
Advanced control techniques, such as automated recipe management, allow producers to automatically store and implement recipes for each product. By employing the correct ingredients and amounts, while also ensuring the correct processes like cooking time and temperature, these techniques can help you produce consistent, high-quality products.
Information for All
Automation goes well beyond controlling production. It also provides useful data. But to be useful, the data must be converted into actionable information. Such information offers insight into performance and allows for better decision-making.
One company, for instance, was experiencing unacceptable weight variances in its plastic-wrapped breakfast sausage. By deploying manufacturing intelligence software on top of advanced control techniques, operators were able to visualize and ultimately share information across the plant. These insights helped the company increase yield by 0.50 percent — or more than a half a million pounds of sausage annually.
These three solutions represent only a glimpse of what’s possible. Learn more about achieving balance between yield and flexibility in your enterprise from our agile, food producer white paper.
 Deloitte Survey: Shoppers Continue to Leave National Brands Behind, Deloitte, June 23, 2015
 Five Keys Trends Shaping Food and Beverage Packaging, Packaging World, Oct. 28, 2015