Manufacturers and supply chain operators are feeling the relentless pressure to improve the efficiency, quality and safety of every aspect of their operations. Fortunately, the Internet of Everything (IoE) and its enabling technologies offer a golden opportunity to respond to these challenges by tracking the entire lifecycle of a product with real-time data that can enable manufacturers to streamline processes and remove some of the most stubborn remaining inefficiencies.
For example, the “Connected Food” movement, powered by the IoE, is transforming every step along the agri-food supply chain, from the way food products are grown, to how consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands are manufactured, processed and distributed, to how the products are sold.
The IoE is the connecting of people, processes, data and things, and the application of real-time analytics, that help businesses gain intelligent insights and improve operations. IoE technologies enable CPG brands to break down information silos among their supply chain partners and share real-time data across organizations to improve collaboration, increase manufacturing speed, or even provide consumers the ability to trace the journey of their food products.
For example, the pasta brand Barilla recently tapped IoE technologies to introduce an integrated tracking system called the “Safety for Food” initiative that helps combat counterfeiting in the food supply chain and give consumers greater transparency and traceability of the ingredients in their food throughout its entire lifecycle. Using data virtualization, intelligent networking and other technologies, the company has been able to integrate real-time data from external suppliers, distributors and retailers and apply real-time analytics for compliance checking, tracking and tracing of all ingredients. The integrated solution creates a ‘digital passport’ for each production batch that enables consumers to trace that batch of food through the entire supply chain — from the field where the raw ingredients were grown, through the processing, packaging and shipping to the grocery store.
This integrated tracking system provides consumers with the insight they want into their food: traceability and transparency are increasingly important to consumers, especially Millennials, for whom provenance is key. Increasing occurrences of food safety recalls are also fueling the demand for traceability. At the same time, the integrated tracking system provides Barilla a real-time, updated picture of its entire supply chain, enabling the company to predict how certain business decisions will affect each individual stage of the industrial process, impact the environment, affect cost, and ultimately even transform the customer experience.
Another major food manufacturer leveraging IoE technologies to improve processes is SugarCreek. As the largest independent processor of bacon, meatballs, sausage patties and chicken for food service and retail, SugarCreek implemented IoE technologies throughout their facilities to optimize production processes and add new factory capabilities. The company sought to strengthen Quality Control by connecting an array of devices, sensors and systems throughout its production processes and recently refurbished a 418,000 square-foot manufacturing facility to turn it into a “Factory of the Future.” Applying real-time analytics to all the data generated by these connected devices, the company has been able to streamline production, improve inventory management and quality control, and increase security in operations.
Using sensors and predictive analytics throughout their facilities, manufacturers can identify when maintenance will need to be performed on a machine before it breaks down, enabling them to reduce downtime. Sensors on tools and other assets help companies improve inventory management and tools tracking. Real-time video analytics can minimize loss and wastage in facilities, and even help optimize labor costs through time and motion studies of workers on the manufacturing line. Improved Wi-Fi connectivity and access to real-time data enable manufacturers to manage work-in-process and share information with their partners to streamline every step of the supply chain, from their suppliers to their customers.
By adopting an IoE strategy, manufacturers and supply chain operators across industries can prepare for changes in product demand or packaging design. They can also streamline production processes and improve quality control, all while making sure everything runs smoothly with as little intervention as possible.
It’s not a matter of “if” or “when” IoE becomes a reality — it is already at work today in food manufacturing and elsewhere, and business and consumers alike are opening their eyes to the benefits.
Shaun Kirby is Chief Technology Officer at Cisco Consulting Services.