Food safety isn’t just a matter of compliance. It’s also a matter of consumer protection and brand reputation. But making sure your products are safe — while maintaining high production levels — isn’t getting any easier because of pressures like new regulations, mounting SKU numbers and the widening skills gap among workers.
The good news is that we’ve entered the age of smart manufacturing, which offers new tools to help you achieve food safety compliance and protect productivity, while addressing top industry challenges. Smart manufacturing is built around three key elements — connectivity, insights and digitized processes — that can help you understand and improve almost any aspect of your operations.
For example, real-time analytics can help confirm you’re meeting industry regulations and your continuous-improvement goals. Model predictive control (MPC) software can help manage ingredient variability and improve equipment performance. And an MES-based track-and-trace system can help you meet new traceability requirements and reduce waste from quality-related issues.
Your business goals should dictate your specific smart manufacturing solutions. A pragmatic approach might be to incrementally deploy solutions, with savings from each investment funding the next. In general, your smart manufacturing strategy should follow five steps:
1. Connect Your Systems
Smart manufacturing can’t happen with disparate networks or “islands of information.” It requires seamless, real-time connectivity and visibility across your organization.
That’s why converging your operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) systems into a unified network architecture is a crucial first step. It creates a foundation for connecting the people, processes and technologies that impact food safety compliance and productivity.
Build your converged network architecture on an open, industry-standard network technology like EtherNet/IP. It can deliver real-time control and information in high-availability applications, and supports both industrial and non-industrial communications. Also, remember that converged operations create new roles and responsibilities for workers. Training and certification programs can equip your workforce with the skills and knowledge they need to plan, deploy and oversee converged IT/OT operations.
2. Secure Your Operations
Connected operations must be secure operations. A wide range of threats — from complex cyberattacks to simple cable misconnections — can put trade secrets in jeopardy and disrupt operations. What’s more, threats that target quality-critical processes like irradiation, heating and cooling can impact food safety or quality.
Your security strategy should address this broad threat landscape. That’s why a defense-in-depth security approach is recommended. It establishes several layers of defense against all types of threats: internal and external, digital and physical, malicious and unintentional.
Every food manufacturer will create their own unique security strategy specific to their operations. But some key safeguards to consider using include data encryption, anomaly detection software, an industrial DMZ and authentication, authorization, patch management and accounting (AAA) software.
3. Get Proactive
Analytics software allows you to abandon the tedious and error-prone practice of manually collecting process data. The software automatically collects information from many sources, and then combines and contextualizes the data to deepen insights into your processes.
MPC software, meanwhile, can automatically adjust systems in real time, as materials enter a conversion process instead of afterward. This can help maintain product quality amid equipment and ingredient variability.
These capabilities provide a more proactive approach to managing food safety compliance. They can also help you comply with regulations for:
- HAACP Plans: Access real-time process control data on parameters like temperature, pressure, cook time and clean-in-place; and create food safety dashboards to track your critical control point performance across a plant.
- Data Trending and Statistical Process Control: Get warnings when thresholds are met or before a process is out of spec.
- Corrective Action Logs: Use monitor and alarm functions to know if process parameters are out of spec, and record when corrective action was taken.
- Records Management and Verification: Monitor trends and correlations, and get time-stamped reports without digging through paper reports.
4. Implement Traceability
A supply chain track-and-trace system can help you comply with new and emerging traceability regulations. But the benefits don’t end there. For example, it can help protect your products and your business against counterfeits. And product recalls automatically become more efficient.
Designing a track-and-trace system in-house can be tempting. But it can also lead to long-term issues, such as limited support and parts shortages.
Instead, consider using an “out-of-the-box” system that easily integrates into production. Specifically, a standardized system designed at the MES level can minimize production disruptions. It can also help you be sure that your system is interoperable from the machine to the cloud.
5. Improve Productivity
Use smart manufacturing to help drive continuous productivity improvements even while you use it to enhance food safety control.
Scalable analytics software, for example, can be deployed as close to a data source as you need it. Machine analytics can tell you how a machine is performing and the reasons behind that performance level. This can help you monitor and improve OEE, while you deliver more consistent batches.
Fit-for-purpose MES modules can help you efficiently operate while keeping a focus on food safety compliance. A production-management module, for instance, can help workers download the right recipe for each new run and print accurate labels. And a quality-management module can provide video instructions to workers, collect production data and notify workers when to take samples.
Plus, configurable line-control solutions can make it easier to integrate discrete production lines. This can be especially valuable to help workers manage a growing number of product varieties and packaging options.
Protect Your Future
Your brand and your future is at stake in every product that rolls off the line. Smart manufacturing allows you to manage safety and productivity despite shifts in food regulations and customer demands. It’s the long-term solution for protecting consumers and your reputation, and, ultimately, boosting your bottom line.
Jean-Luc Bonnet is an Information Solutions Regional Manager for Rockwell Automation. Daniel Reinarts is a Global Technical Consultant for Rockwell Automation.