How vibratory compaction tables settle products

Companies in the bulk packaging industry experience a range of material challenges during the packaging and filling process. These challenges include material condensing, densifying, de-airing, material settling and material packing.

During the packaging and filling process, materials become aerated. Material that is transported in an aerated state will eventually settle and compact due to gravity or the vibration in transit.

Aerated material can compact up to 20 per cent and this results in dead space in the container. This dead space can cause product breakage and loss, and in some cases contamination. Further, when transporting materials on a cubic-metre basis, the opportunity to fully utilise the capacity of the entire container is lost. These issues are especially common in industries that process and package, such as nuts, spices, pet food, biomass pellets, livestock feed and grains. These issues also occur in fertiliser and cement-sand packaging and processing. The consequences of these challenges are reduced efficiency, increased operation, transport and storage costs.

VSS vibratory compaction tables are designed to compact, settle and consolidate product and dry bulk materials during the packaging and filling process. VSS vibratory compaction tables are available for light-, medium-, and heavy-duty, depending upon the specific material, application and processing facility.

VSS vibratory compaction tables are suitable for a range of applications in the bulk-packaging processing line. They flatten the cone or pile of material made from the filling station discharging into rigid structure packaging. This compacts and settles material, allowing for up to 20 per cent more material to be added to the container, utilising the full container’s capacity and protects the product from breakage, product loss and decreases the risk of contamination. This also allows for more product to be shipped in the same amount of space, saving money for the producer and customers.

The vibratory compaction tables compact and stabilise flexible intermediate bulk containers (FIBCs), including bulk bin bags or super sacks for easier stacking and handling prior to storage or shipment.

In addition, these tables remove air bubbles from moulds, cast products and liquids (like chocolate) to improve structural integrity, surface finish and quality control. They can also be custom designed to accurately weigh material and fill containers to the required mass. This is important when products are sold or shipped by weight.

With the correct application of vibration, the material should move up and down in the centre of the compaction table with little side to side movement. While all VSS vibratory compaction tables utilise vertical linear vibration to achieve this “up and down” movement, each compaction application design requires the consideration of each application’s unique variables.

When designing a vibratory compaction table, variables like weight, material characteristics and structural design must be taken into consideration as it affects table design, applicable accessories and the vibration frequency necessary for the specific application.

Depending on the application, tables may be designed with a flat deck, a grid deck or a belt table.

For areas that have limited space and where height requirements are at a minimum, the compaction tables are available in low profile. For applications that require accurate weighing and filling, VSS vibratory compaction tables can be equipped with digital scale instruments that use set points to control the start and stop of the fill device and the vibration sequence.

When choosing the correct pneumatic vibrator for the application, the required vibration frequency is largely dependent on the material density; high-frequency vibration with smaller resulting strokes is suitable for heavier material. While lower frequency vibration with its larger strokes is more suitable for lightweight materials.

These tables lower labour hours and costs for packaging and processing lines in the bulk packaging industry.

Enclosed DAF system still achieving excellent results

Adelaide-based Sunfresh Salads produces packaged food that can be found on leading supermarket shelves throughout Australia. The family-owned business takes respecting the environment seriously, especially when it comes to effluent discharge.

So when the company’s wastewater wasn’t up to council specifications some years ago, it called on wastewater specialists Aerofloat to find a solution.

Five years later, the Aerofloat wastewater treatment system continues to remove up to 97 per cent of fats, oils and grease and ensures a compliant effluent discharge.

Sunfresh specifically chose Aerofloat’s system over other products on the market, according to Sunfresh Salads’ HR and environmental service manager, Robert Mika.

“The AeroDAF 100 system was initially built as a prototype from Aerofloat’s new patented design, and we chose it for good reason,” he says. “Many other systems that we looked at were open top tanks exposed to the external environment. The Aerofloat system was completely enclosed, which meant there were no odours. Being enclosed also means we have no issues with rodents and there is no visual attraction for birds on site.”

Health and safety are integral to Sunfresh Salad’s food preparation principles, and a system that allowed it to meet council effluent regulations, and was also odourless was a win-win for the company.

Michael Anderson, general manager for engineering for Aerofloat, said it is not the first time a company has installed the system for this reason.

“We completed a similar project for 4 Pines Brewing Company where the treatment plant was located about five metres away from a restaurant sitting area and bar,” said Anderson. “In the brewery installation, we included a similar DAF to the Sunfresh Salads system and vented every pipeline above the building, so as to not affect those in the restaurant.”

The patented design of the AeroDAF 100 has stood the test of time, continuing to give great results.

Anderson advises companies that are thinking of investing in a new system to make sure they know what’s included and what they are getting for their money. “A recent client had been shopping around and finding highly variable pricing on the market,” he said. “I explained that a DAF is just one piece of the puzzle.

“A complete treatment system needs to address a number of factors. For example, water needs to be averaged out, pump flows selected, pH corrected and the correct chemicals applied.”

“A critical part of the process is having good screening equipment up front and appropriately sized tanks to accommodate flow. Remember that wastewater flow and consistency varies with production. The chemical dosing to the system is essentially set-and-forget after commissioning so it’s also important to have a decent balance tank to average out the wastewater.”

“Some companies will install basic equipment and then need to call in a number of third parties – this is where is Aerofloat is different. We have a large team that can deal with all the disciplines required to create a successful waste treatment plant that can accommodate production changes and growth.”

Mika commended the ease of use and simplicity of the installation at Sunfresh Salads and explained the wastewater treatment process in detail.

“All our waste was previously collected in grease traps which were no longer supporting our needs. Aerofloat converted the system to allow the waste to be pumped via a rotary screen.”

“The wastewater is then discharged into a blending tank to be mixed and corrected for pH. It then flows to a balancing tank and on to the AeroDAF 100 where it is treated with coagulant and polymer. The flocculated waste particles are floated to the top of the tank and then, automatically pushed into the waste tank.”

The AeroDAF 100 system is easy to use. As Anderson explains, it is also mechanically simple, with less working parts, which lessens the chances of a breakdown.

“With our system, you push the sludge out through a conical shape from the DAF. This means that you don’t have to maintain complex scraping chains. It also means we can manufacture the DAF more economically.”

“Depending on the project, we can offer our patented design or traditional scraper DAFs. We decide on the best fit for the client’s needs following a thorough assessment,” Anderson continued.

As food and beverage companies grow they tend to create more wastewater. So, how often does a company need to revise its wastewater plant?

“Higher wastewater flow means more pressure on existing systems and companies are therefore at increased risk of facing council water compliancy issues.”

“If the authority is happy with the wastewater amount and effluent quality being produced, then the company won’t have any issues. However, once the facility starts to grow, or the equipment they have installed isn’t working properly, then everything must be reviewed.”

“There are subtle signs that things might be going wrong. Often a system appears to be working but is at high risk at not being able to sustain the flow or discharge requirements.”

Aerofloat’s flexible designs allow companies to expand, change and grow and the company’s engineers can simply enhance or add technology to the existing system as required.

Custom designed solutions that apply patented technology in combination with other cutting-edge products, means Aerofloat is equipped to address a range of wastewater treatment needs in the industry. The long-term success of the innovative AeroDAF 100 design over time has been demonstrated repeatedly since its inception five years ago.
Sunfresh Salads look forward to ongoing growth in the future and are confident that its wastewater needs will be met with Aerofloat’s technology on hand.

Packaging designed to leave nothing behind

With the war on packaging waste, together with 2025 global packaging targets, it’s fair to say that the food packaging industry is busy finding new ways for smarter packaging. The strong media focus on “end of life” for packaging means consumer awareness and demand for green solutions is growing, along with the increasing concerns that packaging is ending up in our landfill and oceans.

While efforts to reduce end-of-life impact are certainly critical, the significance packaging plays in protecting food and reducing food waste is often underestimated. So, as we get busy finding new smarter ways for packaging, where exactly should we be focussing?

Designing food packaging for longer product shelf life and product protection is non-negotiable. Resources need to be optimised and end of life taken into account. Well-designed packaging takes the full life cycle of a product into account – end of life cannot be considered in isolation of the primary role of packaging.

Reducing, reusing and recycling are great ways to make a smart difference and certainly have their uses in the greater scheme of things. However, the best way is to embrace the opportunity to re-design, reinvent and change the status quo. For example, fresh proteins packed in a modified atmosphere tray lid configuration require absorbent pads to retain product purge. In fact, across ANZ’s fresh meat sector, more than 750 million soiled pads end up in landfill each year. That is a huge number. Rather than re-designing the pad to make it recyclable and therefore address ‘end of life’ concerns, a total rethink of the solution gave rise to a new sustainable way.

Sealed Air’s Cryovac HydroLoQ barrier tray is a new concept where product purge is retained by the purposefully designed cavities in the tray, thereby eliminating the need for a soaker pad. The recyclable tray offers extended product freshness and shelf life and with no soaker pad to dispose of, Cryovac HydroLoQ is designed to leave nothing behind.

Another example of re-design and reinventing is the gradual evolution from modified atmosphere packaging technology to vacuum skin technology, which offers a step change to Sealed Air’s food value chain. For example, Cryovac Darfresh is proven to at least double the shelf life of fresh red meat, enhance logistic and retail efficiencies and offer an enhanced consumer experience. Extended shelf life of this magnitude means less food waste, less packaging waste and it means better profits for our processors and this means better business sustainability. Not to mention, the best eating experience available.

Smart design means smart for everyone along the value chain, from processors to retailers and consumers. While down gauging (reducing) ticks one box, its benefits cannot be negated by poor operational throughput, down time and lost profits.

Cryovac OptiDure is an example where traditional barrier shrink bags have been re-engineered to use less material, drive improved abuse resistance, and improve operational efficiency and throughput. Its leading clarity and gloss characteristics drives stronger shelf aesthetics and that means greater consumer appeal. And once the product is opened, consumers can place the shrink bag into polyolefin recycling streams.

A holistic approach to packaging design will yield the best outcome, but a design around end of life only is a flawed approach. The noise around end of life alone should not dictate future packaging design and development.

Beyond saving food and delivering operational excellence, smart design must also take into account product and consumer safety. As we commit to including recycled content into “direct food contact” packaging, we cannot simply introduce a new recycled element into a re-design without proper validation. This is not an area of guesswork and must be validated from a regulatory perspective, ensuring it meets all necessary food law requirements.

While all of this logic may resonate across industry professionals, this is a story waiting to be told. In the minds of consumers, plastic waste is still perceived to be worse for the environment than food waste. According to a recent survey, ANZ consumers agree that re-sealable packaging is the best way to reduce household food waste. The findings also show that packaging has a reputational impact on the supermarket. More than 45 per cent of ANZ shoppers state they would react positively to a store promoting their food items as being packaged in a way that optimises food freshness.

Now is the time for education and B2C communication. Consumers need to understand how packaging contributes to a safer and less wasteful food supply chain. They need to know how it impacts food accessibility around the world and how it drives better business sustainability for local producers and processors. Brand owners have a role in telling this story. Without a story, consumers and non-industry stakeholders see packaging as unnecessary, simply adding to our waste piles.

To reduce is priority, but whether we design for reduce, reuse or recycle, the full product lifecycle must be at the front of mind when designing packaging. A smart design that yields a sustainable outcome for all of our value chain is a fail proof way of leaving our environment in a better place that which it was found. And, that’s a stronger story we should all own.

Part of the problem is that there are a few misconceptions out in the marketplace when it comes to the sustainability of food packaging.

Sustainable packaging is often met with the perception that it is green and environmentally friendly in that it is made from renewable materials and can be recycled or is compostable. Quite often, the focus on end of life and its disposal dominates. But, there’s a missing part of this story about packaging’s primary role in keeping food fresh and safe. If you consider the resource intensive nature of our food supply chain, packaging that can double shelf life offers immediate and substantial environmental benefits.

Longer shelf life and freshness allows us to consume products within a greater time period, enabling less waste. But, it also goes a step further. There are also peripheral benefits, such as not wasting the resources that surround the packaging of products, such as the water and energy required to produce an item.

Sometimes, damaged products, or spoiled foods, have a greater environmental impact than the products that protect them. For example, the carbon footprint of 1kg of beef is nearly 400 times that of the plastic packaging used to protect it during distribution and sales.

We need to remind stakeholders that sustainable packaging involves understanding the life cycle analysis of the whole package including the product, packaging and shipping. This is something some people do not consider when looking at the big picture. Cost sensitivity is a concern, but is often negated when processors and retailers realise the myriad of supply chain benefits. From reduced re-work and down time through to extended shelf life and product appeal, it’s easy to see how value sells itself. Again, while the initial outcome seems obvious, if you dig a little deeper, there are other considerations that need to be taken into account.

Sealed Air just doesn’t talk the talk, it is dedicated to the 2025 pledge and its packaging targets, and it does so by strongly supporting its research and development team. While efforts are deployed to meet targets, smart design underpins Cryovac innovation. It starts by efficient design and waste avoidance, ensuring packaging design provides efficiency and functionality.

One of the challenges is changing the mindset of the consumer. In the minds of many customers, plastic is still perceived to be worse than food waste for the environment. Let’s applaud the past three consecutive years where FMCG brands including Harvey Beef, The Bared Bird and Don KRC have been awarded gold for the Packaging that Save Food category at the Packaging Innovation and Design Awards (PIDA) using Cryovac solutions that extend shelf life and reduce waste across the supply chain. Brand owners have a great opportunity to leverage this and drive a sustainable brand story.

Sealed Air loves exciting the industry and we like to keep some things a secret. What we can say is that as we reinvent Sealed Air, we reinvent the way we make our products and solve our customers solutions. As an industry however, we know that education at store level and across consumer brands will drive better informed consumer buying decisions and thus we should start to see brands tell this story.

As mentioned, research shows more than two in five Australian and New Zealand grocery shoppers stated they would react positively to a store promoting their food items as being packaged in a way that optimises food freshness. But what they also said was that they would react positively to a store promoting that its fresh food items are safer to eat. The reputation and image of food brands and retailers is likely to be positively enhanced by participation in educating the public about food packaging and helping them to make more environmentally friendly choices. A store or retail brand being proactive in communicating about how to reduce food waste is likely to drive favourably among consumers.

Alan Adams, Sustainability Director, Sealed Air, APAC

ifm helps build reputable businesses that connect with others

Reputation can lead to failure or success. And in a world where many speak about negative experiences more than positive ones, a company needs to hold a good name among industry. As a part of sustaining a reputable business, PwC stated in a survey – What drives a company’s success? – that companies were more likely to succeed if they had a clear understanding of their own business.

The survey shows that companies find it harder to understand their own strengths than to understand their customers. By knowing themselves well, and leveraging their distinctive strengths to build a clear identity, companies can outperform their peers. But many companies aren’t basing their strategies on this insight, the study found. In fact, companies have widely divergent views on how to develop strategy, despite evidence that a capabilities-driven approach delivers the best returns. Additionally, companies with a clear identity –standing for something unique and consistent over time – tend to perform better than others.

The survey, which included 720 participants, identified what people recognised as key strategies for success. The most important drivers of success for the world’s 105 largest companies include having a coherent business strategy where everything the company does points in the same direction. It is also important that of products and services perfectly fit together and support a company’s value proposition.

Successful companies are also deemed to be agile, fast-moving innovators that stay one step ahead of challenges. ifm’s clear business strategy, and its commitment to putting customers’ requirements first, are among the reasons engineering solutions provider, Agito, chooses to work with the company.

ifm sells sensors, safety systems, light curtains and other products to Agito so it can fulfil its projects, which include building conveyor systems, PLC control equipment and automation systems.

Agito managing director Michael Musca said he prefers to work with ifm because the ifm team is takes time to look at a company’s needs. “They care about us and they actually care about what they do. They answer the phone, they provide good services and they are invested in what we are doing.

“They need to understand what we are doing to be able to sell the right equipment to us. They make the right suggestions for new equipment they have because they know what we are about.

“That’s important because if you don’t know what’s available, you might just do what you’ve always done. Sometimes, for example, buying new products can be more cost effective,” said Musca.

He said ifm’s service and support differentiates them from companies that offer similar products.

“They’ve got a good system in place to get the phone answered every time and the people care and are interested.”

Agito uses ifm’s AS-Interface (ASI) system, which allows devices to communicate.
“It’s simple and the installation takes is a lot less time when compared with other systems. We have halved the installation time.

“ifm supplies the network of controls to allow us to drive things. You don’t have to wire a single wire through a device. You add to it as well. That’s what I like about ASI – it’s always able to grow.

“Other systems can be more expensive,” said Musca.

Agito has used the ASI system for many applications, including in food manufacturing facilities and in airport motor control systems. The ASI system includes inductive dual sensors for position detection on valve actuators, position feedback for single and double seat valves and for diaphragm valves, and inductive sensors for use in machine tools.

Agito builds specialty machines such as robotics or PLC control equipment. The company works predominantly in the food and beverage industry on projects such as conveyor systems for bakeries and soft drinks manufacturers.

“We build new equipment. We design it and decide which products to use. ifm’s products are easy to use, provided that people have a bit of training. Nothing is simple in electronics.”

While Agito trains its staff in-house, ifm is also able to provide training to customers. The company offers internal and external seminars and presentations about individual devices or whole product groups. All documents about system documentation are also available
as a download.

What’s next for barcode technology

Over the past few years, with the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0, data has been at the forefront of a lot of thought processes when it comes to smart factories and new products. If there is one thing GS1 knows about, it’s data. That is the raison d’etre of the standards bearer. After all, it was at the forefront of the barcode revolution. So what of the future?

A keynote speaker at the company’s Nexus 2019 Conference, was the not-for-profit organisation’s global chief solutions and innovation officer, Robert Beideman, who spoke about the importance of new technologies and where the likes of barcodes and their future iterations stand.

GS1 standards are the link between technology and business. Beideman believes that at the core of every consumer interaction is data. He also believes that a lot of companies are struggling to know what to do with all this information. As the video shown before his speech stated – “anything that can be connected will be connected” and “the identification of everything, makes anything possible”. Unique identification – something becoming more critical when it comes to food and beverage traceability, especially in emerging lucrative markets – is at the forefront of the latest moves towards digitisation and how it affects the consumer experience.

Technology, disruption and the supply chain were the main themes Beideman wanted to talk about.

“This conference is about what we can do to solve the problems that we all have together. Whatever those problems might be,” he said.

“Part of what we do with GS1 globally is take a look and scan the horizon. We work with GS1 Australia, with 113 GS1 member organisations around the world. These are country organisations that represent industry all around the world.”

He said, that what GS1 was concentrating on at the moment was looking at the major business problems that were facing everyone and prioritising them. Only then, said Beideman, is it possible to look at the technologies that might come to the fore and help solve the most pressing issues. He said the first thing people have to look at is data security and privacy.

“It is a $200 billion industry already,” he said. “This means we have the opportunity to do better when it comes to the amount of data we consume, that we share across enterprise, or we share with our trading partners. It is a huge trend – data security and privacy. Who owns what data?”

He said a side-effect of this, especially in the food and beverage industry, is issues around traceability. Standards for traceability have been around for more than a decade. He said that every so often there was a push for supply chains to do better with traceability, but it has never really taken hold – it has never become true end-to-end traceability.

“Until now,” said Beideman. “Regulatory drivers. Consumer drivers. People want to know where the stuff they buy is coming from. Where it has been? What it is made of? These business drivers are on the rise. There are things we have to do as an industry to address them.”

Beideman sees this as a huge opportunity for businesses, especially if the visibility, history and movement of goods is improved.

He added that there are a couple more pieces to the supply chain puzzle. Sustainability and the two-worded latest buzzword phrase “circular economy” as it relates to recycling. It also includes, he said, fair trade initiatives.

“With all these business challenges and issues arising every day, how do you prioritise?” he said. “What do you spend money on? But there are massive opportunities to serve customers more efficiently. And the list goes on. What about on-demand logistics services? I recently saw a video of an airship where drones were flying out of it and dropping off packages to people.”

He reiterated that the work needed was both Business to Consumer (B2C) and Business to Business (B2B). Streamlining processes, reducing transit times and warehousing and carrying costs – these are all business challenges that companies are being faced with every day.

“Then, there is the trend of automation and everything getting smarter,” he said. “You have smart cities, smart factories, smart homes and you have smart health. I’m not sure everything is getting smarter, but there is absolutely more data being generated.” And the challenge, said Beideman, is; how do companies adapt to these changes?

“I mean, when refrigerators know how to place an order for food, how do we react?” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you are a retailer, a brand or a transport company, you need to consider how this future impacts on your business.”

He said that another trend that was starting to gain traction, was bespoke products and services – drugs, food, vitamins.

“How do we react as an industry?” said Biedeman. “This is up to individual companies to solve, but they are things that we need to talk about.” GS1 Australia can provide some insights into the technologies that are available. This is also true of the value chain that it considers as it builds up standards with industry to remove costs and create better experiences to help companies sell more products.

“The value chain goes further upstream these days, to include growers and farmers, and it goes further downstream past the point of sale to the use of products and to the end of their life,” he said. “The value chains of today are far more complex than the traditional supply chains of yesterday.”

After GS1 looked at business trends, it looked at how technology could help. Put simply, IoT-enabled products create data and that enables the development of applications across industry, according to Beideman.

“Whether it is machine optimisation, smart industrial applications, or warehousing or logistics applications, sensors are becoming cheaper and more abundant and the data they are generating has the opportunity to help users address the aforementioned business challenges,” said Beideman. “But harnessing that data and making it useful for you is the challenge. Most of it is unstructured and not defined, and most of it is not standard.”

He feels that the better the standards can be mashed together, the better everybody will be. He said that Artificial Intelligence (AI)and the IoT create sets of data and knowledge and allow people and companies to take information from it – useful insights into whatever a company has to do. However, he said for AI to be something that helps solve business challenges, massive sets of data are required.

“Data that you understand the meaning of,” he said, “is essential. There is a massive trend out there in every industry in the world for data to become more readily available and easier to comprehend by machines. Everybody’s websites can be better than they are by using standards. It is the simplest thing in the world, but not something we have properly thought about. Not even if you are the representative of the IT team in your organisation. The more data we can put out there for consumption by machines, the easier it will be to solve those big business issues.”

He also said to be careful using blockchain as a blockchain is only as good as the data and information that is contained within it.

“If the information you have in it isn’t accurate or of good quality, all you have in your blockchain ledger is the ability to share bad data really well,” he said. “That is not helpful. Get the foundation right, and layer the technology on top of it, and solve your business problems.”

What GS1 has ended up doing is taking all of these technology enablers, and mapped them against business trends.

“We have released a report that is unique, in that I have never seen this done before,” said Beideman. “Truly mapping technology enablers to business trends as it relates to supply chains. So anyone – whether you are in the logistics space, part of the supply chain, or a manufacturer, the contents of this report can be helpful for you prioritising the technology investigations that you choose to do, or how to map them into the business challenges you are faced with solving.”

He said that GS1 sees a future where every retailer can verify every product that every brand makes, automatically. Where every retailer can connect to brand-authorised data about every product automatically and globally. Where every consumer can engage with every product in a way that generates added value back to the trading partner’s supply chain. Or every product that is made, can be a source of data back into a manufacturer’s enterprise.

“You can learn about what happens as it leaves your production line,” said Beideman. “But every product can also be a source of data back into every retailer on which that product sits on shelf. And imagine all that can happen while lowering costs and removing friction across supply chains.”

Beideman said it sounds like an impossible task, but he said GS1 is trying to do four things to bring that future closer to life.

The first, he said, is that they are developing a registry platform – a global, thin, neutral registry – of all the things that have identification based on GS1 standards. This means that anything that has a GTIN (Global Trade Item Number) on it, anything that has a barcode on it, will have the opportunity to be registered in this global, neutral, not-for-profit platform with some basic, simple attribution that raise the visibility of the smallest of the small business products.

“Number two, is making things into sources of data,” said Beideman. “There’s a standard out there that now bridges the physical and digital world of commerce that allows you to put a single barcode on a package that works and goes beep at the checkout, but also works on two billion mobile phones. There is work going on in Australia called data-embedded barcodes where we are investigating what is the right way to take the next steps are in terms of volume-pack barcoding. But one thing is essential – if we want two billion consumers out there to scan and read the stuff we make or sell, you have to bridge the physical and digital worlds much more effectively than we have.” Then there are the web pages. Beideman believes companies are really good at making web pages that enable people to add items to carts and checkout and have things delivered. But he believes that companies are bad at making websites that are easily consumed by Google, Yahoo, Yandex and Bing – the largest search engines of the world.

“It turns out the keys to the castle when it comes to data on the web,” he said, “is to know there are standards for that. How to define and describe products online in a way that has no impact on how your consumer sees your web page, but have a massive positive impact on the visibility and availability of your products. It’s called the GS1 Web Vocabulary. It’s really a little-known secret. Being able to supply accurate, structured data about products on your web pages changes the game. And there are standards for it.”

The final point Beideman wanted to make, is only a suggestion, he said.

“Think about how devices that talk to you – like Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri – are changing the game when it comes to things like buying decisions,” he said. “It’s starting now with a conversation with an electronic device. How are you going to adapt to that in your business? How are you going to ensure that your company is going to have a voice? That’s something to think about. Because right now, there is a world filling up with companies that own the microphones in your home and in your pocket via your mobile phone. And if you are a retailer, a brand, a transport organisation – how do you connect into those ecosystems. Or better yet, how do we figure out a way to make it open and balanced and neutral?

Why the Australian food industry needs Alibaba

Being employee number 48 in one of the biggest online retail channels on the planet that employees more than 100,000 people worldwide, means people sit up and listen when you have something to say. And Maggie Zhou has a lot of interesting things to say when it comes to China-based Alibaba making inroads into the Australian food market.

With revenue of $57 billion and climbing, the Zhejiang-based company knows that Australia and New Zealand both play an important part in the future of Asian food supply, thus sending big hitter Zhou to set up the Australasian operation in early 2017.

Zhou is quick to point out that Alibaba has more than 654 million active consumers in China and that number is growing year by year. To put things in perspective, when current Alibaba CEO, Daniel Zhang, was running Tmall, the largest B2C platform in China, he created the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival. This annual sales event ended up having three times the gross sales of Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

It is these types of numbers that should make Australasian farmers, food processors, food and beverage packaging specialists, and other interested third parties stand up and take notice. While hosting a lunch table at the Global Food Forum, Zhou made it clear that Alibaba’s ambitions, along with those of the Australian food and beverage sector, are similar.

“Alibaba sees great opportunities for Australian products and food that it produces,” she said. “Events like the Global Food Forum are very important [so we can] share knowledge and work together to work out the challenges that we come across in the industry.”

The Chinese Consumer Equation
Founded in 1999 by Jack Ma and his 17 co-founders, Alibaba has transformed the way how business is conducted by empowering small to medium enterprises with the technology infrastructure and marketing reach they might not otherwise have if left to their own devices.

“Ninety-five per cent of Chinese businesses are SMEs,” said Zhou. “Our mission has never changed from the beginning, which is; to make doing business easy, anywhere. We still believe that – to make business easy anywhere – but now, over the past 10 years, this includes in the digital arena.”

So, what are Chinese consumers looking for in Australian goods when it comes to the food and beverage industry?

“Australia has a very strong image as clean and safe. When Jack (Alibaba founder Jack Ma) was in Australia and New Zealand two years ago, he mentioned the clean and green image,” said Zhou. “Clean water. Clean air and clean soil. While mining may be big business, it is those three things – the environment – that is our treasure. All the things that are related to eating, drinking, what you put on your skin – there is a huge demand for these things from the Chinese consumer. We can see big and potential growth for food. The market for baby formula and vitamins is also very strong.”

Within the beverage sector, Zhou is seeing huge growth for Chinese citizens wanting Australian wines.

“Year on year growth for wine is 33 per cent compared with the French wine,” she said. “This growth is due to the Chinese middle-class consumer, which now number more than 300 million and is still growing. It’s an amazing opportunity for Australian exporters.

Australian wine going to China has zero duty due to the International Trade Agreement between the two countries.”

Alibaba knows that the Chinese demand for such products means they have had to invest in brick and mortar stores on the Chinese mainland, as well as distribution centres. The company has also invested in the RTMart Fresh supermarket chain. As the name suggests, fresh produce is also big on the Chinese consumer’s “must-have” list. “Today, in China, many Chinese love Australian food, especially fresh food,” Zhou said.

The importance of traceability
As well as Australian food standards being a beacon of light when it comes to trustworthiness of a product, traceability is something that Chinese consumers take seriously. In March 2017, Alibaba signed an MoU with vitamin supplier Blackmores, and Australian Post, to establish a pilot program that uses blockchain technology in an attempt to curb food fraud. While visiting New Zealand and Australia in 2018, CEO Zhang announced that the world’s biggest dairy exporter, New Zealand’s Fonterra, and Blackmores and launched a pilot order through Alibaba’s Food Trust Framework. This was done via Tmall Global, a cross-border trade platform under Alibaba’s Tmall, which was sponsoring an initiative that, again, uses blockchain technology to improve supply chain traceability.

While all these initiatives put the Australian food and beverage products in a good light, there are some common mistakes made when dealing with China – easily avoidable ones. One being, that just because from an economies of scale point of view the Chinese market is huge, don’t bet on getting even a small slice of the pie if you haven’t done your homework. Because, even though a minute piece of China’s ever-increasing 300 million middle-class can have financial benefits for a SME trying to make headway, it will come to nothing if you don’t do the research.

“Some of the mistakes the brand owner might think, ‘oh, Alibaba is big enough to launch my product’. You need team work,” said Zhou. “You need that to work in China. You also need to have a strong commitment to the Chinese market. You need to find a partner in China, but you also have to have your own team to work in China as well as Alibaba.”

The other thing a potential exporter needs to realise that just because a brand is strong in Australia, doesn’t mean it will be good in China. Chinese consumers have tastes that are completely different from the mainly European-dominated taste palettes from Australia.
They need to understand the market better and decide what kind of products might be suitable for the Chinese market. Maybe find out about Chinese consumer habits before going into the market. Also, packaging is very important

“Australians sometimes think ‘I’ll send a food gift to my friend’, and give it ugly packaging,” said Zhou. “Packaging is very important. When people start working with us, they already think in terms of great packaging.”

The future of digital retail
Unsurprisingly, Alibaba takes a collective approach when it comes to measuring success.
“I was just back from our top management meeting,” said Zhou. “This year, we decided we’d go from our synergy mantra to one of unity. That we are all in it together – like one brain; thinking in terms of strategy and execution. We want to bring more power to the suppliers and producers outside of China into our ecosystem.”

Just how important can Alibaba be to the Australasian food and beverage industry? Its long-term strategic plan says it all – “Alibaba’s long-term goal is to serve two billion consumers around the world and support 10 million businesses to operate profitably”.
The company intends to do this by using three key initiatives: globalisation of its brand; giving China’s 590 million rural citizens greater access to high-quality goods; and a data strategy that incorporates data technology as opposed to information technology. In other words, embracing Big Data and cloud computing. Zhou said there is a sizable sector of Chinese consumers who are embracing prepacked meals. Besides vitamins, Chinese consumers want cereals, snacks and healthy foods, she said.

“They want to try things, so they want products in small packages initially,” said Zhou. “Chinese consumers want to experience the taste first. Many people might follow a trend, maybe they don’t know much about a particular product, but their colleague might tell them it is very good. Then the whole team will follow their advice.”

One reason Alibaba is part of a lot of Expos both in Australia and overseas is to incubate SMEs in order to get brand awareness out in the marketplace. These Expos expose the brands to Chinese merchandisers. Zhou is explicit in the term, merchandiser, not “daigou”, who are the Australian-based personal shoppers for Chinese clients.

“That is why we had expos in Melbourne and Sydney,” she said. “We had over 150 exhibitors – mainly small- to medium-sized brands. That is why expos are important. When it comes to vitamins for example, even companies like Blackmores and Suisse need to get their new products into the expo. The Chinese community that live here – we call them merchandisers, not daigou. We think of daigou as those who simply deliver products from Australia to China. A merchandiser, however, is more professional. They tell the story behind the brand and can reach the Chinese consumer better.”

Zhou believes there are still many different digital strategies that need to be explored. Its Taobao Global platform is but one.

“Taobao Global is a portal for those merchandisers who are doing live streaming and tells the story behind a brand,” she said. “One live streaming product – in just one hour – attracted 2.4 million viewers. This is very helpful in incubating the brand awareness and working in local ecosystems.” And if brands, SMEs and anybody else is trying to figure out the end-game of where Alibaba is heading, a paragraph in its corporate overview sums it up.

“The consumer retail industry is experiencing radical disruption driven by digital technology. We believe e-commerce will be replaced by New Retail where the distinction between online and offline retail becomes obsolete. We have been driving the development of New Retail with the vision of delivering true convergence of the online and offline consumer experience through mobile and enterprise technology.”

In other words, Alibaba is at the cutting edge, and not only intends on staying there, but leading the way.

Putting wine on ice – gas’s role in winemaking

The main hero and villain in the wine-making process is oxygen. Generally, the use of various gases in wine production is necessary to negate the destructive nature of oxygen. Gavin Hall, Air Liquide’s sales representative for food and wine in South Australia, said this is where his company’s expertise comes to the fore.

“The management of oxygen in all the wine making processes is paramount to the industry,” he said. “This is because oxygen is what defines the quality of the wine and its organoleptic properties.”

Throughout the production process, the wine itself is subject to various oxidation processes. A certain degree of oxidation is necessary, but direct contact with oxygen has a detrimental effect on the quality of the final product. It is possible to control how oxygen interacts with the wine by using a variety of different gases. All wineries have to use gases to control the intake of oxygen. These gases include nitrogen, carbon dioxide (CO2) argon and sulphur dioxide.

Hall said there are eight stages in which gases are involved in the processing of wine.

Stage 1
The first stage is during the harvesting and transport of grapes from the field to vineyard/winery. In this stage, the crushed grapes start getting in contact with oxygen in the air. It is important to negate that contact but it is difficult to achieve, which is why there is a need to lower the temperature in order to slow down the oxidation process, said Hall.
“As soon as the grape juice comes in contact with oxygen, the fermentation starts, as does the oxidation process. What you want to do is lower the temperature of the grapes,” said Hall. “Because the lower the temperature the slower the oxidation process.”

In this stage CO2 is mainly used in the form of dry ice. “In Australia, compared to Europe, most wineries don’t use this cooling process due to the initial phase, they usually try to process the grapes as soon as possible,” said Hall.

Stage 2
Once the grapes are crushed, the pressing process allows for the production of clarified juice, which is transferred to different tanks to ferment. Winemakers need to displace the air from empty vessels into empty pipes before transferring the wine to ensure there is no residual oxygen. This is called purging.

“When you need to purge the tank,” said Hall, “you utilise an inert gas to flush out the remaining liquid or air under a certain pressure.”

Nitrogen is mainly used in this stage. The process of purging is done by building slight overpressure with nitrogen in the tank, or in the pipeline. The wine maker is stopping the oxygen from coming in contact with the grape juice that has just been crushed out of the grapes.

“You are basically displacing the oxygen from the air that has already come in contact with the juice,” said Hall. “You’re using nitrogen under pressure to purge and transfer juice within the tanks.”

Stage 3
Then comes what is called tank inerting. This encompasses blanketing the surface of the wine tank after the juice has been collected.

“You are blanketing the surface with a protective layer of gas during the storage, or when you are emptying the tank,” said Hall. “By doing this to the tank, you prevent oxidation.”
The gas used can be nitrogen, CO2, or a mixture of the two. Vintners can also use argon, but that can be a little more expensive. In Australia, tank inerting is very important, and it is common to do it with dry ice.

“Using dry ice is preferred by winemakers because it’s practical, and they can actually see it and it’s a bit cheaper,” said Hall.

“You scoop it into the wine tank. Because CO2 is heavier than air, it creates a layer at the bottom of the tank blanketing the wine, thus preventing oxygen contact.”

Stage 4
Winemakers are constantly measuring the dissolved oxygen in the wine. Depending on the wine being made, some vintners do what is called deoxygenation which consists of stripping out the excess oxygen that is dissolved in the wine.
“For this process you would use nitrogen,” said Hall. “By injecting nitrogen in the form of tiny bubbles into the wine, you are forcing the dissolved oxygen into the gas phase, and then the gas is vented out of the tank.”

Depending on the type of wine that is made, vintners need a certain amount of dissolved oxygen. It is one of the key criteria to produce quality wine.

Step 5
The next step, also using nitrogen, consists of mixing or homogenising. Nitrogen is bubbled at the bottom of the tank. When the bubbles raise to the surface, they are mixing the various products together.

“That is why it is called mixing,” said Hall. “This comes into effect when wine makers need to homogenise the wine they are making. It avoids oxygen pick up.”

Bubbling nitrogen is also used during must lifting process but this time during the fermentation. This process brings up all the dense solids that have accumulated at the bottom of the tank.

The benefit of must lifting using gas is that it saves times.

Step 6
Bottle inerting is the next step. This means that when the wine is being bottled, gas is already being used. Like most of the other steps, it is all about minimising the amount of oxygen in the wine.

For this step, it is possible to use CO2 or nitrogen, or a mixture of both. Every bottling line in a winery has filling machines equipped with gas injection. The decision on what type of gas is to be used depends on the type of wine that is being made.

“Most winemakers use nitrogen to apply counter pressure in the bottles to purge the oxygen before filling them with wine,” said Hall. “The oxygen is eliminated inside the bottle, then you fill them with wine.”

The second step in the bottling line is the headspace of the bottle. After the bottle has been filled, there is a gas injection point, which is filling up the headspace of the bottle after the wine has been put into the bottle.

Step 7
Depending on the wine and oxygen level of the tank, some winemakers might use oxygen in the different steps of the winemaking process. This is called oxygen enrichment.
“The winemaker reintroduces oxygen to help maintain the yeast activity in the wine to minimise the risk of stuck fermentation and the production of undesirable sulphides,” said Hall. “Oxygen is not always bad in the winemaking process. This is a controlled situation. You’re not putting wine in contact with air, you’re injecting oxygen in micro doses. The yeast works on oxygen. The simple process of wine making is that you have the sugars in the grapes and then the sugars become alcohol, or ethanol in this case. This process is using oxygen to transform the sugars into ethanol. What you don’t want to do, is put in too much oxygen. Then the alcohol becomes oxidised. You need to control the amount of oxygen you put in the wine.”

Step 8
In the case of still wines, the CO2 level is usually adjusted before bottling, according to Hall. Winemakers can measure the level of CO2 that is dissolved in the wine and bubble nitrogen if it is too high or dissolve CO2 if it is too low. In the case of sparkling, this adjustment is brought about to carbonisation of the wine.

“Now you have the wine that is ready,” said Hall. “Oxygen is the one that creates the magic. It is the management of oxygen that is important and you need it to be controlled at all steps of the process. It is a critical thing for winemakers. An excess of oxygen is bad. You want to avoid direct contact with air.”

If winemakers are thinking of using the gas suite offered by Air Liquide, they come in three different modalities.

For small wineries they come in gas cylinders. For medium- to large-sized installations, the gases are supplied in bulk via big tanks. For big wineries, Air Liquide can install and operate a nitrogen generator onsite.

ifm’s smart factory solutions for small, medium- and large-sized factories

ifm shows that it can offer full solutions for all factory automation, 24 hours a day.

Whether a company is an OEM, a packaging or process factory, there are constant needs to produce high quality products at reduced costs, while effectively managing the high amount of workflow in a factory.

Smart factory solutions allows companies to locate bottlenecks, eliminate downtime and increase production.

ifm can help integrate current equipment, automate processes and have full transparency in the production process and remotely monitor the entire factory workflow to make informed decisions with business-critical knowledge.

Cryogenics offer alternative freezing solutions

When thinking of cryogenics, most people think of the science fiction fantasy whereby billionaires freeze their decaying bodies in liquid nitrogen in the hope that technology will catch up and allow them to live forever.

In real life, cryogenics has many, less dramatic purposes, albeit important ones – including the freezing of foodstuffs.

There are two standard methods of freezing foods at an industrial scale. One is mechanical, and the other is the aforementioned cryogenics.

The mechanical method involves using a chemical refrigerant such as CFCs or ammonia, which is used in a closed cycle. The system moves large volumes of air to freeze the product. It cools the air like a refrigerator, but, is of an industrial size with a bit more grunt in its engine.

A cryogenic system is different. It uses liquid nitrogen or liquid carbon dioxide to freeze the product. It has direct contact with the product either as droplets of liquid nitrogen, or solid particles of carbon dioxide (dry ice)because carbon dioxide cannot exist as a liquid at atmospheric pressure.

Air Liquide is one company that specialises in cryogenic freezing and is at the forefront of a technology that has been around for more than 50 years.

The company’s senior international expert in food processing, Aron Segal, knows that cryogenics is a niche market, but an important one. There are benefits and issues with both mechanical and cryogenic freezing. However, cryogenics is not utilised as much as it should be, especially for those people that don’t have a massive amount of money to invest in capital.

“When it comes to mechanical freezing, the operating costs are strictly dependant on the price of electricity,” said Segal. “But, you have a high capital investment for the equipment. There is little operation flexibility with the mechanical freezing system because you basically set your set points in the freezer and so you have very little movement of that temperature.”

It also takes a longer time to install a mechanical freezer system than a cryogenic one. There is a lot of maintenance required to keep  the mechanical system in good working order.

“Against that, you have cryogenic freezing, which requires a lower initial investment because the equipment is smaller, it operates colder and can be rented,” said Segal. “There’s very low maintenance and no compressors. There is just injecting a fluid into a freezer and then exhausting the gas.”

Cryogenics is also very fast freezing because products are frozen at a set point, such as -60, -80, -100 or -120˚C. It is rare for a mechanical freezer to operate below -40. And because cryogenic freezing is faster, it requires far less floor space because you are moving product through quicker. Then there is the science behind this type of freezing system.

“You get quality product because the faster you freeze something the smaller the ice crystal size,” said Segal. “The larger the crystal size, the more likely the product is going to thaw out not looking exactly like it did when you froze it, which when it comes to vegetables and fruits, can be a problem.”

Then there is moisture loss, which can be a big issue when manufacturers are selling product by weight and they lose four or five percent of that product’s weight in the freezing process. It’s a big cost to the bottom line. Because cryogenics is faster, there is less loss.
Segal said that cryogenics are also ideal for those that are just starting out a business mainly because of the aforementioned lower capital outlay as well as a lack of space. Not only that, but if the business is volatile, a company could be left to the whims of its clients’ fickleness.

“If you have invested in a mechanical system and you lose an important customer in two or three years, you’re stuck with that plant,” he said. “If you opt for cryogenics, with the correctly sized cryogenics freezer, it takes up far less floor space and you can install it overnight. You can press the button the next day. And if you lose the market, you’re not stuck with high-end capital equipment.”

Segal also said that cryogenics is capable of targeting specific aspects of a product, which again, is another feature it has over its main rival in the space.

“We’ve developed a range of equipment to do other things, not just simply freezing produce. We can crust freeze and crust harden,” he said. “Let’s say your end product is sliced ham. You have these large portions you want hardened a bit to make it easier to slice. With cryogenics you can get a firm outer surface that you don’t get with mechanical freezing because it will take a long time. Therefore, you’ll get more efficient slicing and far
less wastage. The slices can fall nicely on the conveyor where they can go into a qualified atmosphere packaging system.

“Another example is if you’ve got small particulate products like pizza toppings. To freeze them mechanically would be difficult. You’d probably have to do it in bags because you probably wouldn’t like it on a conveyor belt. Cryogenics has systems that can handle particulates so they don’t come out in a frozen clump. They come out free flowing.”

Segal gives another example of where cryogenic freezing would be ideal – desserts. A manufacturer can harden the main part of the product in the cryogenic tunnel – not fully freeze it, but partially freeze it. Then they can put a topping on it and put it through again and freeze the topping without intermingling with the lower component. This is especially important when different components of a product have different freezing points, or react in different ways to certain temperatures. Segal said that it is part of Air Liquide’s brief to work with clients on how cryogenic freezing can help them make sure their business reaches its potential while guaranteeing safe operations.

“Niche products are where we find our current market,” he said. “When people are trying to create these products, it is cryogenics that helps them. It’s not just about putting products in and freezing them, there is the value-added aspect. When we identify enquiries, we have to understand exactly what our client is expecting from the freezing process. We know very quickly whether cryogenics is going to be a process that supports their cost structure, and how suitable it is for their business or not.”

Inspection system protects brand

Protecting your brand in the marketplace and providing customers with high quality products are some of the most important functions a food manufacturer can perform. Meeting consumer expectations for food safety and consistency can be a defining factor in a brand’s success but all the time and money spent establishing a reputation can be
lost in the event of one safety recall.

That is why developing and maintaining an effective, verifiable inspection program is no longer just an option for processors, but a necessity. The increase in innovative technology now provides a range of systems that can not only detect foreign objects, but can also operate simply, efficiently, and at high speed while collecting data to provide a transparency previously unachievable.

Metal Detection
Metal detection is an inspection process that can occur at several points throughout a production line. The primary purpose of installing metal detection is to identify ferrous (magnetic), non-ferrous metal contaminants in a product – for example aluminium, stainless steel and even paint chips.

While the use of metal detection in food production is primarily for the quality control of a product and ultimately consumer protection, metal detection units can also be used to protect machinery throughout the production line. The smallest metal particles can lead to machinery malfunction, resulting in revenue decreases due to the need for production downtime to perform repairs, as well as the cost of the repairs themselves.

Metal detectors perform differently depending on their application. When used in food processing, metal detectors are typically constructed as a metal box housing a three transmitter-receiver coil detector system. The transmitter coil generates an electromagnetic field, similar to how a radio transmitter would function.

If a metallic object is present it interferes with the electromagnetic field, causing a signal to be detected by the receiver coils. Although metal particles are able to be detected by other forms of inspection systems, metal detection systems are separated by their level of sensitivity.

Cutting-edge technology in metal detection has seen the invention of a multi-spectrum system. This new generation of metal detector is capable of eliminating false rejects without reducing sensitivity. Using proprietary multi-spectrum technology, it is able to consistently detect smaller metal particles in difficult products like wet spinach, cheese, tortillas and ground beef.

A manufacturer of metal detectors, CEIA, has developed multi-spectrum technology available in no other metal detector. The CEIA’s MS21 multi-spectrum metal detectors are the only metal detectors that use many frequencies simultaneously.

More detection frequencies mean more sensitive metal detection and fewer product effect errors. Other metal detectors – even three-frequency models – use only one frequency at a time.

Seal Checking
Seal checking or testing is used to detect leakage, as well as identify trends that may give early warning of deterioration in the sealing process. As a product moves through the seal checker/tester, an inspection head applies optimum controlled pressure to the pack to detect and evaluate any subsequent “give”.

Ishida high-performance, in-line seal checkers can inspect up to 150 bags per minute, making seal checking an integral step of the inspection process for the reduction of waste, as well as ensuring product integrity prior to it reaching retailers.

X-ray Inspection Systems
Used in conjunction with metal detection, an X-ray inspection system is the final check in a complete inspection line. X-ray inspection is a way of identifying inconsistencies, physical defects, and/or contaminants in product packaged in a pouch, bottle, can, jar, or flow of product passing through the system, without damaging the food product. Contaminants can be foreign bodies in the product such as pieces of glass, stone, shell, pebbles, bone, as well as plastics including hard rubber, nylon, PVC, and Teflon, and metals such as steel, iron, and aluminium.

X-rays are a form of electromagnetic wave of high energy and short wavelengths that are able to pass through food products. X-ray inspection systems function by passing an X-ray beam through an item as it moves along the line. As the X-ray beam passes through the item, it is converted into a greyscale image that can be easily scrutinised and recorded for historical traceability records. Contaminants denser than the product will present in this image as darker, whereas voids or missing pieces will present as lighter. This forms the basis of identification.

The Ishida range of X-ray inspection systems to help food manufacturers and processors comply with global safety standards and meet the demands of quality and safety-conscious retailers.

The IX-G2 series is able to provide a high level of quality assurance to processors and manufacturers of complex products including poultry, meat, vegetables, French fries and cereals. Its dual energy sensor provides effective X-ray detection of low-density objects.

Optical Sorting
Sorting systems are also an integral part of the food processing line. A wide range of systems are available to food processers including colour sorters, smart laser sorters and also new hyperspectral technology.

Laser sorters inspect structural properties of each object to identify and remove foreign matter to improve the quality and increase the value of the product. These quality objectives are easily achieved with today’s sophisticated range of digital sorting systems that recognise colour, shape, size, and structural properties.

Laser and laser/camera sorters are available as combination systems. Designed with up to five lasers operating at different wavelengths, they can detect and remove a variety of defects and foreign matter. When combined with high-resolution cameras for superior shape, size, and colour determination, the result is a high-quality product.

They are configurable with a range of sensor options for single- or double-side viewing of the product stream on low to medium-capacity applications.

It sorts and manages separation of the product stream into two or three sort ways. The VeryX digital sorting platform has a modular platform of chute-fed and belt-fed sorters to meet specific needs. It features innovative mechanical architecture and sensor technology, state-of-the-art electronic sort engine advances machine algorithms and rich information capabilities.

The effect of veganism on the meat industry

According to industry research company IBISWorld, sales of vegan food products have soared over the past five years in Australia, with major food manufacturers and takeaway chains increasingly introducing new products to meet demand. However, as the cost of meat and international meat exports continue to rise, this surging demand for vegan products represents a growing threat to local demand for Australian meat and dairy.

Vegan food manufacturing soaring
According to IBISWorld research, demand for plant-based products has surged in recent years, with food manufacturers and takeaway chains in Australia constantly having to introduce new products to keep up.

“The quality of these products is also increasing at a rapid pace, with plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy foods continuously being launched. Unilever recently launched a plant-based alternative to its Magnum ice cream products, and popular food chains Hungry Jacks, Schnitz and Grill’d have all recently added plant-based options to their menus, in an attempt to take advantage of rising demand,” said IBISWorld Senior Industry Analyst, James Caldwell.

Rising cost of meat in Australia increasing demand for plant-based products
While demand for plant-based foods has soared over the past five years, so too has the price of meat products. This trend has weakened local demand for meat products, and forced the meat sector to turn to overseas markets to sustain growth.

“This surging demand for plant-based alternatives represents a growing threat to local demand for meat and dairy products, which will in turn affect the long-term viability of the Australian meat processing, beef cattle farming, cheese manufacturing, butter and dairy product manufacturing, and milk and cream processing industries. The Australian meat processing industry now generates over 60 per cent of its revenue from overseas, and we expect this number to rise over the next five years,” said Mr Caldwell.

Vegan product innovation
According to IBISWorld, several food-based innovations have allowed manufacturers to produce plant-based foods which mimic the taste and texture of meat products. Companies such as Beyond Meat and Funky Fields are now producing meat alternatives that are so realistic, they are being sold next to meat products in supermarkets. With the rise in the price of meat products over the past five years, we are now at a stage where plant-based alternatives are comparable to traditional meat in terms of both quality and price.

“The quality of these products is only expected to improve. Eric Schmidt, the director of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, recently listed plant-based proteins as the most important trend in the technology industry, ahead of self-driving cars and 3D printing. As new technology allows the quality of these products to improve, so will demand,” said Mr Caldwell.

Environmental awareness affecting meat consumption
Australians are increasingly concerned about their impact on the environment, which IBISWorld analysts believe to be a factor behind the rise in demand for plant-based products. The meat and dairy sectors have been considered to have a large carbon footprint by environmental organisations, with research finding animal-based agriculture responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. A 2017 study by GRAIN also found that the world’s three largest meat firms produced more emissions in 2016 than the whole of France.

“In addition, raising animals for slaughter is a very water and land intensive process. According to the UN’s Priority Products and Materials report[3], both meat and dairy require more resources in terms of land and water, and produce more emissions per kilogram of food than plant-based alternatives,” said Caldwell.

“This rings particularly true for Australian consumers in light of the recent droughts in Queensland and New South Wales. Australia is the driest continent on earth, and is only expected to get drier as a result of climate change. Given this, consumers are increasingly turning to more sustainable food options,” Caldwell continued.

Rising health consciousness driving Australians to go vegan
Rising health consciousness is another major driving force behind the trend towards greater consumption of plant-based foods. For example, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recently classified processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogenic, placing it alongside asbestos and tobacco. As a result, domestic meat consumption has stagnated and is expected to fall over the next five years, reflecting increasing health consciousness among consumers.

In addition, dairy products have been linked to increased saturated fat intake. As obesity rates continue to rise among Australians, low-fat dairy alternatives are becoming more attractive to increasingly health conscious consumers. As a result, plant-based milk alternatives that are frothable are also increasingly popular in Australia’s coffee shops. Mr Caldwell believes that demand for these products will intensify as the quality of milk and cheese alternatives continues to improve.

“Australia is currently experiencing a rising fitness culture, which is encouraging consumers to reduce their meat intake, and to move to low calorie diets. Plant-based food manufacturers have been acutely aware of this trend, and have increasingly produced foods with few calories and low levels of saturated fat. This trend has significantly contributed to rising demand for plant-based foods,” said Caldwell.

The future of Australia’s meat and dairy sectors
According to IBISWorld, the number of people following a vegan diet in Australia is expected to continue rising over the next five years, bringing the country’s meat and dairy sectors under increasing strain. As demand for vegan products rises, food manufacturers are expected to increase the range and quality of their plant-based foods, driving further demand.

On the other hand, rising prices and stagnant domestic demand have driven Australia’s meat and dairy sectors to look overseas in search of revenue growth. Australia’s pristine environment, and reputation as a producer of high-quality food products have boosted exports of meat and dairy products over the past five years.

“However, concerns about their position in the domestic market haven’t been ignored. Meat and dairy sector lobby groups have recently called for the banning of plant-based food manufacturers using terms such as milk and cheese in their marketing,” said Caldwell.

Packaging’s role in halving food waste by 2030

With Australian consumers throwing away around 3.1 million tonnes of edible food a year, and another 2.2 million tonnes disposed of by the commercial and industrial sector, along with a Federal Government National Food Waste Strategy to halve food waste that goes to landfill by 2030, it is time that everyone contributes to solving this issue.

As a part of the AIP’s commitment to minimising food waste, the Institute has a representative on the Department of the Environment and Energy National Food Waste Steering Committee. It is also a participant in the Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre is a member of both the Save Food Initiative and of Friends of 12.3, as well as an active World Packaging Organisation Member in the Save Food Pavilion at Interpack.
The AIP is a long-standing supporter of Foodbank Australia, running an annual Christmas Hamper Packing Program in Queensland and recently introducing a warehouse packing day in Victoria for the wider industry.

The Institute is focused on education and training programs that can assist with minimising food waste and loss globally.

The AIP has developed training courses and awards programs that are focused on:
• The role of packaging in minimising food waste
• Save Food Packaging design
• Sustainable packaging design
• The role of lifecycle analysis in packaging design
The AIP has also been working on key criteria and guidelines for packaging technologists and designers to use as the standard for Save Food Packaging design.
Long-term objectives of the AIP are to:
• Encourage all packaging technologists and designers to use Save Food Packaging key criteria and guidelines across the globe. The key criteria includes “re-sealability, openability, improvement of barrier packaging and extension of shelf-life, portion control, better understanding of Best Before vs Use By dates; improved design to reduce warehouse and transport damages and losses; better use of active and intelligent packaging; and lifecycle assessments”.
• Ensure that all packaging technologists and designers are utilising lifecyle analysis tools within their Save Food Packaging framework. Today, there is a strong focus on the environmental aspects of food packaging to ensure that at the end of its life (after use of the product contained) that it can be reused, repurposed, recycled or composted.
• Encourage manufacturers to actively engage in designing innovative Save Food Packaging and communicating these initiatives to their customers and consumers.
• Recognise a range of Save Food Packaging innovations through the Packaging Innovation & Design (PIDA) Awards and the international WorldStar Packaging Award program.
• Showcase best practice award-winning save food packaging innovations across Australia and New Zealand.
• Contribute to consumer education and engagement projects to change the narrative around packaging’s roles in minimising food waste. Consumer education is needed to help them better understand the true role of food packaging: “protection, preservation and promotion of product, shelf-life extension, tamper resistance, barrier from external elements all the while ensuring safe delivery of food.”

The National Food Waste Strategy and the establishment of the Fight Food Waste CRC have for the first time enabled the bringing together of a range of like-minded industry professionals who are working collaboratively across the entire supply chain for a common goal: “Halving Food Waste by 2030”. Every business has a role to play.

Has your business developed a Fight Food Waste Strategy? Are you designing any Save Food Packaging? If so, what criteria are your packaging technologists using?

Are you ensuring that LCA is incorporated in your design tools? Have you enrolled your packaging technologists in the new training course, The Role of Packaging in Minimising Food Waste?

How to simplify the supply chain journey

Consumers’ daily lives revolve around trust. Every day, when peeling an orange, opening a can of baked beans or dining in a favourite restaurant, consumers put their trust in Australia’s food supply chain.

Behind every food and beverage product on the shelf is a supply chain journey that starts with ingredients. The Australian food manufacturing industry is an intricate maze of ingredient and packaging suppliers that have different supply chain management solutions.

Sourcing ingredients without a traceability and food safety protocol today invites counterfeit products onto the food chain and increases the risk of contamination. News of unsafe or spoilt food can impact business owners’ livelihoods and the industry’s broader reputation, and causes significant disruption to consumers’ lives.

“To manage ingredient safety and increase the visibility of food ingredients and raw materials in these complex supply chains, a new initiative, the Supply Chain Improvement Project, is being implemented using GS1 standards,” said Steele. “The project’s objective is strengthening integration between the thousands of upstream supply chains in the Australian food manufacturing industry.”

An industry working group has been set up to drive the project using the GS1 global standards for product identification, data capture and data sharing. GS1’s Global Traceability Standard (GTS) is the foremost traceability framework, allowing businesses to track their products in real-time and have end-to-end visibility of the supply chain.
“The group will work to achieve consensus across the industry to improve food safety, deliver efficiencies and reduce costs,” said Steele.

Representatives from Nestlé, Ingham’s, SPC, Lion Dairy and Drinks, Sanitarium, CHR Hansen, Newly Weds Foods, FPC Food Plastics, Labelmakers, Matthews Australasia and Visy Industries make up the group.

The ability for companies to capture material movements from “paddock to plate” provides data integrity and timeliness from receipt to delivery, with traceability back to the source. Through automation, many of the manual processes are eliminated and businesses can be proactive with inventory management and handling systems.
“As a food and beverage business it’s critical for us from a food safety perspective to be able to track ingredients all the way back to the origin,” said SPC’s national logistics manager, Christian Lecompte.

Also critical to business is the capability to support information and production flow within existing systems for integrated supply chains. The project has the capacity to eliminate waste within an organisation’s value stream, reduce non-value-added tasks and ensure cost-effective solutions for customers, leading to a “right-first-time” approach for all deliveries.

“One of the things we found we could do to be more efficient was to look at opportunities to be able to electronically track all the product ingredients throughout the production cycle – how we identify a product coming into the warehouses, how we receipt goods, how we put our goods away, how we manage our inventory and how we deal with our suppliers,” said Lecompte.

The adoption of GS1 standards as the common language for identification, data capture and data sharing will enable automation of key ingredient sourcing and traceability between ingredient suppliers and food manufacturers.

Using GS1 standards for upstream integration goes well beyond minimum standards. It allows businesses to translate their internal processes and approaches into the one common language that all trading partners can use and understand, without having to translate data formats across different supply chain management systems.

This is the key, as Steele believes interoperability is essential to the future of data sharing. “Establishing international standards to ensure transparency across the supply chain can help lower existing barriers to the exchange of data between suppliers, trading partners and consumers,” he said.

The Supply Chain Improvement Project has the potential to deliver many benefits to industry, including increased visibility of food ingredients and raw materials, unique identification and traceability to improve food safety, and reduced costs with automated business transactions.

Nestlé Australia’s eBusiness manager, Mandeep Sodhi pointed out the key to the project’s success.

“By having consensus across the industry on how to interconnect electronically and exchange critical operational data, we can realise cost-effective solutions across the end-to-end – from manufacturers, to suppliers, to customers. Everyone benefits from this improvement in standardisation,” he said.

Looking ahead, the industry working group is encouraging all upstream businesses to adopt the food safety and traceability protocol using GS1 standards.

“With an industry-wide solution in place, your trading partners will have more visibility of your products across the supply chain,” said Steele.

Old recipe lays foundation for dumpling business

Home to the Russian Pacific Naval fleet, Vladivostok is about as far away as you can get from Russian civilisation without actually leaving the country. More Asian than European, it is a city that is arguably one of the most cosmopolitan in Russia with a heavy influence from China and North Korea. Which is probably why From Granny founder, Vladivostok native, and Women in Industry Awards finalist in the Excellence in Manufacturing, Tatiana Kuzovova, has a penchant for her mother’s dumplings, which were inspired by the eclectic cuisine that inhabits the city.

And how does a Russian immigrant with a double degree in economics and tourism, and former Japanese interpreter, end up starting a food business in Australia with her semi-retired mother? Completely by accident, that’s how.

“We did not plan to start a business at all in the beginning,” she said. “I moved to Australia in 2002 to study English. Then six years ago my mother, Nina, came to Australia from Russia. One night we had a dinner, my mother said, ‘What are the kids going to eat?’ I told her not to worry about the kids and that they would be fine. She said, ‘No, the kids need some proper food. They need dumplings’. A friend had bought some other dumplings from the supermarket to the dinner for the kids. My mother thought they were not fit for the kids to eat.”

While Kuzovova chastised her mother for telling people what they should feed their children, her mother was unrepentant. Kuzovova senior believed that if you fed children unhealthy food, then it could become a generational thing, so she decided to recreate her own dumplings using a recipe she had from the old county. And that is where the seeds were sown and the germination of a business started to grow.
“My mother cooked some dumplings and friends tried them and loved them,” said Kuzovova. “She cooked more and put them in the freezer. Friends asked if they could take some of the frozen ones home. Then they called her and asked if she could make some more for them if they provided the ingredients. She started making them for that friend. Then another friend. And then another friend.

“Then, one of the friend’s friends owned a restaurant and called me and said, ‘can your mum work for us?’

I wasn’t that keen as she was 65 years old. She didn’t move here to work. They said, ‘can she at least make some for us for the restaurant.’ That is how she started making them for the restaurant. Then, their friends had a grocery shop. We had a phone call asking if she could make 30kg every week for the grocery store. Then another grocery shop. After a couple of grocery shops, I said, ‘Mum we can’t sell it like this. We need to find out the rules because if something happens [with regard to food regulations], we could be in trouble’. I called the Glen Eira council, and they sent us to a kitchen incubator run by Jane Del Rosso.”

Thanks to Del Rosso’s guidance, within six months From Granny was in a factory and filling orders. Kuzovova doesn’t see herself as a natural salesperson, but that hasn’t stopped the business growing and selling into overseas markets like New Zealand. It is also setting its sights on Asia, especially Indonesia, China, Vietnam and even the Middle East.

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“I was only originally keeping up with customers who learned of our product by word of mouth. I was happy with that. We were doing well. Whatever came through the door, we were picking it up because we knew we needed time to be established, we needed time to do other things,” said Kuzovova. “We didn’t really need quick growth. That was good. But when everything was established we needed new customers because the factory takes a lot of money to run – electricity, rates, mortgage – everything is money. We needed more customers, so I had to go after customers, but I didn’t have much experience with sales. It was hard, but we soon found ourselves at a stage where customers start coming to us. I don’t really do much, but with word of mouth, people know about our dumplings so we started selling more.

“I hope it grows. We now have a license to sell overseas. Hopefully we’ll start advertising more overseas. We went to Singapore this year to find out whether there was going to be interest in other parts of Asia. We had a good reaction to our products.”

With both her mother and two other staff onboard, Kuzovova is looking to expand from the 140 sqm premises they currently inhabit. She knows expansion is a matter of not if, but when, due to the orders coming in. Having more or less started by accident, Kuzovova is optimistic not only about the future, but also gives some sound advice to those starting up a business, especially in the food processing industry. She was advised that there would be a lot of obstacles put in front of her, but found the opposite to be the case.

“When we started people told us not to go to the council because they could cause you trouble. Same with the licensing agencies and we were told that we would have big headaches,” she said. “That is not true. We met so many good people. From Jane at My Other Kitchen, through to the Greater Dandenong City council, there were many great people who were very helpful. We received a grant that helped start the business. I would advise people to go to the council, ask for help and people will help you rather than make any trouble.”

And what about the bane of a many food factory’s existence, the health department? Not a problem, said Kuzovova. She believes that being proactive not only makes it easier, but also leads to less issues further down the line.

“I’m lucky because we had so many good people. All the team from the economic development unit were very helpful from the beginning of our business,” she said. “Even the health department – where everybody was telling us that they were full of trouble – we didn’t have a single issue with them. We only had helpful and thoughtful people. I called the health department before we opened and asked them what else needed to be done so we didn’t have any trouble later on. A lady came and inspected our premises and issued a report stating that this is right, this is right, and this is right. She approved the premises before we started operating and then we never had any issues.”

A last piece of advice may seem a bit philosophical for those starting out in business, but Kuzovova is serious when she says that there is one important aspect that needs to be taken into consideration.

“I think if people know what they are doing, and they love what they are doing, then that is half the battle,” she said. “Originally, all I was thinking was that it was a little thing for mum to do so she would have a little money. She wouldn’t be sitting home all day getting older. So, I thought if she could do something, and do it with me, then it would be good. I’m not doing the business just for business, I’m doing it for the full enjoyment.”

Preventing a global recycling Armageddon

Barry Cosier, director of sustainability for the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) tells Food & Beverage Industry News why there needs to be a rethink on how Australia recycles.

It would be fair to say that most Australians could not imagine life without household recycling. Kerbside newspaper collections commenced across the country in the 1970s and 1980s, followed shortly by the yellow-lidded bin collection of fully commingled materials.

Recycling has become as entrenched in the household routine as emptying the mailbox or locking the front door. Until now, perhaps.

Thanks to the introduction of the China Sword policy in 2017, the resource recovery and recycling sector is under immense pressure to sustain recovery rates; households are becoming reticent and unsure about the efficacy of their recycling efforts; and many are looking squarely at government and industry for a new solution. So, what does this mean for food and grocery manufacturers?

The good old days
Some people are old enough to remember when glass bottles were returned to the corner store for recycling and used milk bottles were collected by a pre-dawn milkman. While the recovery rates for these items were high, all other packaging material ended up in landfill. The introduction of commingled collection and recycling dramatically increased the recovery rates for paper, cardboard, plastic, aluminium, glass and steel, while concurrently reducing needless waste.

Over time, advancements in packaging technology also reduced food waste that was previously disposed of in landfill. Barrier protection materials increased the shelf life of products in store and the home, providing almost year-round availability of seasonal produce for consumers.

We now take for granted the many benefits that packaging affords: food safety, food freshness, tamper-evident packaging for medicines, hygiene barriers for personal products, portion control to reduce waste and obesity, and limited breakages in manufacturing, transport, retail and the home. The list goes on.

Like many industries over the last 30 years, China’s appetite for raw materials gave us a ready-made destination for discarded packaging. After sorting materials locally, Chinese recyclers would reprocess packaging into new products and new packaging materials, which were then marketed world-wide. Demand (and therefore prices paid for packaging materials) peaked to a point that some Australian recyclers could afford to sort recycled materials free of charge and pay local councils for the material collected at the kerbside.

It was almost too good to be true. And it was good until China implemented the China Sword Policy, effectively banning the receipt of mixed paper and plastics through setting very low acceptable contamination levels.

Recycling Armageddon
The introduction of the China Sword policy has left local kerbside recyclers with recycled materials that no longer meet the quality specifications required by global processors. The heydays of exporting to China have ended – with no plan B. Simply put, Australia does not have sufficient recycling processing infrastructure in place to recycle packaging collected at the kerbside.

This complex global problem cannot be solved by simple solutions that some may suggest.
All stakeholders along the supply chain – from packaging manufacturers, product manufacturers and retailers to the consumer, local councils, collectors, and recycling processors – have a role to play in finding environmentally and economically sustainable solutions.

Certainly, leadership and support from local, state and federal governments is essential. However, more importantly, industry must collaborate with all stakeholders and provide government with industry-led solutions if we are to gain their confidence and support in developing new local infrastructure that will meet the needs of both manufacturers and material processors. Put simply, all stakeholders must work together to safeguard the general public’s confidence in recycling.

Next steps: What can manufacturers do?
In the coming years, a circular economy must be developed. What is a circular economy? Simply put, it’s when waste materials, such as packaging avoids being landfilled and is repurposed or recycled to reduce the use of virgin materials. Examples include, converting plastic milk bottles into new milk bottles or into park benches, or using glass to make new bottles or low-grade glass in civil construction. With the federal government endorsing national recycling and recyclability targets for packaging, what can manufacturers do?

Increase recycled content
As manufacturers of grocery products, the first key step is to increase the amount of recycled material contained in product packaging. To drive this, the federal government has endorsed the packaging targets proposed by the Australian packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) to increase the recycled content of packaging to 30 per cent by 2025. Many manufacturing companies have already committed to this goal.

Design for re-use, recycling or composting
The second step is to increase the use of recyclable or compostable packaging where product freshness, safety, quality and food waste is not compromised.

Design for source separation
Use the Australia Recycling Label (ARL), which provides consumers with simple instructions on how to dispose of each packaging material type. The addition of tear tabs on multi-material packaging such as plastic blister on a cardboard backing, will encourage consumers to separate materials prior to placing it in the recycling bin.

An industry-wide approach
There are many food and grocery manufacturers that have already made commitments in the above areas. However, while implementation may appear simple on the surface, there are some real barriers that need to be addressed in order for product manufacturers to make progress. The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has collaborated with APCO, government, the packaging industry and the resource recovery and recycling sector to overcome the following barriers:
• Availability of recycled packaging materials
Retailers and manufacturers have broadcast their intent to purchase greater volumes of recycled plastics such as recycled PET (rPET), which is currently in short supply, particularly given the high standards for food grade materials. The AFGC is working with APCO and the packaging industry to increase availability of these materials.
• Research and development
The AFGC is working with APCO and the packaging and recycling industries to develop new compostable plastic substitutes that are fit-for-purpose and meet food grade and medicinal product packaging specifications. Additionally, research and development of new processing technologies that have the potential to recover materials currently landfilled are also required. For example, chemically processing end of life plastics (Numbers 4-7) into oil-based products such as bio diesel.
• Practical infrastructure planning
We will continue to collaborate with all stakeholders to identify the recycling infrastructure needs of a circular economy. This will be aligned with the changing mix of packaging materials as the availability of recycled packaging material increases and as new processing technologies are developed over the next five to ten years. This whole-of-supply-chain approach is critical to provide industry and government with confidence to invest in the plant and equipment that is necessary to achieve the national packaging targets.

The good news is that environmentally and economically-sustainable solutions are possible for all stakeholders along the packaging supply chain without compromising product freshness, safety, quality, or increasing food waste. But this will only occur with collaboration, with decisions based on facts, and undertaking research and development to provide new technological solutions for today’s issues.

Blockchain for dummies

In recent years, there has been an explosion of enthusiasm for blockchain technology. It seems that every industry has or wants a blockchain – but why? Brett Wiskar from Wiley talks to Food & Beverage Industry about the intricacies of this technology that is rising in popularity and how it can be utilised in the food industry.

Blockchain has been spoken and written about across industry press and the broader media for the past two years. This innovation is painted as some sort of future technology set to change the way industry manages itself, transacts and tracks product. If the general coverage is to be believed, blockchain is a panacea for anything we choose to apply it to. Like most things touted as a solution, the truth is less promising – so where does the value of blockchain lie? In this article, we explore what blockchain really is and how it can be used to best advantage in the food industry.

What is blockchain?
Blockchain is a technology that in one sense is not unlike a conventional database from a more traditional system. It stores information. This information is what all parties in the system agree it to store. The difference is, blockchain stores its data and records in a solution that is distributed and encrypted securely and provides transparency to all participants in the blockchain.

It’s perhaps easiest to think of blockchain as a way of keeping track of a transaction. This transaction may be financial, but it could just as easily be a transaction involving data point, product shipments, services, emails or other communications, documents, certificates, accreditations or just about anything that could be stored as data.
As is typically the case when the media develops an infatuation with a new piece of technology, blockchain is generally poorly understood. Often described as a distributed ledger, blockchain uses multiple redundant copies of the ledger, each hosted by a participant in the network or supply chain to ensure security. If a copy of the data with one of the participants is compromised (hacked/manipulated), that copy of the ledger is overruled by its peers (the other copies). In this way the system remains secure and can be trusted by all.

Trust through transparency
Frequently blockchain is described as a “trust-based” system. In truth, when digging a little deeper, it is clear the technology’s successes originate where the blockchain can generate value in markets where there is a lack of trust. When implemented well, blockchain allows people to trust other parties by providing visibility into the actions of the other party. This means participants don’t have to trust what each other say they’re doing, or have done, but can trust when the outcomes can be seen in the system.

Unfamiliarity and deceptive behaviour in transactions or interactions in businesses breeds distrust. If, however a business can see that other parties are performing as required, then distrust is mitigated and supply chains can move quickly as decisions can be made with confidence.

A true blockchain system ensures all participants in the system have the same data. This data is a snapshot in real-time of the status of the system (goods, finances, approvals etc.). Not only is there a snapshot, but everyone in the system has a copy of the truth and knows it is valid and has not been compromised by someone in the system attempting to deceive the other parties.

This means a party in the supply chain who is responsible for a step knows when they perform their action (e.g. approve the goods for export) and update the system, every other party in the system knows this has been completed and by who. Visibility through the system places the onus on the next party to perform their own subsequent responsibilities and this sequential visibility drives the behaviours in the supply chain all parties want to see.

A lot of the examples held up as case studies for how blockchain will change industry often lack some of the characteristics that make blockchain valuable. These are more likely technical proofs of concept for blockchain and not true examples. A little online research shows it’s clear that for blockchain to really create value it needs to be applied to the right kind of problem. A helpful checklist can be used to determine if blockchain could be an appropriate solution.

Do the requirements of the ecosystem considering blockchain have each of these?
● Is there a need for shared common database?
● Are there multiple parties involved (usually from different entities)?
● Do the parties involved have conflicting incentives and/or are not trusted?
● Are the rules governing participants uniform?
● Is there a need for an objective immutable log?
● Do the rules governing transactions change infrequently?

There are many examples, around the globe of industries or value chains adopting or trialling the use of a blockchain solution. When we look at these it is clear that they do not always meet the threshold of the list above. Whether the use of blockchain was essential for a system or not, often the adoption is being driven by technology players like Oracle, SAP and IBM.

Who is using it?
One of the most high profile and relevant blockchain projects is from Walmart. Walmart and IBM have partnered on a food safety blockchain solution. Walmart announced in September 2018 that it will require all suppliers of leafy green vegetables to upload their data to the blockchain solution by September 2019.

Walmart mandating that its suppliers comply with Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), and that this data be stored in a blockchain system, does not improve food traceability beyond that of a conventional database-backed solution.

Blockchain is not omnipresent and cannot magically watch product from the farm to the plate. Like any data storage system, blockchain needs inputs. It needs humans to interact with the platform. In this case, Walmart is introducing an onboarding system that allows people to interact with the blockchain solution. This onboarding unifies the ways in which people keep track of product in the supply chain. This unified data input is the real challenge Walmart’s blockchain implementation is overcoming. The way it tracks the data once it gets into the system is irrelevant, its achievement is putting the information onto a computer. In truth, Walmart’s market force enabled the company to make compliance with its systems and the collection and input of data mandatory, but this could have been supported through a traditional database system.

Why blockchain?
Walmart is driving early adoption of a technology that will drive better performance across its supply chains. It starts with food safety, but through the partnership with IBM, and its learnings from this program, it will drive compliance and visibility across thousands of supply chains in the years ahead. These supply chain tools based on the blockchain will be the sort of supply chain that Walmart believe will be the future of its business.

What does it mean for industry?
The amount of hype around blockchain is yet to be matched by the scale of investment or the proliferation of systems. Although this means blockchain is not ready for wide adoption yet, there are enough indicators to show that its right around the corner. The biggest technology names are on board and working with government, finance, defence and the large corporations to bring about massive change to how we track, transact and manage our supply chains and monetary systems. There may be another 10 years of time to maturity of industry blockchain systems, or maybe only another two years, but it seems the value blockchain creates will make a significant contribution to the markets that adopt it. This means blockchain running part of our value systems is only a matter of time.

Iba Munich – a chance to show off the latest and greatest in the baking industry

Food and Beverage Industry News attended the iba Munich bakery, confectionary and snack fair in Germany. Miri Schroeter caught up with Australian-based companies while at the event.

The 2018 iba baking, snack and confectionary fair in Munich, Germany was visited by more than 77,000 people from more than 160 countries. And with good reason – it showcased more than 1,300 exhibitors that ranged from equipment suppliers, flooring specialists, packaging manufacturers, tech gurus, ingredient suppliers and everything in between.

Apart from the delicious cakes and breads on offer, iba is the event to be at for finding the right piece of equipment to buy to help a business grow. Global companies with offices in Australia ensured they had their finger in the pie to not only showcase products, but also to engage with the latest European trends. This included finding out what matters most to manufacturers looking for products and services that will improve their businesses.

Nord Drivesystems exhibited at iba, with a two-stage bevel gear unit on display, which is available to the Australian market. The company’s Australian managing director, Martin
Broglia, said smart packaging is a prominent trend that Nord is staying on top of. “Packaging which helps products stay fresher for longer, is more environmentally friendly and tamper proof, is on the rise.”

To keep up with sustainable packaging trends, companies must implement Industry 4.0 and embrace technology in order to keep up with supply demand, said Broglia.

“More than ever, food processing and packaging is receiving a huge amount of interest, not only in the manufacturing sector, but from governments and environmental groups as well,” he said.

“There is a big focus on food waste and what manufacturers and producers are doing to minimise this. I expect we will see more and more innovation in the processing and packaging of food as the population surges, food becomes in shorter supply, and the topic of waste becomes more urgent.

“With increasing hygiene standards, I think we will see a bigger uptake on automation in the future as customers embrace automation for the safety, hygiene and productivity it can bring to an organisation,” said Broglia.

Automation helps create one-stop-shop

Kaak Group, a company that offers turn-key solutions for the industrial baking industry, had a large stand in the first hall of the exhibition. The equipment specialist knows iba is the place to introduce new products and
services to existing customers, as well as showing its point of difference to potential clients.

The company offers a one-stopshop service – from silo to truck. The total service concept allows companies to deal with Kaak for all product and service needs. Kaak Group ANZ managing director, Tyrone Crook, saw iba as an opportunity to connect with people in the baking industry that like him, come from the southern side of the world where thousands of companies set up shop to create artisan and tin breads, snacks, and pizza products.

Kaak Group has solutions for small,medium and large businesses in the baking industry. The company sells equipment for mixing, dividing, rounding, proofing, moulding, lidding, final proofing, baking, delidding, depanning, cooling and freezing, among other product requirements in the baking and snack industry.

One of the latest services introduced to Kaak Group’s inventory, released at iba, was the e-commerce platform. The service makes it easy for customers to buy spare parts, learn about their equipment, and purchase additional equipment online. The webshop provides easy access to more than 20,000 products and a 24/7 helpdesk, which can be accessed through a multi- user account.

“Each piece of gear that is sold has an online manual. We are able to identify that particular piece of kit,” said Crook. Identifying equipment quickly makes it easier to source spare parts immediately, he said. “If the customer requires something desperately, they could have it almost straight away.”

The multi-user access allows employees to use the webshop for their company, but controlled access ensures safety and security. Access to the account has varying permission levels to allow some users permission to order new products and view account activity. Companies can also set a maximum spend level and they can allow some users to fill the shopping cart and share it with colleagues, while restricting purchases.

Kaak’s stand at iba also featured a newly created dough sensor for inline use. The sensor can test the dough on several parameters during production and allows the operator to take corrective actions on time, instead of leaving it too late.

Baking pans and trays installed with an electronic barcode system have also been introduced to Kaak’s product line. The pans help control product and equipment quality. Every time a pan/tray passes an in-line laser on the manufacturing line, it records whether bread is left on the pan/tray and the frequency of use. “It tells you how the bakeware is   performing, and it rejects the bakeware when it isn’t performing well,” said Crook.

Each pan/tray can be used about 3000 times before the user is informed that it should be recoated – a service also provided by Kaak Group Australia/New Zealand.

Step-by-step

While bread featured heavily at iba, Kaak’s equipment can also be used by other businesses such as pizza and snack manufacturers. The equipment can be slowly integrated into an existing factory, or Kaak can provide a system from scratch,
said Crook. “We can help businesses from start-ups right up to industrial bakeries. The unit machines are manufactured to suit smaller or bigger requirements, depending on the capacity of a manufacturer.” Kaak can help companies, traditionally creating hand-made products, transition to an automated process, said Crook. Equipment can be bought as it is
needed. For example, a company may buy a divider first and then buy a rounder or moulder, so employees don’t need to do everything by hand, he said.

“They can buy standalone pieces of equipment, or they can buy a fully automated system. It’s as manual or as automated as you want it.”

Automated systems have their benefit as they can let the user know if there is a failure or a potential risk, said Crook. “It prevents a breakdown. For example, if a gear box that drives the oven has a fault, it will be picked up and it will send an alert to your HMI (Human Machine Interface) screen.”

If a spare part is needed it can usually be sourced from Kaak Group in Brisbane, but Crook also works with clients to suggest spare parts that a customer may benefit from keeping on site as critical spare parts.

Try before you buy

Buying large manufacturing equipment is a huge investment so Kaak provides food manufacturers with the use of its technology centre for trials before deciding on which products to purchase to suit a factory’s needs, said Crook. He has taken Australian customers to Kaak’s technology centre in Holland to test new products as a way to deliver proof of concept and the best solution for them prior to purchase. Alternatively, customers can send their recipes, and preferred processing methods, to Kaak’s team who will test the products to find an ideal manufacturing solution.

Wrapping up iba 2018

Iba may be a baking and snacks fair, but products showcased there work for many food and beverage manufacturers. What made it a special fair, was seeing companies such as Kaak Group and Nord Drivesystems using the event to introduce new and existing “must have” products and services that are available to not only the European market, but the companies’ Australian counterparts too. Iba celebrates success and innovation in the food industry – giving attendees the chance to be a part of creating movement in the sector.

The days, hours, minutes and even seconds are already being counted on the iba website for the next expo. The triennial event is set to be held in Munich again in September 2021 and time will tell whether the next expo will trump this year’s figures and high calibre of exhibitors.

Still Working – ifm cables

ifm takes pride in how robust and reliable its sensors are. In this video Glenn Thornton and Roland Denholm from ifm Australia test the products in some fun but challenging ways, all the while showing that their products are still working.

Why partnerships are important to finding solutions in automation

Building the innards to the cabinets that control automation processes are the lifeblood of Weidmuller, a company that was founded in Germany in 1850.

The Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 are starting to become mainstream manufacturing technology trends that are being implemented within the food processing industry – something that Weidmuller is well placed to take advantage of due to its expertise in the arena. The company has three divisions. There is the aforementioned cabinet products, then there is device and field connectivity, as well as automation products and solutions. All three have relevance in the food sector, especially the latter where automation has had impacts on productivity and other efficiencies.

Rafael Koenig is the managing director of Weidmuller Australia and has extensive knowledge of automation, connectivity and electronics within a variety of industrial applications including food and beverage. He said having knowledge is one thing, but building partnerships is just as important.

“In today’s technical world it is not just enough to sell components,” said Koenig. “We try more to partner up with customers. We want to give them the value-add component of our business. They want the product, but it has to be fit for purpose. We have many areas that we are looking to build. One is comprehensiveness of the connectivity program, which spans the portfolio by starting with the different types of DIN terminal blocks. You’ve got the spring cage, you’ve got the traditional screw cage, and now the push-in blocks series.

“Then we have the components and stainless-steel cabinets that are designed for the food industry,” he said. “The beauty of automation is that it has broad applications that you can adapt products and solutions into any type of factory setting. Most of our components are not specifically designed for food. They are designed for automation, but can be used in many industries including food.”

Most manufacturing and processing enterprises are coming onboard with the digitalisation that is taking place in the industrial sector. Weidmuller is one company that sees itself as part of the equation, not just in terms of hardware, but also the important, peripheral non-tangible aspects of the technology, which helps companies with the maintenance aspect of their business.

“We have this automation and digitalisation side of the business – and then there is management of data and data analytics,” said Koenig. “For example, we have a highly regarded department for analytics that we use to optimise manufacturing processes. We manage to collect data, then analyse and interpret that data with some complex formula and algorithms to make sure we go towards predictive maintenance rather than preventative or scheduled maintenance.

“Then there is product development, or solution development, which is a lot more about self than it is about the products,” said Koenig. “You will find that a lot of products from different vendors are very similar. So, I think, ‘who can you partner up with who has the specific knowledge of that industry to develop your solution and really fit in that industry?’ This is why I think partnerships are an important part of doing business.

“We currently have a joint venture with a WA company that is probably one of the market leaders globally in the power substation communications. We like what they are doing and the way I want them to use my product is to make sure that the right software is being used. I see this as an offering to the market that is beyond the product. If you want to be in the market and exist in five years’ time you must have something that others don’t. The differentiator these days is the intelligence offering and the way you solve the customer’s problems – not, ‘how good is your component or product compared to the others’.

“One of the things that we are trying to develop is a cloud solution specific to what the customer wants. Some use different clouds. You have the common cloud, Microsoft cloud, Amazon cloud and others. Really, the trick is to have the connectivity you need.”

Along with that connectivity comes communication, according to Koenig, which is also an important component of digitisation. However, along with these aspects of automation, comes security risk. Something that Koenig knows needs addressing.

“Security is one of the big issues at the moment. You have to look at it from both sides,” he said. “One of the keys to being successful in the utilisation of digitialisation in Industry 4.0 is standardising the communication. What that also means is that you should use common communication tools so that your office will only have a residual security risk. The question is how you deal with the issue of security. There is no one-type-fits-all solution.”

There are not a lot of companies that have an individual solution for every company, or can come up with a complete security solution. When it comes to a security solution, Koenig believes it is necessary to have multi layers of protection – and that includes physical protection as well as firewalls.

With that in mind, Weidmuller knows there is strength in numbers and doesn’t only believe in partnering with its clients, but with the bigger players in the market, too.

“We are constantly developing problem-solving competency which I am really proud of,” he said. “I mean, in the big scheme of things we are a relatively small player. However, if you see the German market, where one company has about 85 per cent of the share in control systems, the strength of the industry at large comes from collaborating with German “Mittelstand”, small to medium-sized companies that are technology leaders in their field. Our desire as a company is to be independent. So, we offer solutions that work in tune with those of the big players. The openness of our systems is what is really important to us.”

With automation ramping up in the manufacturing sector, connectivity is going to be an important part of the equation over the next decade. Koenig believes that Weidmuller is one company that can not only provide the products to help run plant and machinery, but has the expertise to give the best advice possible.

Apart from the connectivity solutions, Weidmuller has in recent years vastly expanded its Automation Technology portfolio and has identified digitalisation as a critical strategic area.

“The future direction of companies like Weidmuller will see a significant build up in expertise for digitalisation, communication technologies as well as software capabilities,” said Koenig. “Our activities in industrial analytics is one example that demonstrates the progress of our business towards becoming a technology partner not just for connectivity.

“Our strong relationship and proximity to our customers is key to our success in Australia and we take particular pride in the quality of the distribution partner network we are part of. This network allows us to work shoulder to shoulder with other leading global brands.
“We see our role in supporting our channel partners through our Weidmuller experts and together with them make our customer more competitive in a world that sees massive changes in our industry.”