Computer guru Bill Gates is credited with observing: 'Automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency'. In fact, automation can go beyond boosting efficiency to give food and beverage producers many other benefits, according to Automation Manager, Richard Cuthbert.
He says automation introduces value-building advantages along the supply chain – from the field, to the plant, and to the consumer.
"Automated processing and packaging systems connect the components in a factory by linking individual machines to a facility's central computer system for monitoring and controlling operations and collecting valuable data," Cuthbert says.
"This means operators have quick, easy access to a range of information, from ingredient and raw material intake, to the operating parameters of a machine on a specific filling line, to which pallet holds a particular batch of product.
"By bringing that information together in one place, rather than across separate sources, customers reap the benefits of consistent quality, increased safety, streamlined traceability and ultimately, brand protection."
Automated food packaging and processing systems give operators greater control over consistency, which means they can deliver safe, quality products time after time, Cuthbert says. Also, because equipment performance parameters can be easily monitored, plant managers can quickly spot a problem and correct it before faulty product is distributed.
Automation allows managers to monitor and have more control over processes, which filters down to further refinements and modification made by plant staff. Having the data and the power to make adjustments in one place means the time from incident and reaction is shortened significantly, and minor problems have less time to become major. In this manner, automation is a vast improvement over the old-fashioned method of recording data in electronic spreadsheets or paper records.
Keeping track of relevant product information—from raw material origins, to processing procedures, to packaging data, to distribution channels—is not just required by law, it's smart business practice, Cuthbert says. It can help manufacturers identify the exact problem and only remove the product they know is at risk. Automation and traceability not only increase consumer confidence—they keep recalls small, and out of the headlines. This can boost consumers' trust by giving them the ability to scan (via a laptop or smartphone) a package label to access a product's history, from farm to fork.
Maintaining quality, ensuring safety and facilitating traceability all tie into a manufacturer's key concern: maintaining a brand's good reputation. Automation facilitates the consistent quality, trouble-free production and transparency critical to keeping retailers and consumers satisfied with food and beverage products.