Deal with the meals business

To understand the challenges you need to be on the factory floor

Craig Sheppard

From SMC Corporation Craig Sheppard, Australia and New Zealand Director of Sales and Marketing.

In Australia, the food and beverage sector accounts for 32% of the country's total manufacturing sales and is reported to be valued at around $ 122 billion (Octet 2020). New Zealand, on the other hand, is a major exporter of food and beverages, with 46% of all goods and services exports to the industry ( (2021)).

On a global level, the food processing market is expected to grow 6.04% (CAGR) between 2020 and 2027. This is putting pressure on manufacturers to accelerate productivity and improve their efficiency year-on-year.

A recent report by SMC Corporation Europe Industry Manager Food Diego Mirabelli presented the latest trends in the food industry and highlighted the challenges faced by the Covid-19 pandemic. It describes SMC's presence on the factory floor to identify the industry's most pressing automation needs.

What's hot in food automation?

Surprisingly, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a positive surge in automation.

Companies are changing the way they work. You will focus on tackling productivity, downtime, energy savings, safety, hygiene and competitiveness challenges quickly and continuously in a difficult climate.

Food security remains an ongoing issue around the world, and automation will play a key role in combating scarcity in the years to come.

Other issues raised by manufacturers are reliable workforce and employee accessibility. Though expensive to work, the lockdowns imposed by Covid-19 have taught some tough lessons regarding employee access to workplaces, and the need for social distancing has created its own challenges – especially in factories where productivity (both day and night) as well as at night) is crucial.

And while there is always a need for a workforce, many companies are now re-evaluating the workforce to ensure they add value and improve the bottom line of the business.

When analyzing the change (and adoption) of automation, Mr Mirabelli's report identified the following main drivers:

1. Avoid downtime

Most food factories operate 24/7, so stopping food production can be costly and time-consuming. Most areas are arranged in a continuous flow, with one area dependent on the activity of another – from primary material integration to processing and packaging. OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) can be significantly improved by using digital predictive maintenance solutions, training operators and maximizing product reliability.

When analyzing the automation of the plant, Mr. Mirabelli believes that the actuator is the most critical component. Replacing an actuator is quick (typically 10 minutes) if it is within reach and easily accessible. In other cases it can take up to four hours. Of course, the costs of proactive replacement of an actuator are usually significantly lower than the costs of stopping production.

However, to ensure real-time monitoring and to avoid problems before they occur, monitoring sensors must be integrated as part of the automation control loop. SMC offers two types of sensors. An induction sensor can calculate the speed of the rod, while a pressure sensor can detect leaks in the actuators. Communication takes place here in real time via an IO-Link.

2. Productivity combined with automation

While this traditional, fast-paced industry has lagged behind in automation penetration, robotics and its stalled technology (cobots) are the primary drivers for improved productivity and automation in the factory floor.

Some of our team members are dedicated to understanding and developing solutions to complement robotic technologies. We provide gripping technologies and a wide range of plug and play gripper end effectors for most cobot suppliers.

In response to the industry's call, SMC offers wireless technology for robotic applications that enables gripper communication over Wi-Fi, resulting in weight reduction and faster installation through reduced wiring.

The next step is the introduction of intelligent technologies that combine flexible and fast format changes with high cycle rates and low life cycle costs.

3. Reduce costs by optimizing energy efficiency

Food factories are energy intensive; they account for 19% of the energy consumption of the entire manufacturing industry. The SMC Energy Saving Taskforce can analyze your system and help you achieve savings and efficiency gains.

The cost of improvement can vary, but the return on investment is often small. While air leaks are still a widespread issue, there are other air consumption priorities that can be critically assessed for which SMC offers a wide range of solutions: condition monitoring tools that provide information such as flow rate and pressure, Automatic Leak Detection System (ALDS), that offers leakage monitoring almost in real time, and a VEX stand-by valve that reduces air consumption during short stops or switches off during long stops.

4th Machine safety and hygiene

Safety and automation work hand in hand and safety valves are an integral part of our product range.

Although hygiene has always been a key issue, Covid-19 has driven the message home. Both machine builders and food companies need solutions that are easy to clean and reduce the risk of contamination.

About SMC

SMC was founded 60 years ago and operates in 83 countries and employs 19,000 people worldwide. It has an R&D engineering team of 1,450 people and a 8,200 sales team who are experts in their fields and who work closely with SMC's customers.

In order to provide automation solutions for its diverse customer base, SMC offers more than 12,000 basic products with over 700,000 variants.

SMC is the world's leading pneumatics supplier and has been voted one of the most innovative global companies by the leading business magazine Forbes for three years in a row and is listed in FORBES Global 2000 as one of the world's largest public companies.

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