Forget clean labels, fusion flavors, "snackable" ready-to-eat meals, and kale smoothies. Smart technology is one of the hottest food industry trends—it’s not just changing what we eat, but how we are manufacturing food. Today’s food processing plants exist in a classic state of information overload: A galaxy of sensors, video security, and monitoring devices deliver more data than can possibly be processed for meaningful, real-time insights. The “Industrial Internet of Things” (IIoT) is changing this. By applying deep analytics through software, IIoT brings meaning and order to this interconnected physical world of sensors, devices and machines. The result is a futuristic food plant where data can now be leveraged for real-time optimization of production and intelligent decision making in actionable, accountable ways.
IIoT and Smart Plants for Food Manufacturing
Ground zero for the IIoT revolution is an unlikely spot: a brownfield warehouse in Cambridge City, Indiana. Over the last year, SugarCreek has transformed the 70,000-sq-ft facility into a state-of-the-art food processing facility. While the infrastructure upgrades to equipment, floors and walls are obvious, less obvious are the changes to the warehouse’s technology.
“The facility was like a blank canvas for us to start fresh,” Ed Rodden, SugarCreek's chief information officer told Food Processing. “To us, IIoT means the ability to use all the available pieces of data, including video and security, from all kinds of devices and to tie them all together in such a way that's useful to the business.”
Rodden and his team worked closely with IIoT architects from Cisco Services. The team started by analyzing day-to-day use cases and brainstorming technical solutions to meet these needs. Working with Cisco, the team installed a variety of new secure automation solutions, such as Converged Plant-wide Ethernet (CPwE), and analytics solutions, like a wireless intrusion prevention system (wIPS), and collaborative solutions, like virtual desktop infrastructure. The result? The entire plant is better positioned for effective collaboration and real-time data management—a first for the food industry.
The Future of IIoT: What’s Next for Food Manufacturing?
Last year, the Internet of Things was reckoned as a $19 trillion market, and for good reason. With only 1% of the world’s devices currently connected, there is tremendous potential for IIoT to transform food processing and beyond. Technology isn't the bottleneck holding back this transformation. These fundamental components are already in place as Paul Howarth, the Senior Manager for Corporate Development at Cisco told McRock Capital. “What the market needs is more industry innovators who can put the technology together in unique ways to solve specific industry problems. It’s one of the reasons Cisco uses the term ‘Internet of Everything’ because it includes the people and processes that will change industry, not just the things.”
While IIoT has already begun revolutionizing the management of everything from intelligent transport to electrical grid automation, the food manufacturing industry has been slower to adopt these changes. IIoT is the next wave of innovation impacting the way the world connects and optimizes machines. And while IIoT may not be one of the big food industry trends on your radar, it should be. A decade ago when the term “IIoT” was first coined, food and beverage manufacturers struggled to justify the cost of these upgrades over conventional systems. Today’s second wave sensors cost less than half of what they did ten years ago, and bandwidth and processing speeds are now 60 times faster, reports Food Processing. As low-cost sensors and field devices embedded with inexpensive microprocessors become increasingly affordable, food and beverage processors stand to significantly benefit. These sensors can improve machine-to-machine communication and put real-time data in the hands of technicians, plant managers, and other personnel. Watchers of food industry trends take note: IIoT is just getting started!