Sustainability, globalization, productivity and innovation top the list of key challenges confronting the food and beverage industry. In the face of regulation and customer concerns, manufacturers look for ways to improve margins while delivering the quality assurance that consumers expect.
During today's Food and Beverage Industry Forum at Rockwell Automation's Automation Fair in Philadelphia, suppliers and manufacturers provided experiences and thoughts about how manufacturers today can improve product consistency, throughput, data gathering and reporting.
Kris Dornan, marketing projects manager, Rockwell Automation, began the session by outlining what Rockwell Automation finds to be the key needs and interests of food and beverage consumers and, by default, the food and beverage industry that serves them. He broke this down into a few categories. "There's a demand for new products," Dornan said. "So how do you innovate to provide that? You might make beer. How do you make yours better than your competitors? As suppliers, how do you support those needs?"
Next, there's customer satisfaction, Dornan said. "If you buy an Oreo cookie, it always has to taste like an Oreo cookie, today, tomorrow and in the future." Supply chain integration is critical, too. "There's capacity variability, many other companies involved in that process, so how do you manage that?" Dornan asked.
And of course there's food safety and its accompanying regulations such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011, a sweeping legislative action that in the United States will impact the data gathering and sharing activities of food and beverage companies with its eventual implementation, particularly in food processing segments that previously were not regulated.
JLS Automation provides automation solutions for the food industry focused on primary and secondary packaging operations, and its president, Craig Souser, presented a brief overview of its implications to machine builder and, by extension, the industry's manufacturing companies
"FSMA is a mandate of best practices," reported Souser. "The good news is that it's science-based. I think they did it right."
The measures will envelope all food, including dry food products, provide authority to inspect records, mandate recalls and "They also can close you down for inaction, so it's not to be taken lightly," warned Souser. "It has the scope of ObamaCare for this industry."
The elements mandated by FSMA are similar to the Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) management system, in which food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of biological, chemical and physical hazards from raw material production, procurement and handling, to manufacturing, distribution and consumption of the finished product.
"To me this is about food safety, and it is preventive in nature," Souser believes. "About 3000 people in the U.S. died last year from food-borne illnesses."
This also impacts the products packaging industry and drives the need for collaboration between equipment suppliers and their end customers. "Ease of sanitation and subsequent validation requirements will impact design considerations," Souser stated.
Towards its steps in this new user requirement, JLS has begun to integrate Rockwell Automation's FactoryTalk Historian Server in its automation system to provide tracking, traceability and validation data throughout the packaging process. "These are new items that we're starting to integrate into our solutions. We're starting to do this now because we know the customer is going to have to down the road."
Souser concluded by saying that FSMA is here to stay. Its actual implementation is probably three to four years away, but he counsels to start now and stay ahead of it. "If you try to deal with it then, you could be in big trouble," he warned.