Industrial IoT: Feeding Innovation In Food And Beverages

The Industrial Internet of Things is dishing out a healthy portion of innovation in F&B

The food and beverages (F&B) industry isn’t exactly what you’d call an early adopter of technology. Complicated supply chains, vast numbers of stakeholders from completely different businesses, heavy regulation, and a huge variety of products have all contributed to the sector’s digital drought. However, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) offers a cocktail of automation, transparency, traceability and higher productivity.

Digesting disruption

Although the IIoT and other technologies come with a host of benefits, F&B has been slow to adopt innovative technology. We asked Nandini Natarajan, Senior Research Analyst at Frost & Sullivan‘s Industrial Research team, why.

“One of the major reasons is the fact that the industry is heavily fragmented in nature, involving varied functions and departments, which make it difficult to make a move towards digitalisation,” says Natarajan. “Also, due to the stringent regulatory nature of the F&B sector, manufacturers have been hesitant to adopt IIoT in fear that the new technologies may affect compliance to health and hygiene regulations. The need to justify business decisions for IIoT and assessing tangible ROI are other challenges that further impede IIoT adoption in this sector.”

But, Natarajan explains, the barriers are gradually breaking down. Manufacturers are realising that leveraging Big Data analytics and artificial intelligence will become critical to competitive growth. As well as monitoring food safety and traceability, the IIoT will improve supply chain management and bring tangible productivity improvements.

“The F&B sector is smartening up with the adoption of digital technologies, and we are beginning to see its impact. The IIoT offers solutions across the length and breadth of the F&B value chain and can help solve many traditional food industry challenges. Some of the key areas where the IIoT is bringing positive change include automated tracking of materials and packaged goods, quality maintenance, waste management, reduced downtime, better interoperability of systems, and greater transparency of processes.”

The global appetite for digitalisation

The IIoT will give worldwide F&B manufacturers the power to collaborate and connect with different stakeholders across the value chain. In contrast to the traditional unidirectional flow of information and goods, exchange will happen seamlessly in different directions. Any business that doesn’t take the opportunity will be starved of clients and customers. In Nataranjan’s words, companies that fail to make a move will stand the risk of being left behind.

Generally, the global F&B sector is beginning to digitalise. But are there differences between global markets? Natarajan identifies the US as an active player in innovative F&B, as well as Germany, Spain, the UK, Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

“Asia is an emerging hub for food technology based innovations,” she adds. “There are several companies across countries like India and Australia that are developing products and services to meet the growing consumer demand for personalised health and wellness needs.”

Supporting sustainable sustenance

No matter where you are in the world, population pressures have made it all the more important to create sustainable F&B. According the UN, the global population will reach 9.8 billion in 2050. In order to feed these 9.8 billion mouths, 70 per cent more food will need to be produced. Unfortunately, food and drinks production isn’t always green.

“Food processing is one of the largest sources of environmental impact. It constitutes a quarter of all water consumption worldwide and is one of the key areas that the F&B sector has focused its sustainability efforts on to date. Further, it is estimated that seven per cent of the food supply is wasted at the point of processing. Processing food with minimal inputs including water, raw materials, and energy will reduce the total impact of food processing.”

Natarajan believes that the IIoT will be a transformational tool in helping manufacturers to achieve sustainability goals. Collaboration, the movement of the moment, will also encourage the sector’s healthy growth.

“There should be an increased focus on research and development, marketing, product distribution and technology licensing collaborations between manufacturing companies, ICT providers and research institutions to promote the growth of the global F&B sector,” she says.

The next course of action

Over the next few years, Natarajan envisions that advanced automation and analytics will streamline F&B manufacturing, bringing with it both more job opportunities and the need for workers to upskill. Increased consumer awareness on sustainability will demand more effective solutions that ensure product quality, and tools and sensors will be scattered throughout the value chain, from food processing to packaging.

…And that’s just for starters.

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