A n intensely competitive and rapidly growing retail structure has forced the food manufacturers to look at various means of improving operational efficiency and productivity. Investment in automation solutions has become an important task in this area. Integrated automation and control technology helps food and beverage manufacturers meet today’s challenging quality, efficiency and on-time delivery demands. Emphasising the importance of automation, Ajit Shah, Managing Director of Yantra Automation Pvt Ltd, stresses, “automation and computerised system reduce human errors in operating, monitoring and recording/logging process related data. It provides accuracy in measurement and control which improves product quality and plant up-time. Automation system also ensures easy maintenance and troubleshooting, optimisation of energy consumption, faster pay-back period and reduces total cost of ownership. Computer-based supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems provide graphical representation of process, plant monitoring and control and logs data. It also creates reports based on real time and historical data which saves lot of time over the conventional method of data collection and generating reports manually.” F&B industry poses many challenges such as low life cycle costs, high flexibility, constant high quality, consistent taste and transparent processes. According to Sameer Prakash, Sector Manager, F&B, Siemens Ltd, installation of automation provides a lot of benefits in production like flexibility in production through recipe-controlled processes with SCADA and SIMATIC IT, process and product quality through preventative online quality management and SIMATIC IT, improved co-operation on the team through uniform, top-level management of production and business processes, increased system availability through a robust system platform, online diagnosis and highly qualified, global support. Automation also provides improved expansion possibilities, through a system that can grow step-by-step to keep up with needs. It has minimised operating costs through reduced inventories of replacement parts and easy maintenance.
Today, many F&B manufacturers rely on new automation systems and information technology to maintain product consistency and improve manufacturing flexibility and agility. Reflecting on the trends in this area, Shah says, “new technologies are emerging in automation like programmable logic controllers (PLCs), PACs, distributed control systems (DCS), hybrid controllers which are replacing the conventional single loop controllers and provide better control system for plants. This enables F&B manufacturers to implement solutions in a single environment to reduce development time and cost, respond more quickly to customer or market demands, reduce maintenance costs and downtime, and easily gain access to plant and production information from business systems for better management decision-making. The servo based systems are also replacing the mechanical cams in packing machines results in increase in speed/production.”Giving an account of the solutions offered by Siemens, Sameer states, “it provides new technologies with a need to further optimise the process, integrate production analysis, efficient quality assurance, and easier traceability, with the help of manufacturing execution systems (MES) along-with barcode/RFID solutions. Filling/packaging process represents a huge cost factor which can amount to up to 55 per cent of total production costs. Optimised packaging line, the integrated automation solution from Siemens is based on standardisation and integration of the entire filling/packaging plant on a common automation and communication standard.”
Requirements of end-user industry
The end-user of F&B industry has more to elaborate on the requirements from vendor. In this context Vishvas Chitale, Partner, Chitale Dairy, says, “the system programming environment should be consistent throughout the platforms. The programming system should be compliant to Standards like S88.Adequate trained manpower for system programming maintains compliance made available. Data integration from factory data to ERP needs to be part of the system.”“Major requirements of the end-user industry are: need for across-the-board efficiency enhancement, encompassing the entire supply chain and complete life cycle. There is a need to increase flexibility for new products and packaging solutions, while safeguarding investments. It is important to ensure a constant high level of product quality with complete traceability, for secure food products,” explains Sameer. Talking about the end-user’s requirements, Shah piped, “it is important to meet industry quality standard/regulation requirements, reduce production cost, trace batch wise production, reduce manual intervention, and get maximum uptime. It is pertinent to have a fault diagnostic that is simpler, quicker, flexible, suitable (scalable) to keep the production live.”
Systems and equipment modernisation
Now-a-days one can find number of automation system manufacturers offering automation solutions from beginning to end. Agreeing to this belief, Shah opines, “automation solutions include PLCs, automation controllers, human machine interface (HMIs), distributed I/Os, communication and control networks, power monitors, variable frequency drives, servo system, sensors and instrumentation like flow meters, transmitters, etc. Even new PC (Windows) based software are available for different functions of automation like design and configuration, monitoring and controlling SCADA, data management, production management, asset management and quality and compliance. According to Sameer, the companies should offer complete range of products and solutions covering the entire electrical and automation requirements of any F&B plant. This includes solutions for process and packaging areas like process instruments, automation systems, HMI, DCS, failsafe systems, MES–Simatic IT, automation solutions for breweries, dairy, sugar, etc, solutions for filling & packing lines, low voltage switchgear, AC/DC drives and fire detection systems. For the utility/electrical area, there are HV solutions for power transmission, MV drives and motors, gearbox for motors, solutions for switch yard and sub-station.
Quality and safety issues
F&B legislation does not permit any compromise. The focus is to protect the consumer and his interest, while offering consistent taste. Hence, consistent high quality along-with complete transparency of the process is of great importance in this industry. Sameer says that fast, precise tracking & tracing solutions, as prescribed by European Union (EU) Directive plays an important role. Automation solutions can promote a better understanding of production and business processes in addition to ensuring quality through precisely defined recipes. This ensures that consistent quality is produced and predefined parameters are strictly observed.“As risks and costs associated with food quality and safety have risen dramatically, while automating an F&B plant one must ensure all operations are in control and in compliance with the industry regulations and standards such as FDA, HACCP procedures,” observes Shah. This requires the automation system provider implement reliable control and safety system which comply with GMP, HACCP, ISO, and other quality and safety standards. This includes automation hardware design, software development as per standards.
Role of MFPI
Stating the role of the Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MFPI), Sameer believes, “the ministry is engaged in the challenge of creating a unique partnership between the Indian farmer and industrialist and automation is the catalyst in this partnership. Use of automation technology in food processing is a vital ingredient in the country’s overall model of achieving economies of scale.”
While Shah stresses on the point, “the Government should give accelerated depression for modernisation and automation to F&B industry.” Echoing similar sentiments, Chitale concludes, “the Ministry should consider some grant to the industry for automation and factory data processing needs.”
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