Technology solutions like independent
cart technology (ICT) and robotics
can deliver much-needed flexibility
on a production line. ICT provides the
foundation for intelligent conveyance
systems — advanced and efficient
alternatives to conventional systems.
These unique systems can safely and
efficiently manage many carts across a
network of linear motors. Using ICT, some
OEMs have reduced changeovers from 45
minutes to just one. Overall, ICT minimizes
complications and reduces time to market
for food and beverage producers.
Robotics can also offer more flexibility to
end-of-the-line operations, like packaging.
Smart machines based around a single
control system with robotic controls can
enable faster communication of control,
safety and process information, and more
accurate control of machine movements.
In addition, advances in scalable batch
and recipe management tools allow
food companies to build more flexible
production lines. In the past, a line may
have been dedicated to a single product, but
companies can now easily and efficiently
change recipes on the same line.
Data And Information
The primary difference between smart
machines and traditional machines is
information. By tying into an Ethernet-based network, smart machines can deliver
invaluable, standardized data that food and
beverage companies can use to optimize
overall operations. Producers can leverage
that information to improve decision-making around product stocking, delays in
changeovers and more. Smart machines
also open the option of storing data in
the cloud, which is becoming more cost-effective and easy to manage.
Sensor technology helps OEMs design
self-aware machines that can monitor their
own key components and environmental
conditions. This level of machine monitoring
also enables preventive maintenance,
supported by the OEM. Machines can
consist of both wired and wireless sensors,
allowing production lines to produce
products more reliably and efficiently.
Working closely with their OEM, food
and beverage producers can also deploy
mobile devices to connect with smart
machines. This can eliminate the need
for operators to stand close to machines,
allowing them to multitask while
maintaining digital access to monitor and
control their machinery.
Security is a normal concern for new
users of digital production technology.
With new equipment and exposed data,
food and beverage companies naturally
worry that proprietary information could
accidentally leak outside the organization
or be stolen by bad actors.
The good news is that security and
safety are fundamental elements in
the design of smart machines. Using a
defense-in-depth (DiD) approach, robust
security helps protect intellectual property,
physical and human assets, and the
environment. The DiD approach assumes
any one point of protection can, and most
likely will, be defeated. It employs layers
of security through physical, electronic and
Data protection isn’t the only safety
to think about when considering
implementing smart machines. Physical
safety in production facilities can also be
improved with the integration of a smart
machine through safety-system diagnostics
that can alert operators when there is
an issue within the system. Operators
can resolve system issues before they
present a risk to safety. As a proactive
measure, data on equipment issues can be
collected and stored over time to compare
and identify trends across sites, allowing
operators to take preventive steps to
protect physical safety and enhance their
interactions with machines. This could
include allowing operators to service
machines while still in motion.
Food and beverage companies no
longer have the luxury of sticking with the
status quo. Today’s market is full of fierce
competition, and those hesitant to leverage
and introduce new technology are falling
behind. Smart machines and equipment
can be a first step to producers keeping up
— and winning — the market.
Steve Mulder is North America packaging
segment lead at Rockwell Automation.
Damon Sepe is North America process
segment lead at Rockwell Automation.