Siemens research calls for greater collaboration between sector manufacturers and machinery suppliers
A research study from Siemens has called for renewed collaboration between food and drink manufactures and machine builders in devising factories of the future, writes Neill Barston.
The industrial group’s latest white paper was revealed at Hannover Messe last week, and was based on a quantitative and qualitative survey and interviews with 25 of the UK’s leading sector businesses, including enterprises with related interest across confectionery and bakery segments, alongside machinery suppliers for the industry.
As the company noted, its report, “Collaborating to Create the Future Factory for Food and Beverage Manufacturers” comes against a backdrop of Brexit, the climate crisis, a national skills shortage, and a global pandemic which have coalesced to create unprecedented levels of pressure on the food and beverage industry.
According to Siemens, manufacturers should acknowledge that accelerating digital transformation and maximising the value of data are central to tackling the challenges of driving up productivity and efficiency, while bringing down costs. Meanwhile machine builders recognise they have a pivotal role to play in this shift – supporting end users with greater machine performance and roadmaps for the future.
The company’s latest paper suggests five key areas where the two groups and technology providers like Siemens can bridge silos of innovation and best practice and find the sweet spot for collaboration.
This included: Data-driven innovation: ways of capturing information and using it to innovate production and processes – example: digital twins, simulations, scenario planning, combining people, process and data: frameworks for assessing the need, understanding impact and then managing change. Thirdly, finance, budgeting and optimising the costs of innovation are of key importance.
Its study also highlighted the need for a joint vision for sustainability: sharing best practice and innovation from across the industry and supply chains, as well as sharing best practice from other heavy heat and energy users.
Keith Thornhill, Head of Food & Beverage UK and Ireland, Siemens Digital Industries, said: “The findings have put the finger on the pulse of the UK food and beverage manufacturing industry.
“As providers of innovative solutions in digitalisation and automation, we have been working closely with manufacturers, machine builders and other technology providers to continuously improve their operations for the digital future.
“This survey enabled us to bring together all stakeholders and thus take the UK food and manufacturing industry to the next level.”
The report’s findings resounded what many industry experts have been saying for the last few years; that even before external factors such as Brexit and Covid-19, the food and beverage industry was already buffeted by factors like aging infrastructure and rising costs.
The manufacturers Siemens spoke to collectively recognise that innovation and greater machine performance will be critical to their future success.
While half (51%) of manufacturers put quality of output as the top concern, they also want to be able to withstand disruption, adapt faster to change, and hit growing sustainability targets.
Resilience was also a key concern with 94% of the food and beverage manufacturers acknowledging that it was discussed more frequently in leadership meetings and planning than it was five years ago.
The research suggests that improving business resilience, machine performance and production agility is a growing concern for food and beverage manufacturers facing supply chain risk, demand fluctuation, and production challenges.
Findings show that even a brief downtime can have serious and wide-reaching effects, meaning there’s strong industry appetite both for improved diagnostics, proactive and preventative maintenance of machinery. This approach can limit unpleasant surprises by identifying potential machine failures and resolving issues before they occur.
The survey discovered that manufacturers need support not only with machinery and software that facilitates automation, but with people and process training. One way of doing this is to improve machine resilience and extend equipment life cycles; many of the manufacturers are looking to sweat their assets more effectively to avoid the need for costly new kit. Doing this successfully requires better maintenance and understanding of asset health – which in turn demands not only better HMIs and dashboards with smarter integrations and greater visibility of machine data, but also the skills and experience to understand and respond to that data at speed.
Another key finding pertains to sustainability which is high on the agenda of the manufacturers, with more than three quarters (81%) strongly agreeing that it will receive much more focus in the coming years.
As far as innovation goes, food and beverage manufacturers are reaching the end of the road with conventional efficiencies for energy and downgauging for packaging. Having done all they could, the onus is increasingly on machine builders and other technology providers to help manufacturers reach the next stage of sustainable productions.
The white paper reveals that digital transformation and use of data hold the key to success of the industry. Siemens’ research shows manufacturers are keen to both utilise it effectively, and embrace digitalisation more widely, but they face serious challenges in gathering, analysing and reacting to data effectively.
Half (50%) of the manufacturers are in the early stages, with an additional 38% only somewhat mature. Some have limited data visibility, with interfaces that make data gathering difficult to manage, while others have an abundance of data but no real sense of what to do with it.
There’s also anxiety about what growing automation means for certain roles and the absence of relevant skills in the workforce. The paper says: “With so much complexity to wade through – and with technology, people and process challenges to untangle – food and beverage manufacturers need support if they’re going to succeed. Machine builders and other industry tech providers have an important role to play.”