The coronavirus crisis has intensified the digital transformation in the food processing industry, which in addition to traditional needs such as data-based business management, is also seeing increasing requests for artificial intelligence.
These were the key findings of the recent CSB Discovery Days, a digitisation conference organised by food and drink IT specialist CSB-System which – fittingly – was held online rather than the planned face-to-face event, owing to the pandemic.
The two-day conference, which attracted around 200 participants from 26 countries, discussed the findings and experiences of CSB-System experts and several of its customers.
One clear message from the event was that the process industry has a strong interest in further expanding digitisation and automation – predominantly, but not exclusively, with the aim of increasing efficiency. At the same time, the current crisis has also accelerated other strategic process adjustments for companies, with hygiene, quality and traceability being strong additional requirements. The ultimate aim is to enable corporate management to be carried out based on performance indicators.
“Digitisation has allowed us to establish an entirely different basis for decision-making, using facts rather than intuition,” explained Marko Markovcic, Technical Manager of the food companies Pivka and Delamaris, based in Slovenia. “Today, we speak about specific KPIs instead of estimates, for example with regard to sales volumes or forecasts.”
Similarly, two IT experts from the Belgian Colruyt group, Grégory Messiaen and Mathias Bongaerts, demonstrated how they were able to enhance product freshness while significantly lowering losses in production, an innovation that quickly turned into profit.
As CSB Vice President Dr. Klemens van Betteray pointed out, economic added value must be evident in any success story. “Every step towards Industry 4.0 ultimately is also a step towards more turnover or profit, whether through smart glasses in picking, robots in dairies, industrial image processing for the quality assessment of raw materials, or the blockchain,” he said.
The optimum basis for the digital transformation of the company is, and will remain, the ERP system, as it is the business management backbone controlling the company’s data pool. “A digital transformation combining your ERP system with data from other systems will put you in an ideal position against the competition,” said van Betteray.
The conference also heard that, among the many current technology trends, artificial intelligence has the highest potential. There are already a growing number of examples within the process industry, some of which have even reached market maturity, as Michael Zerbe, head of CSB’s development department, explained: “Above all else, image recognition is taking the lead, simply because AI makes almost no mistakes – as opposed to humans. Examples include the quality control of fruit and vegetables, or the recognition of reusable transport packaging.”
In addition, predictive maintenance helps to optimise the upkeep and to minimise the downtime of machines. Huge progress has also recently been made in the calculation and forecast of raw material and product availabilities. “AI is able to interpret tremendous data volumes in a short time and this is what makes it so interesting for the process industry,” said Zerbe. “AI will come in big steps, so now is the time to deal with this topic.”
The importance of the digital transformation was demonstrated by the fact that for many companies, it was not a question of ‘when’ but ‘how’. “Begin by looking for the quick wins,” was the advice of Robin Gremlich, who is responsible for CSB’s consulting unit, saying that actions that have positive effects on turnover, profit, processes, or products should be further expanded.
For example, online shop systems should not be limited to selling products or managing subsidiaries. “One of our customers now controls the entire complaints management process via web interfaces,” reported Gremlich. “This is much more efficient than before, because the relevant data is entered directly by the customer.”’
Other hands-on examples with real benefit for daily business include product and price calculations which are highly relevant to food manufacturers. “Using digital solutions and simulations, you can identify the areas where money is gained or lost,” continued Gremlich.
According to Gremlich, digitisation is not a matter of company size. Every enterprise can do it. And as for finding the right approach, he suggests: “Ask your staff. They will know precisely in which processes there is room for improvement.”
The next Discovery Days are already being planned for May 2021 which, thanks to the huge success of this virtual conference, will combine a physical event with digital elements. “With the Discovery Days, we aim to make the digital transformation tangible for decision-makers,” said Frank Braun, Head of Marketing at CSB and creator of this year’s virtual event. “And it is a good opportunity to try out new channels in the event communication.”
The Innovations news service incorporates up-to-date news across the global food and beverage sector. Innovations in Food (and Bev) Technology looks at the science and development of food and beverage ingredients.
Innovations in Food (and Bev) Processing & Packaging looks at processing, packaging and labelling while showcasing the latest technology from around the globe.