How is Industry 4.0 reshaping the food and drink manufacturing sector

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In any field of business, standard operating models are constantly evolving, and sometimes they take a significant leap forward that requires every organisation to embrace that change or risk being left behind.

The food and drink manufacturing sector is no exception to this. This is currently being demonstrated by the major paradigm shift that businesses are experiencing with the advent of the so-called Industry 4.0 trend. Combining the proven benefits of automation with a 21st century approach to hyper-connectivity, this operating model is already revolutionising manufacturing on a global basis. It looks like a trend that will only continue gathering momentum in 2018 and beyond.

As such, it's essential that professionals at all levels within the food and drink sector learn as much as they can about how Industry 4.0 will affect their future planning, particularly when it comes to training and recruitment. Arming yourself with this knowledge will ensure that your organisation is able to take full advantage of the benefits this new methodology can provide.

What is Industry 4.0?

The Industry 4.0 trend has also been referred to as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, reflecting the full significance this digitally-driven transformation is having on the manufacturing sector.

In simple terms, the principle refers to the use of intelligent systems, real-time data and cloud connectivity to overhaul and improve the efficiency of manufacturing processes. In the past, even large-scale productions had to be coordinated by centralised decision-makers. Thanks to Industry 4.0, it's now possible for machines, devices, sensors and people to be in constant communication, meaning many functions can be entirely automated, informed by the data generated by the rest of the production line.

Of course, not every organisation has the technical capability to accomplish this, but more and more food and drink firms are likely to invest in the necessary cloud systems and data discovery platforms as awareness of the potential benefits increases. This makes it vital for forward-looking companies to act soon – or risk getting left behind.

Benefits vs risks

When considering the best ways to adapt to the Industry 4.0 paradigm, it's vital for professionals to think carefully about the benefits they hope to achieve, and how these can be realistically attained:

  • Operational efficiency - Industry 4.0's move towards greater automation and instant decision-making will result in a range of potential efficiency gains, including: reduced costs, improved productivity and the removal of manual involvement in labour-intensive tasks such as warehousing, restocking and quality control.
  • Shelf life – the data generated through this approach makes it easier than ever to monitor production, and ensure that items are delivered and labelled in a way that takes proper account of perishable food.
  • Traceability – producers can track items from the point of delivery all the way to supermarket shelves, resulting in full accountability in instances where product recalls are required.
  • Smart labelling – manufacturers can use the additional data insights generated by Industry 4.0 to offer smart labelling, providing consumers with nutritional information, production dates and proof of authenticity.
  • Tailored, market-sensitive production – the data-driven nature of this method allows businesses to responsively ramp production up and down based on changing market trends, or even embrace single-unit production to fulfil personalised orders.

At the same time, professionals also need to be aware of the potential risks that a change of this magnitude can inevitably bring:

  • New data security and cyber risk issues - naturally, Industry 4.0's reliance on connectivity means that food and drink businesses will become more vulnerable to cyber-attacks and data leaks, with potentially significant public consequences if things go wrong.
  • New legal requirements – the change will also put businesses under increased legal scrutiny relating to their data handling practices, particularly in the wake of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
  • New training and staff development requirements – shifting to an Industry 4.0 model will introduce a whole new set of responsibilities and skill requirements for staff, who will need to be trained to make the most of the new systems of work, and to avoid the potential pitfalls.

How can businesses prepare?

In order to properly account for the scale of change that Industry 4.0 will bring, companies cannot adopt a short-term outlook. Instead, they should look to implement a longer-term digital roadmap that will take into account their current and projected future needs.

This should include an audit of their current data capabilities and technological infrastructure, and a consideration of what might be required in the future to meet evolving customer, product and data needs, taking into account as wide a range of best and worst-case scenarios as possible.

Following this, businesses should look to provide thorough and continuous training to help new and existing workers understand and internalise the disciplines involved with data-driven, automated workflows, and the importance of responsible data stewardship. For those with a more traditional approach to working, this may require some extra effort, but helping everyone understand the merits of Industry 4.0 is vital to its success.

At present, this digital, hyper-connected vision remains a futuristic concept for most food and drink companies. This could mean that Industry 4.0 could provide a significant, measurable competitive advantage for those forward-looking businesses willing to get ahead of the curve.

Contact Elaine Hankinson here for more information about how we can help you with your L&D strategy behind the 4.0 implementation in your organisation. With over 20 years-experience and 3 million learners, we have trained over 750,000 Food and Drink personnel.

Elaine Hankinson Author

Author: Elaine Hankinson

Elaine is a Learning Technology Consultant who works with private sector organisations. She enjoys creating unique digital learning solutions for a variety of customers and has relationship managed a number of large bespoke content development projects. In her spare time she enjoys walking, cooking and a good book.