Industry 4.0 brings countless benefits to food and beverage manufacturers. On a practical level, how do you transition from legacy equipment to a fully integrated and connected production line, with minimal expense? Foodmach CEO Earle Roberts writes. This article first appeared in the July 2021 issue of Food and Drink Business.

Perhaps you’ve selected some excellent new equipment for your line, and you’d like to take advantage of the productivity data it can provide. Maybe you even want to take a tentative step towards the full benefits of Industry 4.0, where all the equipment and sensors on your production line provide information to control and management software.

The problem is, you’ve got different brands of equipment with different proprietary OEM interfaces, able to provide different types of information, and some old legacy equipment that hardly provides any at all.

Connecting them all together to speak the same ‘machine language’, providing consistent information to management systems, you need a production line integrator with whole-of-plant expertise that specialises in standardised machine interfacing. You don’t want a simple data mining protocol layered over the top of older machines because the cybersecurity risks outweigh the benefits.

In addition, the facility for custom data acquisition cannot simply be added through access to the IoT; it needs to be programmed in. And for that, you need advanced programming skills.

Using high-level control architecture, it is possible to work through OEM proprietary platforms and network them for access to useful, translatable data. Interoperability is essential to capturing the full benefits of the Industry 4.0 revolution. Ideally, your integrator will also be using a modular approach for re-useable machine code. The aim here is a standardised way of looking at operating modes, machine states and tag names on a production line from multiple OEMs using different control systems.

A good Line Management Execution System (LMES) will collect and deliver the standardised data from your old and new machines to supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, manufacturing execution systems (MES) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) level systems.

Working with a team of specialists with proven Industry 4.0 expertise around legacy equipment will reduce costs and get you the results you’re looking for.

Here are five things for you to consider.

1 Experience

Extensive experience in line integration, with excellent references and case studies. Do they have demonstrated, practical Industry 4.0 expertise? And do they have experience with blockchain? Because its use in food and beverage manufacturing will become an industry standard to drive transparency across the entire supply chain.

2 All services in-house

In-house technical/trades services for better control of timelines. You’ll thank yourself for using a supplier who does it all—especially electricals, software programming and safety compliance—areas that typically cause delays.

3 Turnkey

Offers end-to-end project management, so you only have to deal with one supplier. And offers consultation services with other OEMS. If you’ve selected some expensive new equipment from overseas, you’ll want your project manager to work with them to ensure delivery, operability and integration with the rest of your production line.

4 Safety and Service

You want a partner with the in-house skills to help you meet compliance with all regulations and requirements and can provide risk assessments, safety upgrades and documentation/reporting, as well as safety awareness training, maintenance and support. You also want to know that despite the issue – whether it be site works delays or timeline changes – your project manager will respond positively and that they’ll provide ongoing support.

5 Ability to work around pandemics

The new business landscape is filled with lockdowns and travel restrictions, all of which make timely project completion a challenge and a potential nightmare for production managers. Choose an integration partner with a national footprint and a demonstrated ability to continue commissioning by remote if needs be. Ideally they are able to step into the shoes of European or international commissioning engineers. That way your smarter production line won’t be held up because the OEM’s service people can’t get to Australia or interstate.

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