Introduction

We now live in a world where we could either love or hate technology but can simply never afford to ignore it. Going by this saying, industrial automation is set to become a benchmark for companies who would have to adapt to quickly, if they ever wish to remain competitive in today’s business environment.

It is pretty much a known fact that the world we live today is totally different from then and with the pandemic having disrupted our lives today by posing a huge challenge to public health, food safety and quality is being accorded greater priority by a significant percentage of consumers in India nowadays in the food that they consume and this is where adoption of automation and utilizing advanced technologies, particularly Industry 4.0 solutions in various stages of food manufacturing across the food supply chain could play a pivotal role in helping the businesses in F&B Industry cater to the increasing consumer demands, retain customers and create their own brand loyalty, while at the same time maximize their profits and increase their market share.

Food business in India has always been considered to be a profitable investment for years that can deliver rapid growth and profits within a lesser time period, as food has always been and would continue to remain an essential requirement for human-beings to sustain in the world. In India, automation has been applied across various sectors today and the monetary gains have been huge for those who have been able to rightly identify and seize the opportunities that were prevalent to gain a competitive edge in the market. And now, if there is an industry in India that can’t afford to be left behind, it would certainly have to be the F&B Industry.

Why adopting Automation and Industry 4.0 Solutions is Currently the Need of the Hour?

The Indian F&B Industry has largely been labour-intensive all these years and lagging in the implementation of automation and Industry 4.0 Solutions in their operations. However, today the industry is trying to catch up quickly to meet the demands and requirements of today’s business environment by automating their operations and have been implementing Industry 4.0 solutions at different stages of the manufacturing process. Some of the F&B Companies have been using E-Commerce, including Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in their operations. Further, some of the recent advanced technologies such as sensors (monitoring temperature at all times in the production process), Blockchain (safe and secure storage of data on the cloud, Internet of Things (IoT) (data sharing within the manufacturing plant) have already had a disruptive effect in food manufacturing. COVID-19 had put considerable pressure on companies to ensure continued production in the midst of lockdowns and restrictions/curbs imposed by the Indian Government. In fact, the pandemic has further accelerated the F&B Industry’s shift towards automation and Industry 4.0 solutions.

Today, adopting automation has been seen as a welcome change for the F&B Industry, as it has been able to improve the consumer experience, with one such example being the ability to ensure the same consistency in the products that are being offered to the consumers at all times, such as the taste, flavour, etc., as there is likely to be minimal chances of human errors, which is certainly expected to help the F&B manufacturers manage production efficiently, thereby safeguarding the image of the brand. Additionally, automation brings many more benefits to manufacturers, which include freeing of workers from performing tasks that are repetitive or sometimes even hazardous, which greatly reduces the risks for workers at the manufacturing units, thereby ensuring their safety, apart from also improving the traceability of raw materials, ingredients, including various food products as they move along the food supply chain.

With Industry 4.0 solutions having disrupted some of the major industries today, the Indian Food & Beverage Industry currently stands at the cusp of a massive transformation.

We’ve had the wonderful opportunity of connecting with some of the industry executives and veterans, who have shared their views/opinions and provided some insights on the significance of adopting automation and Industry 4.0 solutions by F&B manufacturers in their operations and how deployment of the same in their operations can help businesses unlock significant value from data and analytics that can help them streamline their operations as well as improve operational productivity and efficiency, apart from mentioning about the recent technologies that have been attracting the attention of food producers today and much more.

The Tech Talk

Rajat Ramesh, Global Product Manager, Buhler India

Rajat Ramesh mentions that COVID-19 has exacerbated the need for solutions that are more sustainable & traceable. Further, he mentions that AI/ML based intelligent solutions are currently seeing an upward trend that has been helping food processing companies track output and performance based on data-backed recommendations.

Jayesh Gunjikar, Associate Director – Process & Technology, Perfetti Van Melle

Jayesh Gunjikar states that post COVID-19, automation has found quick adoption across various areas, be it logistics & warehousing, production or quality control. Further, he mentions that as far as manufacturing is concerned, the focus is currently on implementing Industry 4.0 solutions. He also mentions about one more area that the F&B Industry has tried to increase its focus and it has been on connected machines, as it would be able to provide live data and also interact with other machines across production lines.

Mahesh Wagle, Co-Founder & Director, Cybernetik Technologies Pvt. Ltd.

Mahesh Wagle opined that implementing automation had already been helping food manufacturers improve food safety, productivity, worker safety and efficiency in their operations much before the arrival of COVID-19 pandemic. And he believes that the pandemic had only reinforced these trends, since automation allows for operational continuity, despite labour shortages and social distancing norms on the factory floor.

Further, he mentions that end-to-end automation solutions have been recently grabbing the attention of food producers in India. Adding further, he states that Food safety standards are stringent and therefore food manufacturers could, by implementing end-to-end automation, minimize the chances of contamination, apart from being able to enjoy other automation advantages. He also brought to attention about another automated solution being recipe-based programming that food manufacturers can utilize effectively to help them quickly respond to changes in market requirements. He also stressed on the fact that flexibility would continue to remain the key for survival in the dynamic present-day market.

The Race towards Automation

Today, adopting Industrial Automation with the latest technologies in the workplace can bring along its own set of benefits for the F&B manufacturers that can help them increase their workforce productivity as well as the quality of food. Other benefits that could accrue to the F&B manufacturers from automating their entire operations would be optimal utilization of the available labour force, thereby ensuring the maintenance of safety and quality of food products. Moreover, automation leads to improvement in workflow efficiency and manufacturers would be able to cut down on significant labour costs by automating their manufacturing facilities, as most of the tasks are repetitive and would require an agile workforce who would have to be on the move most of the time, all of which could be avoided if the businesses can automate their processes along the food supply chain, thereby eliminating chances of human error in the process.

Juice Production Line

By deploying some of the latest technologies in their operations, F&B manufacturers can benefit immensely, as these technologies are widely expected to possess the necessary capabilities and act as a key enabler in evaluating the quality of food on a daily basis in a consistent and precise manner., since conducting visual inspection by humans to ensure quality assurance could be rigid and monotonous many a time. The industry executives and veterans shared their thoughts on why it is important for manufacturers to automate their operations and how they stand to gain significantly from such a move and the benefits that might accrue to manufacturers from automating their operations.

Rajat Ramesh, Global Product Manager, Buhler India

Rajat Ramesh states that the timing of investing in technology could not have gotten any better and that it is imperative for manufacturers to adapt to the end consumer food safety requirements. Further, he mentions that at the same time, automation is actually helping increase data accuracy, while also being less dependent on manual interventions. Therefore, he is of the opinion that the overall solution could actually become not only more profitable in the long term, but also make it more sustainable in terms of reduced CO2e, waste, water & energy savings.

Jayesh Gunjikar, Associate Director – Process & Technology, Perfetti Van Melle

Jayesh Gunjikar states that traditionally manual labour was considered to be cheaper in the Indian context, as compared to investing in automation. However, he mentions that if one were to calculate the holistic costs involved, which also includes improvement in quality & efficiency, the overall payback of automation is more likely to reduce significantly. He also adds that investing in automation would have to be done by exercising an abundance of caution in the next few years and that it would only be prudent for food manufacturers to follow a blend of automation and labour-intensive processes.

Mahesh Wagle, Co-Founder & Director, Cybernetik Technologies Pvt. Ltd.

Mahesh Wagle mentions that investment in automation entails a capital expenditure that is substantial, while operational expenses as well as expenses incurred on material rejection and wastage are low.

Further, he is of the opinion that automation can provide operational continuity, flexibility and consistency in output quality. He also adds by stating that fewer manual workers could minimize the chances of contamination in an industry where hygiene standards are strict and recalls are the worst profitability killers. In this way, he feels that implementation of automation in the operations would reduce the impact of labour absenteeism and shortages on production. Lastly, he adds by stating that investment in automation would always be considered to be a better option, rather than interruption or obsolescence.

Challenges

The Indian F&B Industry just like any other industry is not immune to the huge challenges that have been posed to it from time to time. All forms of businesses right from fresh food to packaged food, including beverages have already faced and are continuing to face their own set of challenges today for various reasons that may range from resistance to change in the workplace and difficulties faced by food manufacturers in constantly training their workforce for the ever changing requirements of the job, etc. The industry executives and veterans shared some details on the challenges that were commonly prevalent in their day to day operations and their opinions on how they have been dealing with some of the challenges faced by them, including the steps that could be taken to overcome such challenges.

Rajat Ramesh, Global Product Manager, Buhler India

Rajat Ramesh states that COVID-19 has increased end consumer awareness. Therefore, he feels that this is certainly expected to be great for the entire food processing value chain in the long term. However, he also feels that this could pose challenges, which could arise in various forms that may include resistance to adapt to new solutions, especially in emerging economies like India. Further, he states that meeting consumer demands in terms of tracing the origin can be challenging, since it requires the buy-in/ readiness of the entire value chain. Lastly, he states that as a responsible manufacturer, Buhler has always worked towards communicating the importance of data-based solutions extensively in the market.

Jayesh Gunjikar, Associate Director – Process & Technology, Perfetti Van Melle

Jayesh Gunjikar states that during pre-covid and even COVID, managing a large workforce on manufacturing lines had continued to remain a real challenge. He also adds by stating that the necessity to ensure enough number of hands are available for performing a task in the right way in each shift has always been a challenge. While mentioning the same, he stresses on the need to constantly train the workforce. Lastly, he mentions that more people would mean more possibilities of safety incidents and he is of the strong opinion that adopting automation could help in reducing all of such problems.

Mahesh Wagle, Co-Founder & Director, Cybernetik Technologies Pvt. Ltd.

Mahesh Wagle mentions that Cybernetik Technologies had experienced an increase in automation enquiries from food manufacturers post COVID-19. Adding further, he states that the disruption caused by lockdowns had only further underlined the importance of operational continuity.

Mahesh Wagle also mentions about the single and most important challenge that were being faced by their clients, which had also been communicated to them. And this challenge was about the real possibilities that were available and also workable for them to help them undertake the process of transformation by shifting their operations from manual to automation. He has also stated that customized process mapping has become important in this process. Further, he adds that the other concerns were only connected to the quality and throughput improvements that he is quite hopeful that automation could help achieve. Lastly, he ends by stating that specific ROI calculations would more often be able to put such concerns to rest.

The Digital Automation Strategy

For companies looking to adopt Automation and Industry 4.0 solutions in their operations, they would certainly be required to entail heavy capital expenditure initially towards such investment. Hence, the companies going ahead with such plans should be in a position to understand the market dynamics and the consumer demand and behaviour in relation to the same, so that they are comfortably placed in a position to recover their investment within a reasonably specified time period, while also being able to cater to the ever changing consumer demands and at the same time manage to scale up their operations as time progresses. With the arrival of the latest technologies, any company that is working to implement new strategies for automation would be required to ensure that the technology selected is more flexible and consistent and can adapt to any changes that may arise in the future and not be rendered obsolete. Some of the industry executives and veterans shared their views/opinions on the strategies that could be considered by F&B Manufacturers, while implementing automation and Industry 4.0 solutions in their operations.

Rajat Ramesh, Global Product Manager, Buhler India

Rajat Ramesh states that the benefits arising from automation can be looked at differently for the short term & the long term. Further, he states that in the short term, it might not sound as an economical solution, given the kind of investments that are required to be made. Additionally, he mentions that the number of data points that are required are also high and this would translate into a longer time period. While he mentions that the gestation period is high, he also believes that the benefits that would accrue to businesses over time can be exponential. Lastly, he ends by stating that, from increasing productivity, sustainability, traceability, accuracy & overall ease of processing to decreasing downtime, labour requirements, automation can really be a worthwhile long-term investment for both existing as well as new players in the Food Processing Industry.

Mahesh Wagle, Co-Founder & Director, Cybernetik Technologies Pvt. Ltd.

Mahesh Wagle mentioned that there was definitely a need to adopt a customized approach towards automation. By doing so, he feels that Food producers could be in a position to reap the benefits via purpose-built automation that would suit their specific needs. Further, he adds that a holistic view is most certainly expected to offer better results. He also feels that piecemeal automation would not only limit the benefits, but also introduce gaps and escalate automation costs over the long term.

Latest Trends in Automation

Industries across the spectrum have been working diligently in their quest to get ahead by automating their processes and also implementing Industry 4.0 solutions in response to the changes in the market, apart from also ensuring that they are ever responsive to consumer demands to survive in a competitive environment. The Indian F&B Industry has been observing a number of trends recently that have been shaping its growth over the past few years, such as the necessity to move their businesses online after the COVID-19 pandemic, apart from other trends being adoption of automation and implementation of Industry 4.0 solutions in various stages of food manufacturing processes that can help fulfill the consumer demands for safety and hygiene in food products that they consume, including their demands for more transparency in the food items purchased by them today. The industry executives and veterans shared some of the prevailing trends in automation that can drive the growth of the businesses operating in the Indian F&B Industry in the coming years.

Rajat Ramesh, Global Product Manager, Buhler India

Rajat Ramesh states that Buhler has very much become a part of the transformational shift the industry is going through. The core of this shift lies in terms of using data. Further, he is of the opinion that it is fundamentally important for manufacturers to capture data at every step of their process chain. He also mentions that companies like Buhler have always been innovating solutions that enable customers to affordably capture, interpret & use this data. He further states that this could be done typically through hardware such as sensors which are required to be integrated with machine learning based algorithms that use concepts like image/ signal processing. Going on to add further, he also mentions that such solutions enable better data transparency, which could especially be useful for troubleshooting & benchmarking. He firmly believes that this is not just useful for the manufacturer but also for end consumers, since the benefits are always passed on directly or indirectly. However, he is also of the opinion that it would be necessary to consider the use case & build solutions accordingly, since there is never going to be a one-size-fits-all solution in this market.

Jayesh Gunjikar, Associate Director – Process & Technology, Perfetti Van Melle

Jayesh Gunjikar firmly believes that today, digitization of records via Microsoft team sites, data and trend analysis from connected devices and overall integration of ERP systems in planning, manufacturing and quality release processes are widely expected to help the organizations immensely in running their operations smoothly and efficiently.

Mahesh Wagle, Co-Founder & Director, Cybernetik Technologies Pvt. Ltd.

According to Mahesh Wagle, track and trace systems could offer massive benefits for food manufacturers. He believes that these systems can enable complete monitoring of parameters that affect quality during all stages of the production process. Further, he states that In-process quality checks would allow in-time intervention whenever necessary, in order to minimize time and material overruns. By following the same, he is confident that this process would ensure the required end quality standard that could prevent recalls.

The Way Forward

As Indian Food and Beverage Manufacturers struggle to compete in an era of automation and smart technologies, their success would be defined by their ability to leverage the latest technologies to innovate by designing and launching new products in the market after understanding the consumer sentiments and keeping in mind the sensitivity of the consumers, while also ensuring strict adherence to the rules and regulations for food safety and hygiene, in order to expand and survive in a highly competitive market in the future.

Author

An editor by day & dreamer at night; passionately involved with both print and digital media; Pet lover; Solo traveller.

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