• By Darcy Simonis
  • January 30, 2020
  • Executive Corner

By Darcy Simonis

Many factors affect the way food and beverage manufacturers handle their processes. Whether it is the need for more efficient processing, the growing population, or evolving consumer preferences and attitudes, food and beverage manufacturers must constantly look for ways to stay ahead. New technologies that are part of Industry 4.0 can help, allowing automation professionals to have a positive impact throughout the supply chain. Three innovations that are changing the way food and beverage makers operate are augmented reality (AR), three-dimensional (3D) printing, and blockchain technology.

Food through AR

For many consumers, AR is a normal part of everyday life. Since the boom of Snapchat filters and lenses, AR has become extremely popular and is now more commercially accessible than ever. With the AR market in Europe alone estimated to hit $12 billion by 2024, industries are finding many ways to integrate this cutting-edge technology into daily practice—and the food and beverage industry is no different.

Staff working in a food and beverage facility can be trained through virtual instructions and scenarios in which it is possible to virtually visualize working and operating in the facility. This method could enable a more productive workforce to be trained at a quicker rate compared to traditional and manual training.

AR can also enhance the consumer experience. Some manufacturers have designed products with labels displaying nutritional or recipe information with AR. However, some suppliers are taking this one step further. An online New York bakery, for instance, uses AR to display a 3D view of its products for customers to view before they place an order. Using AR in ways like this could increase sales, as it means the customers can see the food or finished product before they commit to a purchase.

3D printing food

Another technology that is being increasingly used in the food and beverage industry is 3D printing. Currently, 3D printing technology is being applied to industries such as automotive, aerospace, and packaging, and it is predicted that the global revenue for the 3D printing market will reach $21 billion this year. But it is also making its way into the food and beverage sector.

One German company is using 3D printing technology to create printed jelly meals for elderly care-home residents who have difficulty chewing or swallowing solid foods. As the potential uses of 3D printing are developed, the benefits of this technology are becoming more understood. Food that is 3D printed can produce precise results and save time and effort.

While 3D printing has the potential to provide innovative food to the growing population much faster than traditional methods of manufacturing, it also provides options for the industry to be more environmentally sustainable. 3D printing only uses the required amount of raw materials to make a finished product, and the hydrocolloid cartridges that are used in 3D printers form a gel when mixed with water and leave minimal waste.

Blockchain technology

Consumer attitudes to food have also changed. Whether it is ensuring that produce is grown sustainably or that plastic waste is kept to a minimum, consumers now want to know every detail about the product they are buying—and blockchain technology can provide just that.

Through blockchain, consumers can verify the history, origin, and quality of a product. Blockchain is benefitting the industry as it builds trust between the supplier, manufacturer, and consumer, which in turn can increase brand loyalty. It can also reduce food waste by identifying problems along the way, such as contamination or storage issues. If problems are detected at an early stage of the production process, they can be resolved before the product hits the shelves. This could help reduce food waste and eliminate the need for product recalls.

Although blockchain technology is a new approach, most food manufacturers should already have software installed that monitors, records, and traces product ingredient details. Software like the 800xA distributed control system or the ABB Ability manufacturing operations management system can trace and record an ingredient and log the data in a database for manufacturers to refer to. The Absolut Company, for example, uses System 800xAat its Nöbbelöv distillery in the south of Sweden to help operators see and correct key process deviations in the sensitive fermentation process.

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About The Authors

Darcy Simonis is industry network leader for ABB’s Food and Beverage division. Find out more at https://new.abb.com/food-beverage.