Investments in automation will help manufacturers adapt to changes in 2021

Greg Kline, Food and Beverage Industry Manager, VEGA Americas, VEGA AmericasGreg Kline, Food and Beverage Industry Manager, VEGA Americas
We may be looking at 2020 in the rearview mirror, but the repercussions felt from such a challenging year will shape 2021 for all of us, and the food and beverage industry is no exception. A global pandemic exposed weaknesses in supply chains and labor-intensive production processes, and it accelerated changing consumer tastes and buying habits. The industry will likely spend much of this year looking at these problems from a new perspective and make necessary adjustments.

I expect automation to accelerate at a higher pace than ever in the coming year. Last year showed the world what happens when labor shortages force a facility to shut down because there are simply not enough people to run the plant. News stories about food shortages became almost commonplace, and facilities will want to avoid this in the future.

More operators will work alongside cobots for repetitive and mundane tasks, and measurement instrumentation will monitor more processes. Both solutions can help to ensure business continuity despite unexpected events.
Return on investment for these capital projects will still be at the forefront, but management will likely place a greater emphasis on plant availability and increased employee safety, too.

While facilities are looking to invest and find solutions to improve processes, they’re also going to look for ways to mitigate risk that can occur outside of production. Manufacturers have traditionally looked to experts and consultants from technology companies to gain access to new knowledge and improved technology. In a year filled with minimizing social circles to reduce exposure, it’s likely these resources will only be used when an issue has been identified, and a skillset is not readily available within the plant.

A fresh look from an outsider can be a valuable resource for discovering inefficiencies and finding new, different solutions. As it becomes safer to do so, it will be imperative for businesses to collaborate with these technology companies to ensure they’re investing in the best technological solution for their specific challenge.

And finally, consumer habits will continue to change. Consumers are paying closer attention to what’s in the food they’re buying and the quality of the products they’re consuming. Ingredient transparency – non-GMO, antibiotic-free, gluten-free, etc. – will be of the utmost importance for food manufacturers, so they can pass this information along to the consumer. Fortunately, modern process measurement instrumentation makes it easier than ever to automate data.

VEGA, a worldwide level and pressure measurement manufacturer, had the food and beverage industry in mind when they launched multiple lines of sensors last year. Continuous level, point level, and pressure sensors meet the strict hygienic requirements using a state-of-the-art adapter system for flexible and easy installation regardless of vessel process fitting. And with both digital and analog output options, these new sensors can be integrated into any system.

In conclusion, manufacturers will continue to adapt to consumers’ needs and use this opportunity to automate. Because of lessons learned from the previous challenging year, this will likely be the year many manufacturers automate parts of their process where the return may not have been as great. But by automating in these new areas, they’ll reduce formerly unforeseen risks, obtain new data about these processes, and make themselves more successful and resilient for years to come.
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