Expected to deliver $500bn in value by 2022, smart factories are now an integral part of the manufacturing industry’s fourth industrial revolution: Industry 4.0.

However, in the food and beverage industry, adoption of Industry 4.0 has been on the slow side, with only 48% of manufacturers considering themselves ready for Industry 4.0, according to a survey by McKinsey.

One company pushing to keep up with the pace of change is Tetra Pak. Launched in 1951, the company is best known for the manufacture of food and drinks packaging as well as food processing.

However, despite its established position in the industry, the company is embracing change. Verdict visited Tetra Pak HQ in Lund, Sweden, to find out how the packaging giant is preparing for the digitisation of manufacturing.

What is Industry 4.0?

Put simply, Industry 4.0 refers to the current trend of incorporating a greater level of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies.

Like smart homes and smart cities, modern factories also now incorporate smart technologies, with machines, devices, sensors, and people involved in production processes increasingly connected. For Tetra Pak, this means that automation and simulation are making their way into their factories operating across more than 160 countries.

Nitin Chaudhary director of strategy and planning at Tetra Pak explains that for Tetra Pak, Industry 4.0 can be broken down into nine innovative technologies:

“Industry 4.0 is based on nine foundation technologies. Big data analytics and artificial intelligence; advanced robotics and augmented reality – tools such as hololens; system integration and industrial IoTs; simulation, additive manufacturing [3D printing] and cybersecurity.”

Adoption in the food industry has been slow

Although the concept of Industry 4.0 is by no means a new one, the food and beverage industry is yet to fully realise its benefits, with other sectors noticeably more advanced in this area. Chaudhary explains that although adoption has begun, it has been comparatively slow in the industry:

“Retail is far more advanced in using consumer data for targeting customers and driving sales. Automotive and oil and gas are further ahead when it comes to using automation to improve productivity. Agriculture is also a little bit ahead of food and beverage when it comes to adoption of such technologies.

“We believe that food and beverage is yet to fully pick up and benefit from Industry 4.0. But that will have to change, and it will have to change now because a lot of food and beverage producers are facing a new reality.”

Meeting consumer demands

With the food and beverage industry increasingly affected by the move towards e-commerce, manufacturers are looking to optimise production, and in turn cut costs, more than ever. Tetra Pak has been somewhat ahead of this curve, introducing laser guided vehicles to customer Vinamilk’s  factories in Vietnam. These are designed to reduce human error and keep up with the rapid demands of e-commerce.

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Chaudhary explains that adoption of smart technologies is key for keeping up with the needs of the modern consumer, helping to achieve the greater levels of personalisation and convenience expected from today’s manufacturers:

“As consumers we demand more variety, our channels for shopping are moving from offline to online channels. We want to know where our food is coming from, is it organically produced, or is there any fairtrade involved? These demands are getting transferred to retailers, and from retailers to food and beverage producers. The regulation around food safety and quality is becoming more and more strict and that will only continue.”

Earlier this year, Tetra Pak issued its own whitepaper on the impact of Industry 4.0, and how it intends to make its operating systems smarter. With the aim of increasing productivity and reducing costs, a number of new technologies are being rolled out: sensors have been installed on pieces of equipment through its packaging line monitoring system PLMS Centre, autonomous vehicles are increasingly present in factories, and cloud-based predictive maintenance have made it possible to act before things go wrong.

Greater connectivity

Earlier this month, the company launched Tetra Pak Plant Secure, a plant management system that offers profitability improvements for customers by identifying opportunities across the customer’s entire operation through the analysis of data gathered through audits. Moving forward, the company intends this to be a key component of its Industry 4.0 strategy.

Pilot projects have been carried out in the Americas and in Europe, and are already delivering results. One Americas-based dairy producer reduced operational costs by more than 10% in the first year of implementation.

Mattias Johansson, director of automation services at Tetra Pak believes that the data generated by smart technologies has made this possible:

“Plant Secure is about optimising and reducing material waste and time. To do that you need data, which is collected automatically, so with technologies from Industry 4.0 you have more data, but you also have solutions later on to address the bottlenecks or the areas that you identify as problems.”

Another initiative launched by the company is called Collaboration Space, connecting not just equipment, but people too:

“How to optimise collaboration between people is a new opportunity with Industry 4.0. This one that we have called Collaboration Space is actually designed based on a problem a customer had about communication between people in different areas of the factory. The people in one part [of the factory] didn’t know when something occurred elsewhere, which meant they didn’t take the right action at that time, causing long delays or problems later on.  So here we designed an application where you can basically get the information you need when you need it.”

Ironing out problems

The company believes that collaborating with those with the necessary tech know-how is crucial to making Industry 4.0 a reality. Last year, the company piloted the use of Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality headsets in its factories to enable maintenance work to be carried out remotely. Through this, Johansson believes that unplanned downtime can be reduced:

“Imagine there is  a breakdown somewhere, let’s say in the outskirts of Indonesia, now you could either wait for the expert to show up, which could take anywhere between 24 to 48 hours, or you could enable the system engineers there to interact with experts in real-time using devices [like hololens].”

As well as responding to errors when they occur, predictive maintenance means that it is possible to respond to problems before they escalate. Chaudhary explains:

“By using predictive measurements like putting sensors on equipment measuring temperature, vibration and millions of other data points, we are able to predict failures before they happen, thereby avoiding these downtimes.”

However, rather than innovating for innovation’s sake, Chaudhary believes that the company is firmly focused on utilising the technology to addressing real problems and deliver real results:

“We firmly believe that any such technology is a wasted investment if they do not lead to a tangible outcome. So it’s very important to understand what is a starting point, and what kind of outcome can we derive from the use of these technologies.”