Automating a food operation works best when you put people first, according to one GE executive.
Implementing automation can greatly boost the efficiency of a food manufacturing operation. However, Barry Lynch, global industry manager for consumer packaged goods at GE Intelligent Platforms, told FoodProductionDaily.com that the most important part—the knowledgeable staff running it—gets overlooked.
Putting it together
Lynch spoke with FPD about the concept of the “industrial internet.” The idea looks at optimizing a manufacturing operation, such as a food processing or packaging plant, by bringing personnel, equipment and information together.
“The industrial internet is sharing information, connecting machines, making sense of data and relating it to the right people,” he said.
According to GE, implementing industrial internet practices could help food manufacturers and other businesses save $150bn each year, through increasing efficiency, cutting downtime, arresting problems and other ways.
One way to streamline interoperational communication, Lynch said, is introducing mobile data tools, such as iPads or other handheld devices.
The old, inefficient way of communicating inside an operation, Lynch said, typically involved “Sneaker-Net”—running around from a plant’s communication center in the back, to attend to equipment on the plant floor, and back again, all day long.
“The idea was the best operators are usually people in the back room, sitting at a computer,” he said. “Making the data mobile means those best people can be wherever they need to be, when they need to be there.”
According to Lynch, GE first worked on the industrial internet concept in healthcare, automotive and other manufacturing-related industries. However, the company realized the concepts of connecting key personnel to data, making them mobile, and facilitating reporting and other functions were totally applicable to the packaged food industry as well.
In a typical scenario, equipment in a processing or packaging line is automated, with sensors that transmit operational data. This information enables key personnel to quickly uncover ways to lower maintenance and operating costs, and to quickly arrest a problem before it becomes greater, with minimal downtime.
Equipped with a tablet computer, a technician in the immediate area is able to get to the troubled equipment, check it, and effect repairs. The information is recorded and reported via the industrial internet, which enables it to be used proactively in reports and studied to avoid future problems, and shared with others on staff.
In addition to helping maximize operational efficiency and cut downtime to a minimum, Lynch said, harnessing the industrial internet can help with compliance reporting, audits and, in the event of a recall, streamline the process.