Alarm automation in food production is taking off. Why?
Leaders in food manufacturing are hurriedly adopting process automation to keep up with the needs of an ever-growing population. The image of the well-oiled assembly line operated by many eager and able workers is increasingly unattainable as our population ages and other industries (such as software or ride-sharing) begin attracting more of the generalist labor force.
Food manufacturing is a product of manipulation of raw resources, which makes it optimal for automation. Automated manufacturing has helped make ice cream, candy bars, and other cost-prohibitive foods become affordable. There are limitations, however, to automated processes.
For example, metal paddles kept at freezing temperatures are using to create nougat filling in candy bars. The cold, flat metal makes the nougat constrict into a thin layer, making it easier to portion out into individual candy bars. The machinery is designed to be ice-cold, but it doesn’t necessarily know if it’s ice cold.
A SCADA system integrated with sensors can detect precise environmental conditions. In this instance, it could detect whether or not the paddles meet strict temperature criteria. In combination with an alarm notification system, the SCADA provides vital information about potential or existing production disruptions in real time.
Here are the top three reasons why food manufacturers are adopting SCADA and alarm notification systems.
1. Resolve Problems More Quickly with Easy to Understand Alarm Reports
Food production is about timing. Material left sitting for too long can leave the product unsuitable for its intended use or worse, spoiled altogether.
Equipment breakdowns and other problems require rapidity, not rigidity. Alarm notification built around pagers or marquis systems have limited capacity for unique messages. As a result, they may require on-the-go translation of notification codes as they apply to unique situations.
With foods like dairy and meat, there is precious little time to decipher codes during a rapidly unfolding malfunction. Digital alarm notification software with customizable workflows allows operators to identify specific scenarios and assign severity ratings. Depending on the breakdown its severity the system should be able to immediately contact the specific person required to address the problem. This ensures faster response time, saving valuable food product before it slips into a danger zone, ruining an entire batch.
2. Improve Product Quality by Maintaining a Precise Environment
Much of the food we enjoy is the result of specific conditions. For example, rock salt lowers the freezing temperature of water, which allows cream and other ingredients to take on the texture we love about ice cream. It’s possible, but not guaranteed, that all the potato chips in your bag were cooked in the same batch, but a uniform cooking time and temperature ensures all your chips look and taste relatively the same.
The slightest variance in method or environment can result in unusable product. Even constant human supervision isn’t always enough to ensure consistent environmental conditions. Inspecting final cooked product for defects can cost valuable time in rectifying the problem before the assembly becomes loaded with defective product.
Sensors collecting environmental information at critical elements of production that require precise temperature, pressure or other criteria can detect unacceptable variances immediately. Operators alerted to the problem can shut down the line to avoid product waste, or take action to fix the problem. Dynamic condition reports can further inform operators as they troubleshoot causes.
3. Reduce Staff Costs = Fewer Cooks in the Kitchen
Alarm systems that are tied to specific consoles and lack remote acknowledgment can create echo chambers of wasted effort. If there’s only one console for alarms, a technician working elsewhere in the plant has to choose between dropping their current repair or letting the alarm continue to run, possibly creating unneeded concern and attracting unnecessary staff to the console.
In the absence of a flexible SCADA system with remote alarm functionality, the only resolution to this scenario is either adding redundant consoles throughout the plant, or adding more staff. This accommodates the inefficiency rather than addresses it.
A watched pot does, eventually, boil, but more eyes on an assembly line doesn’t necessarily make the process more efficient. Remote alarm notification software that has the ability to escalate a problem to the next person in line, until the alarm has been acknowledged, saves the high cost of installing more consoles and more operators.
Mouths to Feed
Alarm automation in food production allows manufacturers to minimize raw material waste, improve product quality and reduce production costs. At the same time, companies can guarantee a steady supply of food for a country with a rapidly growing population (334.5 million by 2020) increasingly reliant on pre-packaged, easy-to-prepare food. As that population ages, workers will grow more scarce and automation will help fill the void.