We’ve all seen what a mess the simple act of cooking dinner can make in your average kitchen. Multiply that by a few hundred thousand servings and you get an idea of the challenges that major food manufacturers face in outfitting their production facilities. The sheer number of regulatory standards and sanitation concerns make food manufacturers especially sensitive to ensuring that every part of their production line is optimized for speed, performance and cleanliness. In fact, the FDA has gone as far as establishing detailed standards for computerized systems in the food production industry, making it imperative for manufacturers to carefully scrutinize all of their hardware decisions.
We spoke to a number of food production clients to gain more insight into the unique challenges they face and learned that there are a few important qualifications to consider when making any infrastructure decision. We’ll be exploring their individual niche markets in the coming weeks, but first let’s take a look at the environmental complications that all food manufacturers have to contend with.
- Avoiding a Mess Part 2: Snack Foods – Dust of a Different Kind: Read Now
- Avoiding a Mess Part 3: Staying out of a Jam: Read Now
- Avoiding a Mess Part 4: Cheese and Other Dairy Products: Read Now
The 24/7 Challenge
In any manufacturing setting, the more goods you can produce, the more revenue you’re able to generate, so many food manufacturers operate their lines on extended, or even non-stop schedules. Unfortunately, the vast majority of consumer, and even many commercial computer systems, aren’t designed to run 24/7. The manufacturing industry has been a major motivator for the creation of computer hardware that can stand up to the daily (and nightly) grind of creating products in an always-on environment.
With industrial PC (IPC) innovations in heat dissipation, as well as advancements in thin client computing, manufacturing facilities are now able to keep their lines moving with minimal worry about overheating, system failures or crashes. For food manufacturers that means that the HMI panels, machine vision systems and other industrial control elements of their line can be depended on to run with minimal downtime, freeing up technicians to work on line optimization rather than repairs. But there are still many food production facilities that struggle with outdated technology (see our recent Newly Weds Foods profile) not equipped to survive the 24/7 grind.
Integrating Legacy Equipment
Modern innovations in wireless communication, combined with the need to adjust to the emerging Internet of Things, are causing some manufacturers to struggle to keep pace with evolving interconnectivity demands. Completely replacing legacy (outdated) equipment simply isn’t feasible in many food production facilities which may have been originally outfitted decades ago, so the ability for newer systems to integrate with existing hardware is a common need for many food manufacturing IT departments.
Specialized devices like custom IoT gateways can be installed to serve as the go-between for new and existing systems, providing the additional features and I/O necessary to leverage cloud connectivity and other technologies designed to increase operational efficiencies. In many cases however, solutions like this aren’t simply plug and play, which is why it’s important to work with an experienced hardware provider when selecting new manufacturing computers.
A Range of Environments
Every manufacturing process has its own unique challenges. The sheer variety of food and beverage products being produced equates to a plethora of environmental concerns that can complicate the use of computer hardware. Environmental challenges might include:
- Heat from ovens, fryers, or boilers.
- Cold from refrigeration equipment.
- Moisture from evaporation processes, beverage manufacture and cleaning.
- Vibration from manufacturing lines, mixing or blending equipment.
And these are only high level concerns. We work with clients every day who have come up against computer failures because of various unanticipated process-specific challenges.
Next week we’ll be exploring why one of the world’s largest snack foods manufacturers decided to transition to a fanless solution and how it helped them reduce maintenance costs and significantly cut line downtime.
In the meantime, read our recent case study of Billion dollar food ingredient manufacturer Newly Weds Foods to see how antiquated systems were costing them time and money and how a hardware refresh saved their IT team from countless headaches.