Mass production changed the face of the manufacturing industry forever, making it possible to produce more items of the same size and specification, and market them on that basis. Consumers were happy to be able to try the latest ‘new’ thing, even if it was exactly the same as their neighbor’s ‘new’ thing.
Today, smart manufacturing and the strategic use of information technology is set to change the model again. Flexible factories and IT-optimized supply chains will change manufacturing processes to enable manufacturers to customize products to individual needs, such as medications with specific dosages and formulations. Customers will ‘tell’ a factory what car to manufacture, what features to build into a personal computer or how to tailor a pair of jeans for a perfect fit.
Changing consumer demand
These technologies affect the food and beverage industry as much as any industrial sector. As consumers demand more choice, convenience and value, manufacturers reflect these needs in their own. A line today needs to be able to produce pocket-sized chocolate bars one day and switch, smoothly and quickly, with as little impact on production as possible, to family-sized bars the next.
This clearly has implications for manufacturers and machine builders everywhere. With things as they stand, and much equipment across the industry coming towards the end of its useful working life, you need to be thinking about how to balance high throughput with greater flexibility. However you approach the issues facing your facilities, you can be sure your competitors are addressing theirs.
New products launched to meet demand
The food and beverage sector invested over USD1.6bn in R&D in 2011, resulting in over 8,500 new products going to market that year (Source: Mintel). The ability to operate flexibly is at the core of tomorrow’s solutions. So how quickly can your plant respond to change? How agile are your systems, really?
On-demand manufacturing relies on the visibility of information that enables better, swifter decision-making and fast, safe changeovers. And this comes from connectivity not just plant-wide, but throughout the enterprise, from shop floor to top floor and beyond, from suppliers to end customers.
Flexible production infrastructure
Taking advantage of new technologies paid off for packaging machine specialist CWM Automation, who were tasked by their client, TSC Foods, to develop a fast and efficient cell for measuring and filling plastic pots with a premium soup product. The company required high-speed, high-volume packaging, but being soup of varying thicknesses, it needed a flexible packaging environment.
The business implemented a flexible production infrastructure that used variable servo motor equipment, and Ethernet/IP to communicate with a common operator interface. As a result, the cell can be used quickly or slowly, with multiple axes all running at different speeds depending on the product being packaged. This delivers both flexibility and high throughput for TSC Foods, a win-win for the business, and a feather in CWM Automation’s cap, a smart solution based on investment in tomorrow’s technology today.