As one of the fastest growing sectors in Southeast Asia, the food and beverage manufacturing industry plays a critical role in the region's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and its globe-spanning consequences. The dynamic industry generates billions in government revenues each year and is responsible for millions of jobs. The agri-food sector contributed a whopping USD 717 billion towards the Indonesian, Philippine, Thai and Vietnamese economies in 2019, representing a 30% increase from the USD 610 billion in 2015, according to The Economic Impact of the Agri-Food Sector in Southeast Asia (2021), a study by Oxford Economics.
Having weathered through an unprecedented and turbulent year, the food manufacturing industry has managed to emerge as a resilient force. Though more complex, labour-intensive, and fast-paced than ever, the industry is finding innovative solutions and new opportunities to manage challenges and disruptions across the supply chain. Breakthrough technologies like robotics, intelligent networked devices and artificial intelligence (AI) systems are revolutionising smart manufacturing by providing real-time visibility and detailed data to streamline operations, improve machine flexibility, and maximise production.
“The need for technological innovation is critical to improve quality, output, and flexibility in manufacturing and processing. Due to disruptions in food supply last year and to prevent the same in the future, governments are heavily investing in the development and implementation of industrial automation and processes to empower digital operations,” says Mr Nalin Amunugama, General Manager of BOGE Kompressoren Asia Pacific.
Nalin Amunugama, General Manager, BOGE Kompressoren Asia Pacific
In April, Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) announced the Food Manufacturing Industry Digital Plan (IDP), a three-stage industry roadmap to support approximately 1,000 food manufacturers and over 50,000 workers in Singapore through digital and technology-based solutions. The Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) has launched the MyDigitalWorkForce Work in Tech (MYWiT) initiative, aimed at boosting the digital business services sector. Similarly in Vietnam, the government is pushing to finalise a national strategy to develop the digital economy and adopt the industry 4.0 ideology through physics, biology, AI, big data, and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Powerful and heavy-duty automation
Driven by the changing social conditions, consumers are switching from in-store purchasing to scrolling through websites for their shopping needs. Southeast Asia's online sector is expected to hit USD 300 billion, while the e-commerce sector is projected to be worth USD 150 billion by 2025 (eMarketer). To meet the growing appetite of modern consumers, manufacturers are looking to scale up production. However, end-of-line operations such as packaging and palletising are labour-intensive and costly. Researchers from Inbound Logistics estimate that labour costs account for 65% of warehouse facility operating budgets. To stimulate productivity, automation and robotics have risen as compelling propositions for quick, precise and cost-effective manufacturing.
The OnRobot VGP20 gripper, known to be the world's most powerful electric vacuum gripper, is proving to be the ideal solution for heavy-duty packaging and palletising applications. Whether it is large, unwieldy bags, non-airtight packages, or bulky porous cardboard boxes, the all-electric gripper has the capability to take over labour-intensive tasks such as handling bulky payloads of up to 20kg. Handling thinner and less expensive packaging materials such as recycled cardboard, typically presents challenges for traditional automated packaging and palletising equipment. Eliminating the need for expensive packaging, the gripper's built-in intelligence and easy-to-use software provides multichannel functionality for specific applications. This gives users the ability to easily customise and change suction cup options, from soft grip for delicate items and hard grip required for heavy payloads with porous surfaces. The VGP20 gripper is a cost-effective option that can save up to 90% on operations, maintenance, shipping and automation costs, compared to traditional gripper deployments. Powerful, fast, and easy-to-deploy, the gripper's efficient packaging and palletising performance allows manufacturers to achieve marked success, at a fraction of the cost and complexity.
The VGP20 electric vacuum gripper offers multichannel functionality and is able to handle bulky payloads of up to 20kg.
Communicative and data-oriented solution
An indispensable tool for food manufacturing, compressed air is necessary for processes like canning, freezing, dehydration, filling, sealing, sorting, and the conveying of food products. Critical to consistently maintain the high quality of food products and guard against impurities, air compressors used in food manufacturing environments must be held to the strictest of standards, as even a minimal presence of impurities can incur damaging consequences and occurrence of foodborne diseases.
Leading air compressor specialist, BOGE is setting new standards for the networked control of air compressor stations with its airtelligence provis 3. A ready-to-connect solution even with unfavourable system constellations, the intelligent control system with high-performance control algorithms can manage and monitor an unlimited number of compressors proactively and based on consumption. Ethernet enables fast and simultaneous communication using existing IT infrastructures, making the intelligent control system easily integrable, multimaster‑compatible and less susceptible to faults. The Modbus interface module, a new feature in the market, gives users the ability to communicate between different types of products from different manufacturers in a safe and reliable manner. The high-performance 15.6-inch intuitive touch display allows for comprehensive web-based data to be called up in real time, through various smart devices such as PC, tablets and smartphones.
BOGE's airtelligence provis 3 controls and proactively manages data from an unlimited number of compressors and components.
Bringing optimum efficiency to the manufacturers' entire compressed air system, the airlogic software tracks and controls supply air, circulating air, exhaust air dampers or peripheral components for guaranteed control and operation of compressed air stations according to the status and temperature. With an energy management system that is compliant with the DIN ISO 50001 standard and ideally adjusted to requirements, savings can be made at all levels. The control unit uses modular components and well‑dimensioned hardware that are constantly kept up to date with comprehensive software enhancements. With its simple and intuitive solutions, BOGE offers reliable communication and efficient management of energy for the food manufacturing industry.
Human-like AI detection
Food safety is very important, not only for the wellbeing and safety of the consumer, but also for brand recognition and reputation of processors. Food inspection is a labour-dependent task that relies on human sensibility to identify defects, scratches and inconsistencies among products. With the growing emphasis on pandemic-induced restrictions and the limited availability of skilled inspectors, manufacturers are under immense pressure to maintain quality food inspections and prevent expensive product recalls.
OMRON's Real Colour Sensing illumination technology like the MDMC light (Multi-direction and Multi-Color control) and Photometric Stereo can spot subtle defects via software control.
Omron Corporation's FH Series Vision System offers a unique plan of action for the advanced quality inspection and identification of products. With its new AI technology, the vision system is the first in the industry designed to match the skills and capabilities of experienced inspectors. Automating human vision-based inspection, the technology utilises over 30 years of Omron's image processing and visual inspection knowledge to maximise production line performance and processing capabilities. Aimed at reducing costs and boosting productivity, the AI Fine Matching tool studies and learns from the image data of non-defective products to quickly acquire, automate and recreate the techniques and expertise of human inspectors. Without using samples or adjustment, the new intelligent image filter is able to identify scratches, blemishes and defects on any product background, which were once difficult to capture. Product identification is also more streamlined with the state-of-the-art Real Colour Sensing technology allowing users to take advantage of full colour analysis while the robust algorithms support image acquisition, measurement, filtering and data outputs. While AI traditionally requires a high-end environment, the vision system is able to determine acceptable variation tolerances and reduce over-detection without needing a special environment or a dedicated AI engineer. User-friendly and lightweight, the FH Series is advancing innovation in manufacturing, by automating visual inspection to "Get close to, and then go beyond, the human eye”.
Re-imagining the future
Maintaining quality standards while simultaneously meeting the volatile consumer demands are among the many new challenges the food industry is facing today. Disruptions to the food supply chain during the spread of pandemic has further underscored the need for up-to-date and accurate data to keep retailers and consumers better informed. To minimise disruptions and operational challenges such as workplace health risks, warehousing, logistics and fulfilment modes, companies need to look beyond the walls of their manufacturing and processing plants, and roll out digital solutions to reach across the end-to-end value chain.
“The future of food is centred around fast and fresh, and food manufacturing requires a new set of creative solutions. The pivot to digital platforms has fuelled consumers' expectations, and the food sector will have to keep up with real-time responses to meet their food demands and needs,” Mr Amunugama says.
No doubt, advances in technology, research and development will stimulate an explosion of business model innovations. New competitors will redefine consumers' expectations, offer uniquely different value propositions, and rapidly disrupt global competitive landscapes. The utilisation of technology will not only make food systems become transparent, safe, efficient and sustainable but also help the industry to better communicate the availability of information about food and its production across the whole value chain.
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