Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies
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Automation Is Happening—Don’t Miss The Boat

By Steven Burton
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Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies

Keeping up with global demand necessitates the adoption of new technology.

Successful businesses move fast. They stay ahead of their competition by keeping their eye on the newest and most innovative emerging technologies. Failure to embrace the newest, fastest means of production and communication allows other businesses to muscle ahead of slow-to-change competitors, especially in the food industry. This is why embracing automation—even if it requires a commitment from you and your whole organization — is absolutely necessary for every food company.

Guarantee Growth and Compliance with the Internet of Things

The innovation at the forefront of automation technology is the Internet of Things (IoT): Multiple devices interconnected to monitor, communicate and control in real time. Today, a farmer can monitor a crop located in Australia from North America. Ingredients from anywhere in the world can be brought together in a matter of days and distributed just as quickly. Agricultural robots that reduce the risk of contamination and food safety expectations have risen as a result. As exciting as it is to be a part of a constantly innovating food industry, it’s also becoming more challenging to keep up and adapt.

It’s also becoming more necessary. Regulatory agencies are working to keep pace with technological innovations. The standards of food safety—more global than ever—have grown in complexity and will continue to grow as improved, real-time monitoring of products and facilities extends into every type and size of food production company. Properly planned and applied food safety programs are vital to ensuring that globally sourced ingredients and production facilities adhere to regulations to avoid the consequences of failed audits and expensive recalls.

Even for those on top of their regulatory requirements, IoT and other automation technologies are friends, not foes. Automation means that preparation for audits and inspections is reduced to bare minimum, eliminating the need for binders, spreadsheets and months of prep work. Furthermore, one of the greatest challenges of today’s food chain is ensuring not only your own compliance, but the compliance of your vendors. Dealing with hundreds or thousands of incoming ingredients and other materials at any given time is a massive undertaking, let alone dealing with vendor certifications. Integrated, automated systems for food production management streamlines processes and communication and reduces the risk of error and recall throughout the supply chain.

Don’t Be Paralyzed by the F-word: Fear

It is clear to see that staying competitive and staying in business in an interconnected world is possible only if the newest technology is embraced. Why are some companies reluctant to adapt, even when they know it is crucial to a successful future?

Some fear that their managers and employees may not adapt, that their functioning programs already in place may be interrupted, and that ever-present fear of a price tag.

To alleviate these fears and embrace the power of the future, it is vital that the company’s new automation and IoT utilize a software that is:

  • User-friendly so that employees, new or existing, can hit the ground running
  • Capable of building upon an existing food safety program and continue its success
  • Able to improve existing food safety programs to ensure updated compliance
  • Cost-effective and a good business decision when compared to the cost of manpower and recalls

One of the most common reasons a company chooses not to implement a new technology concerns the last point: Cost. To maximize the benefit of automation and IoT, expenses like laptops, tablets and phones are advisable in addition to software. The cost of the software itself when there is a paper or spreadsheet system that is working may seem unnecessary—after all, why buy a telephone when the telegrams are working just fine? In the high-speed world we now live in, a low-speed business approach is fatal.

There is good news when it comes to automation adoption: In response to the growing need for technology and the reluctance of companies to take on the expense, new incentives are being put in place in order support businesses and keep a country’s economy competitive. For example, the U.S. Tax Cuts and Job Act of 2017 allow write-offs of new automation technology in the first year of purchase, vastly reducing the initial cost impact of implementing automation technologies. Many state and provincial governments provide grants for updating technology to improve safety and traceability.

Automation Will Feed the World

Technology and automation in agriculture and food production make a company competitive, but it is also an unavoidable requirement going forward. Looking at the big picture, it’s also necessary to meet the demands of a booming global population. Food is, in many ways, the most essential industry to human life.

In The Future of Food: Food Production, Innovation, and Technology, authors David B. Schmidt and Kimberly Reed say it clearly:

“Each U.S. farmer feeds more people worldwide than ever before, at 155 people per farmer. In 1960, that number was 25.8 people. By 2050, the same farmer will need to feed 232 people… With finite resources, it will take innovation and a variety of technologies to meet the world’s food demand. This includes using new technologies. At every step of the journey from farm to fork, technology is helping us produce a safe, abundant, sustainable, and nutritious food supply.”

It took centuries for the writing of letters to be replaced by telegrams. It took only 130 years from the invention of telegrams to the use of email. A farmer with a shovel is now a robot, with the agricultural robot market expected to increase by more than fivefold to $12.8 billion over six years. 94% of packaging operations use robotic technology today. A recent survey found that half of food companies interviewed plan to increase their use of automation in the next two years.

Where will food production be in 2020? And where will your company be in that near future?

About The Author

Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies

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