Tag Archives: digital twins

Apples on conveyor belt
FST Soapbox

Food Logistics: Strategies to Improve Quality and Resiliency

By Emily Newton
No Comments
Apples on conveyor belt

The modern food supply chain must function efficiently to get people the goods they need while keeping them safe. Preventing long-term outages leading to empty grocery store shelves worldwide is vital. Industry professionals often debate the best methods to improve food logistics and make companies more resilient against supply chain shocks. Here are some of the leading options.

Digital Twins Support Food Logistics Planning

Digital twins are computerized representations of physical objects. They can help retailers, supply chain managers and other stakeholders identify culprits of spoilage and remove much of the guesswork from shifting consumer behavior. Digital twins are also valuable for helping food supply chain partners spot bottlenecks and predict the impacts of process changes before implementing them.

Consumers are notoriously fickle about their food preferences, which makes inventory control challenging. Today, companies are using digital twins to analyze and predict human behavior, allowing them to track trends and respond accordingly. Digital twins can assist with prototyping new food varieties or similar product debuts and provide insight into how consumers will likely respond to those offerings.

Another way digital twins are improving food logistics is by helping decision-makers determine what kind of packaging will allow products to travel with minimal risk of damage. Leaders must engage in a careful balancing act to locate options that meet all minimum requirements, which means finding packages that are lightweight yet sturdy or extra-resistant to crushing.

Earlier this month, researchers from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) published the outcomes of a study that used a digital twin to reduce citrus fruit waste. The team tracked temperature changes in 47 containers of citrus fruits throughout the transport cycle. They then used the associated data to create computerized simulations that helped determine the likelihood of the fruits becoming unsellable during transit. The digital twins analyzed factors such as mold, moisture loss and damage from the cold.

The team confirmed that 50% of the shipments traveled in suboptimal conditions. At the end of 30 days, some of the fruits had a shelf life of only a few days. The team believes that companies will soon be able to integrate digital twin (aka virtual fruit) data along their production and supply chains to optimize storage conditions and reduce food losses.

Smart Sensors Improve Food Logistics With Better Visibility

Logistics professionals who handle consumables are turning to Internet of Things (IoT) sensors that help them understand and verify what’s happening along the supply chain at any time. For example, companies in the industrial food space often have on-site commercial thawing systems to defrost food previously frozen to prevent waste and bacterial growth. Careful monitoring and tight controls stop bacteria from proliferating as the product warms.

One of the primary benefits of IoT sensors is that they can give factory managers real-time alerts of abnormal conditions associated with thawing systems, freezers, refrigerators or other essential equipment supporting food logistics. Companies can then act faster, preventing catastrophic failures that could harm the bottom line and make consumers sick.

IoT sensors can also send time-stamped alerts of when products leave specific areas. Those details can assure supply chain managers that items are moving as they should and alert them to any potential delays. The sensors also record data to indicate if fragile items received rough handling or temperature-sensitive goods are at risk of spoilage due to subpar storage.

Sensors may even help once food reaches supermarkets and restaurants. In 2020, researchers at MIT developed Velcro-like microneedle sensors that pierce packaging and change color to indicate spoilage or bacteria. The research team believes their innovation can help prevent foodborne illness outbreaks and reduce food waste by allowing consumers to check their food before discarding items that are still OK to eat.

Data Analysis Streamlines Inventory and Tracks Emissions

Industry professionals increasingly use data analytics platforms to improve food logistics. Many of those solutions help decision-makers choose the best ways to implement automation supply chain planning or other business enhancements. One study of consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies revealed that autonomous tools for planning could cut supply chain costs by up to 10%, raise revenue by up to 4% and reduce inventory by up to 20%, while still meeting customer needs.

In addition to reducing costs and streamlining inventory control, logistics professionals are also looking to data analytics to improve sustainability and reduce environmental pollution.

The Enhancing Agri-Food Transparent Sustainability (EATS) project at the University of Aberdeen views data analytics and artificial intelligence as a powerful combination to help reduce emissions in the food-and-beverage supply chain. EATS is bringing together researchers, businesses and industry stakeholders across the UK to gather data that will be used to build a digital sustainability platform. The platform will allow industry stakeholders to see the level of emissions created by food and drink items throughout their production. The team hopes that this will allow them to identify where improvements in processes could be made to lower emissions. The platform will also include tools to encourage changes in practice.

Data Mapping Shows the Value of Strong Local Supply Chains

Food supply chains that mimic the structures of diverse ecosystems are more likely to withstand so-called “black swan” events and experience less-intensive disruptions, according to a study from researchers at Northern Arizona University and Penn State. Using a history of food flow data from U.S. cities, the researchers examined historical connections between supply chain resilience and localized diversity. They found that the diversity of a city’s supply chain explains more than 90% of the intensity, duration and frequency of significant disruptions. Another meaningful takeaway was that the researchers’ model functioned as expected regardless of what caused the supply chain shock.

These examples show just some of the many ways food and beverage industry professionals can use technology to improve logistics. However, there is no universally “best” strategy. Instead, companies interested in making improvements should take the time to identify their organizations’ most pressing pain points and research the most appropriate options. This type of personalized approach is most likely to deliver impactful results.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

Four Influential Technologies Changing Food Manufacturing

By Megan Ray Nichols
No Comments
Megan Nichols

Some impressive technologies are not only impacting the food industry right now but will also have a huge impact in the future. As their use grows to be more prevalent, the industry will change to be smarter and more efficient, with continued improvements across the board.

1. AI and Advanced Robotics

While artificial intelligence and advanced robotics are two distinct technologies, they are frequently paired together. AI, and the data it digests, is used to command robots, allowing them to be more precise, more intelligent and more aware.

Most robots on their own are capable of completing only repetitive and clearly defined tasks. Throw something unique into the mix and they’ll either fumble or fail. However, when governed by data-based intelligence solutions like AI or machine learning, those robots become something incredibly advanced.

In the food industry, machinery and robots are leveraged to improve operations, further maintaining quality and efficiency, at affordable costs. They often work alongside human laborers to augment or enhance processes. They come with several unexpected benefits as well, such as much-improved safety for workers, faster and higher product output and consistent, reliable quality.

For example, JBS, one of the world’s largest meatpacking firms, deployed robotic butchers within its plants. The robots were used to slice more challenging meats, which reduced workplace injuries.

2. Automation

Automation stands alongside AI and advanced robotics, even incorporating those technologies to create a streamlined system. As of 2017, 73% of surveyed companies in the food and beverage manufacturing industry either had or were in the process of establishing automation within their facilities.

Many systems are designed to replace or enhance repetitive tasks, boosting their speed and accuracy, to significantly improve output, without incurring a loss in quality. It’s not just about hardware, like swapping a human laborer for a robot. It’s also achieved through software. Think supply chain management solutions that help plan for various events and experiences without human input.

When many of these technologies are used side-by-side, it strengthens their application and usability. As is true of advanced robotics, for example, AI can also be used to create more intelligent automation platforms. Instead of carrying out rote or simple tasks, they can be programmed to react and engage through any number of parameters. The system might slow production, for instance, based on a decrease in product demand. Or, it might swap to an alternate component or ingredient because of a shortage somewhere.

With the right controls and support, automation technologies are game-changing. With the global population growing and demands increasing more with each year, food manufacturers will look to streamline their operations and boost output in any way possible, and automation will be a go-to.

3. Digital Twins

Digital twins in food manufacturing are essentially simulated copies or a virtual representation of a physical system. That definition might seem confusing, but think of it as a clone that can be manipulated for testing and analytics.In other words, it is a twin of the actual system and information, in every sense of the word, albeit one that is more versatile and less vulnerable. It allows manufacturers and distributors to run simulations by feeding specific information into the system to identify patterns, recognize outcomes and much more.

As the systems and controls supporting the field become smarter and more digitized, digital twins in food manufacturing will find their way into product development, testing, post-production, distribution and nearly every other facet of the industry. It will become an integral component to not only understand what’s happening in the market but also for keeping up with the ebb and flow of supply and demand.

4. Blockchain

Even well before the pandemic, people had become much more conscious about the foods they consume. They want to know the origin of their goods and whether they’ve been sourced using safe, healthy and environmentally friendly methods. The problem with such demands is that, until recently, there haven’t been many solutions for increased visibility within the food supply chain.

Growing concerns for health are now a priority, and visibility is an absolute must. Blockchain technology is the answer, providing precisely the kind of visibility, efficiency, controls and collaboration that consumers want.

With this food manufacturing technology in place, someone could trace a head of lettuce back to its initial seeding. They can see who grew the plants and where, and which methods they used to mature the crop. Then, they can follow its journey to the store shelf.

How is such a thing possible? It all has to do with the technology. In its simplest form, Blockchain is a digital ledger or complete and digitized record of a particular data set. The data that goes in is added to something called a block, and as more is added, it is tacked on to the end of that block to create a long, linked record. Every bit of information is visible across the entire chain, hence the name blockchain.

Walmart is using the technology to track potential food contamination outbreaks. It empowers them to not just find the source but also find the many branches involved — like where goods might have been shipped and who may have purchased them.

Food Manufacturing Technology for the Future

While each food manufacturing technology discussed here is incredibly influential and will have a direct impact on the future of the industry, they are not the only solutions making waves. Some additional examples include:

  • Drones and automated delivery vehicles
  • 3-D printing for edible goods
  • Smart or precision agriculture
  • High-tech packaging
  • Smarter waste disposal and recycling

The takeaway is that technology is vastly improving the operational efficiency of the food supply chain, from farmers and manufacturers to the retail stores featuring goods on their shelves. There’s no right or wrong buy-in, as any one of these technologies can be used to streamline separate processes. The biggest challenge will be deciding what to upgrade first, especially when it comes to delivering high-quality, fresh goods in a prompt manner.