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Last month, we hosted a virtual panel discussion with three experts in water treatment processes. The focus of this panel was on food and beverage producers and the types of challenges they run into during operations. The conversation also included how each panelist has seen value from using digital solutions to solve some of those challenges at their facilities.

Our panelists were:

Images of three panelists, their names, and associated company logos, as well as date and time details for a food and beverage producer-focused webinar discussing water process challenges and the value of digital solutions.

The 45-minute discussion was followed by a question-and-answer period where the panel fielded queries from the audience. A few common themes came up during the session, with several key takeaways surfacing.

Business challenges driving digital transformation

Costs of treatment, prevention of downtime and compliance issues, as well as the need for accurate data capturing and accessibility across operational teams were key drivers towards adopting digital tools for all three panelists.

“From a Bottling Investments Group perspective managing large-scale operations across 14 markets, our challenges, as far as digital transformation is concerned, are essentially around resilience, agility, and sustainability. These are the goals of the digital transformation agenda and what we look forward to from the engagement is to enable transparency across the organization on the performance of all our assets and ensuring that we are working towards maintaining our sustainability targets as a group.” -Jimmy George
“We realized, as also the world realizes, that the water crisis due to excessive use and, very often, misuse of water is identified as one of the top 10 risks that most CEOs in the world perceive. So, despite the rising costs of water and the rising costs to treat or discharge wastewater, suboptimal plant operations result in losing lots of rupees or dollars per day. And this is not restricted only to the food and beverage industry, but this is in general applicable to most industries.” -Ajay Popat
“[…] in food and beverage industries, especially handling water treatment plants is one of the critical tasks the operations teams have. And smooth operation is possible if they have expert technicians, proper documentation of the procedures, and full-time operators. But, nowadays, it is becoming challenging to have these things. And, hence, I see there is need for having digital transformation.” -Mohammed Z Nadeem

Historical solutions and how digital tools help

Historically, most of these challenges have been solved by relying on the experience of onsite operators and through trial-and-error methods to assess potential causes. As more operators retire and that institutional knowledge gets lost, however, understanding a system’s unique quirks and needs is becoming more difficult at facilities around the world. And, while trial-and-error methods do eventually result in a diagnosis, that diagnosis is not always comprehensive, is often reactive, and takes a long time to conduct. Lost time usually translates into lost production and unnecessary expenses, both in terms of labour and in terms of urgent maintenance and even compliance-related fees.

If we don’t have skilled operators full-time, or there is malfunctioning in the plant data recorded, it is really a big challenge for engineers. […] And if this data is not correct, it becomes really challenging for the engineer to identify the root cause of the problem. Then what he does is the trial-and-error method, and it consumes time, which increases the breakdown time. [...] By the time we [find] the problem, we already encountered the losses in terms of time, manhours, and cost of shutdown.” -Mohammed Z Nadeem

However, digital tools are providing operational teams with more accurate data capturing and more widely accessible information for teams so that root cause analysis of an issue can be done much faster.

Which digital tool is right for food and beverage producers?

When assessing which digital solution to use at food and beverage manufacturing facilities, the panelists shared a few specific examples that are driving adoption and accelerating digital transformation. These included looking for a product over a technology, as well as a tool that could be implemented at various plants across the digital spectrum, from fully manual to semi-automated to fully digitized.

Minimum criteria to adoption and accurate data capture

In terms of minimum criteria to adopt a digital tool at a facility, Ajay suggests three main factors to consider.

  1. The digital foundation – which means the cost of installing a digital system in terms of data connectivity, speed, and reliable internet signals.

  2. The digital reach – how many mobile devices need to be connected and for which stakeholders to understand data consumption needs.

  3. The digital value system – how to use features like alarms, real-time analysis, predictions offered by the tool, and how those can be applied to improve Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

If these criteria are in place, digital tools can be a valuable addition to water treatment plants of all kinds, even ones that are still operating with primarily manual processes. However, Nadeem pointed out that the software solution adopted needs to be able to communicate with the plant’s data capture points, such as flowmeters and transmitters that are calibrated correctly. Operational teams will get the most value from implementing a digital solution if there are sound SOPs in place to capture data in the first place. make your logbook digitized, you need data and that data is possible with your plant only. And to get this data, we need to make our plant in a way that it communicates with the software or with the tool you are using to digitize and record the data. For example, you will need digital flowmeters, [...] ultrasonic transmitters, all types of inline analyzers should be there, and pressure, temperature and flowmeter transmitters should be installed. And the main thing is all [of these things] should be calibrated. Only then will you get the correct data and all the events will be recorded properly.” -Mohammed Z Nadeem

Assessing returns on investment

When looking at return on investment (ROI), Jimmy advises that ROI should not be the first consideration to determine the value of the tool. Understanding how the solution is able to deliver on improvements to key performance indicators (KPIs) is a more useful indicator, at least initially.

Benefits for operational teams and managers

Digital tools can provide a wide range of benefits beyond data capture. Ajay highlights the importance of real-time analysis in preventing downtime and Nadeem also echoes the value of providing regular access to the latest plant performance data across the whole team. While all three panelists agree that change management can be a challenge, with many operators being skeptical of the tools at the start, the benefits clearly outweigh the hesitations in a short amount of time.

This point is reinforced from Ajay’s and Jimmy’s perspectives as well, with an additional emphasis placed on the incredible value that transparency across the whole team can provide.

Adopting a digital solution as a food and beverage producer

As our panel attested to, there are a number of challenges and considerations to think about when looking to adopt a digital tool at a food and beverage manufacturing facility. However, the benefits of digital data capture and analysis, as well as on-demand access to information across the entire operational and management team, is worth the effort needed to transition a plant, regardless of which phase of the digital journey it is at.

We really appreciate our panelists joining the session to share their knowledge and experience with using digital solutions and how they can help food and beverage plants better manage their water supply and consistently meet production targets.

If you missed the live session and would like to request access to the recording, reach out via our contact form.

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