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When food and beverage companies look to begin their digital transformation in manufacturing operations, often the first question is, ‘where do I start?’ By Keith Chambers, Director of Operations & Execution Systems, Aveva.

When food and beverage companies look to begin their digital transformation in manufacturing operations, often the first question is, ‘where do I start?’ For F&B/CPG manufacturers facing highly variable consumer demand and tight margins, digital transformation provides a pathway to improved operational performance and profitability, but with so much hype and buzzwords around the industry, it can be difficult to decide where to start.

One of the best ways to begin is by considering digital transformation in the context of operational excellence. Operational Excellence approaches such as Lean and 6 Sigma are still foundational to driving operational performance. What is changing are the digital tools that provide real-time visibility and analytics into the factors driving operational excellence, giving important new insights to operators and decision makers. This provides immediate Return On Investment (ROI).

By monitoring critical KPIs such as Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), companies can provide helpful insights to optimise operations as well as decision support for further digital transformation investment and roadmap. Visibility into inefficiencies and waste help to prioritise the investments in the multiple benefits of digital transformation – from improved quality and compliance with end-to-end traceability to increased productivity and business agility.

Measure The Metrics That Matter

To start with, focus on gaining visibility into the most important metrics and KPIs, such as OEE. OEE is a very powerful metric captured from three factors – equipment availability, performance and quality losses, all compared to optimal performance. By combining these factors, OEE essentially displays when an asset is available, the speed at which it operates and the number of products out of quality specification. This provides a holistic benchmark that operators can aim for as a guide to optimise overall operational performance.

Gain In-Depth Operational Visibility

While OEE visibility is extremely useful, by itself the metric lacks sufficient data to provide operational instructions. For instance, if a piece of equipment has low OEE driven by low availability, is that due to equipment failure causing unplanned downtime? Or equipment setup and product switchover time? Without additional contextual information, it is difficult to take corrective action and leverage OEE monitoring to its full potential.

This is where Manufacturing Execution System (MES) based performance monitoring solutions provide their value. These solutions combine work order management, manufacturing execution activity tracking and equipment utilisation events capturing for OEE visibility with drill down root cause analyses capabilities. This additional operational context helps to provide a clear picture of what is happening on the plant floor, enabling users to take corrective action. As an example, when Henkel implemented an MES for performance monitoring, operators were able to better understand the causes of downtime on the lines. This led to a 4.5 percent increase in OEE in just one year.

Leverage The Cloud

When starting your digital transformation journey today F&B manufacturers can also take advantage of manufacturing operations management in a cloud environment. Cloud-based solutions often provide a faster ROI for plants, because cloud solutions do not require the extensive IT footprint of on-premises solutions. In addition, hosting performance management in the cloud allows easy side-by-side comparison of equipment in widely disparate facilities. This naturally leads to standardisation across the entire enterprise, and facilitates collaboration and knowledge sharing between traditionally siloed plants.

For many facilities running automated plant equipment and production lines, the best approach is a hybrid one. In a hybrid deployment, mission-critical applications (ie: compliance data capturing, or automated processes tracking fast-moving goods) run on-premises. The remainder is hosted in the cloud. This provides the best of both worlds, enabling manufacturers to enjoy the low total cost of ownership of the cloud while building on existing, trusted on-premises investments.

By adopting digital performance monitoring F&B companies can take their first steps to digital transformation success. Performance monitoring provides insight into which areas could benefit from improved efficiency, which naturally serves as the impetus for further digital transformation. The path towards a more efficient, profitable and sustainable F&B company begins with performance monitoring.

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