Manufacturers not automating risk falling behind the pack


Experts at ifm efector continue to tell clients, and the industry, about the importance of adopting automation technology as the manufacturing continues to evolve. Adam McCleery writes.

The future of the food and beverage industry will be shaped by the implementation and impact of digitisation and experts from ifm efector, a German manufacturer of automation, process, and communication sensing technologies, has been helping with the transition.

The company specialises in incorporating its instrumentation solutions with customer needs by focusing on overall process efficiencies, productivity and reduction of downtime, which improves the product taken to market.

The scope of automation reaches all industries at all levels, which affords the company added insight into what functions can work in which sectors, including food and beverage manufacturing.

Glenn Thornton, the company’s national product & brand manager, said the future was coming fast and the food and beverage industry must continue to prepare.

“Food automation is critical because we must get into the digital world somehow. Every industry is trying to digitise or change processes to increase productivity and that is the big message we put out there,” said Thornton.

“We tell customers they aren’t alone in the need to adapt automation and digitisation into their processes. By doing so, a company can improve quality, efficiencies, and productivity.”

Thornton said automation isn’t just about being cost-effective but building higher quality products. it also mitigates the risk to their product having quality issues that might lead to health risks.

“Food is a critical part of society. If you manufacture a poor-quality food product that doesn’t meet a health standard, just from a lack of monitoring, then brand reputation can be destroyed, he said.”

A team of technical experts at ifm efector work with clients to educate them on the finer points of instrumentation and automation to get a clearer sense of what is required.

“Anyone we work with – directors, business owners, production supervisors, or quality insurance officers – all have KPIs to meet,” said Thornton.

“The main thing they try to do is get a high performing product with high efficiency rates on machinery to ensure the product that hits the market is of the highest quality possible.”

Thornton said one of the most common requests they get from clients looking to change, or smarten up, their existing processes was around the need for reliable instrumentation.

Ifm efector prides itself on not repurposing existing pieces to meet a new need. Instead, the team works on ways to create new designs that are tailored specifically for the food and beverage industry and the client’s needs, such as non-contact level measurement.

“The next main point is to make sure it’s designed for hygienic applications; it is directly focused on this task. We know doing level measurement is not a straightforward topic because there are many ways to do measurement with their own benefits and downfalls,” said Thornton.

“Depending on the food or beverage product, the viscosity can change so our clients want to know if the level measurement will impact every other application or instrument where the radar has benefits where viscous media doesn’t bother it. Which it doesn’t.”

One example of why the company has success with crafting new machine pieces instead of repurposing, is with spray balls in tanks.

Spray balls hang from the top of a tank and spin around the inside, creating high-pressure which heats all the corners of the tank. As a result of spray balls being present in tanks any level measurement piece needs to avoid causing any disruption.

“We can accommodate for spray balls and other things like steam and condensation, they don’t present any problems,” Thornton said.

This is mainly because ifm efector endeavours to create the smallest possible pieces for the task at hand, which overcomes issues caused by cumbersome instrumentation.

“We come from an automation background in automotive making small components and as we went into food and that is the mindset. We need small instrumentation for less impact and less cost,” said Thornton.

Ifm efector’s new radar level sensor LW2720 is a prime example of how the company approaches the development and implementation of new instrumentation devices.

The LW2720 was designed with speed and accuracy in mind and can be installed quicker than any of its alternatives.

A standard M12 cable allows for faster parameter setting using IO-Link, while a large selection of adapters enables easy and customised out-of-the box start-up.

“The radar itself is an 80GHz, which is the high frequency and means it is a narrower band. The advantage to that is that is misses the spray balls in the tanks and we miss agitators and the sides of tanks. It is a nice solution that narrows it right down, so you get high accuracy down to plus and minus 2mm up to 10 metres,” said Thornton.

The radar has also been certified for use in hygienic environments and comes with a five-year warranty.

“This radar technology is not revolutionary but the style that we have gone into of knowing this is good cost, small footprint, more or less plug and play, maintenance free. It also lines up with this transition into being digital ready,” said Thornton.

A key reason for the company’s approach with clients is to make sure they understand how important it is to start thinking about the future of automation and instrumentation, so they don’t fall behind.

“It’s about making sure companies understand that, to progress into the future and be strongly competitive, they need to make sure that they are future proofing themselves by being digital ready,” said Thornton.

“Digital ready can sound daunting but can be simplified by the notion of starting small and grow as you know.”

Thornton’s advice to existing and future clients is always the same, dip your toes into the waters to get a sense of what the company is talking about.

“That way the client can extract information from a machine that they didn’t know they could. It’s a quick and effective way to prove how you can become digital ready with little to no impact on business or production as its running now,” he said.

The idea is to give actionable insights to ifm’s clients, which demonstrate real-world capabilities beyond theoretical testing.

“Creating actionable insights that clients can implement – from modest and small changes to drastic and major changes, which will improve everything from productivity, efficiencies, quality, and profitability – is an effective tool.”

The offering from ifm efector is a promise to improve process and brand security.

“We deal directly with our customers and want to be able to show them we can give process reliability and to prepare for a new environment, especially going into 2022 with mindsets changing after the impact of COVID-19,” said Thornton.

“It is important to seek industry advantages where you can.”


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