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Strategy before technology key to improving competitiveness with Industry 4.0 technology

A recent survey has shown that companies investing in Industry 4.0 technology is low within the food and beverage industry. That needs to change explains Beca’s Rhys Davies.

Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things have been buzzwords in the food and beverage industry for the past five years. Yet, as highlighted in a recent survey, the uptake is still stagnant, with an alarming 20 per cent of companies having implemented solutions that could help them become more efficient, productive and competitive using the technology. Even more worrying is another 40 per cent know that they would benefit from such initiatives but have yet to do anything about it. That leaves a huge 40 per cent who aren’t even thinking about doing anything at the present time.

The survey, titled Industry 4.0 Maturity, Industry Survey Insights, was commissioned by New Zealand-based Callaghan Innovation with the help of engineering consultancy firm Beca and the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA). While highlighting the lack of uptake being taken by industry, it also showed that most companies needed help finding solutions. This is no difference in the competitive food and beverage sector, where smart solutions are now readily available to solve new and age-old problems – ultimately helping to increase efficiencies, but more importantly, save money on the bottom line.

Rhys Davies is the business director, industrial for Beca Australia, and is all too familiar with the challenges faced by the industry.

“Change in the sector is happening quickly. And what we’re seeing is that people who have been clear about the challenges they are facing – clear about the problems – are getting ahead in leaps and bounds by integrating appropriately matched technology solutions. But 20 per cent is just too low in terms of up take.

“It can be overwhelming, especially for SMEs. You must respond the market, generate your brands, be responsive to community and society demands and needs – from packaging to sugar content. Change in unrelenting.”

And maybe that’s why some companies struggle to try and develop strategies to make a start in the arena – too many things happening at once. The study underlined a few of the reasons the uptake is slow – from obtaining funds from those that hold a company’s purse strings, through to not knowing enough about the technology to make a discerning decision. A few in the survey were also concerned about the ability of the company and its people to be able to use the technology. It was also noted that when given a choice of which business function an entity would hope to improve on by implementing Industry 4.0, engineering functions such as worker health and safety, equipment efficiency, as well as manufacturing and production capabilities were at the top of the to-do list. Davies said it is all about priorities, too – making sure you don’t get distracted; focus on business issues that need solving and don’t get caught up in shiny new technologies.

“People concentrate far too much on digital implementation, when they would be better conducting a current needs assessment and starting off with something basic to solve an issue they might have,” he said.

“One of our strengths is that we work with a variety of sectors within the food and beverage industry – from dairy enterprises through to breweries – and that means we can bring the perspectives from multiple food sectors to help our clients on their digital journey.

And it’s not a journey that a company must go through on its own. Not only can Beca help, but the state and federal governments also realise the importance of food and beverage manufacturers becoming more efficient. They have opened their wallets offering funding for  SMEs. Davies said it is important for manufacturers and processors in this sector to use these financial incentives to improve their overall competitiveness through smarter manufacturing.

“SMEs are a target for funding from the government at the moment,” he said. “This includes generous tax concessions. It is much smarter and easier to invest when there are funds available to do so, rather than waiting until your competitors’ efficiencies force you to act. Playing catch up is not a great game.

“We recognise SMEs tend to run lean, and therefor often need a little more help to develop an internal strategy and capability to get started, which is why these incentives are important.”

Beca works with SMEs in the food industry, including the Australian Distillers Association (ADA).

“There are many new start-up distilleries in Australia, and we regularly see how process safety is an issue for them.” said Davies. “We have been working with the ADA to help their members appreciate the regulatory environment and develop checklists to promote safety.

“In terms of digital, our message is, ‘we have seen that the uptake of digital architecture is sub optimal, – it’s just not coming through,” he said. “And this is a great time to start, because there is government money available in the form of the grants and investment tax concessions. If people want or need to increase productivity and are unsure how to start, talk to us. Talk to us about the issues that are holding you back and let us guide you on what tools will make you more competitive, safer and smarter in your market.”

On a more macro level, Beca can help with innovating, collaborating, finding efficiencies and making sure a company is making the most of its assets in terms of plant and people. This includes making sure that customer satisfaction is high – in such a competitive business with so many players, the Beca team realise that although price is an important consideration for clients, providing value is the big difference between getting repeat business or a one-off project.

“I’m sure everybody says that, but I have been with Beca for 35 years and I can tell you we understand that our business does well when we help our clients be successful. We stay with our clients and see projects through to the end, no matter what challenges are thrown up along the way. Might sound trite, but it is absolute fact.”

Beca has been in Australia for more than 50 years so is well versed in the wants and needs of industries, especially the food and beverage arena. The company thrives on challenges. A final take away from the survey was that when implementing new technologies, most people preferred face-to-face involvement with vendors and consultants.

“We live on solving our clients’ problems. We live on helping business,” said Davies. “While our roots are in engineering, we are so much more than that now, from engineering, project management to advisory. But at our core, we are problem solvers. We have a long history of extended partnerships with our clients, watching them change, grow and succeed. We recognise the value of delivering better together, of partnership, and we look forward to seeing the Australian food and beverage sector flourish in this post-Covid world.”

For more information on Beca, and our Food and Beverage expertise and services, please click here.

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