Unifying control systems in the food and beverage industry

Many food and beverage plants have incrementally upgraded their systems over the years, with them now being a complex network of distributed control systems (DCSs) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. Connecting a mix of DCS and SCADA systems into one master system can have multiple benefits. Here, Darcy Simonis, Industry Network Leader for ABB, explores how a single integrated system architecture can benefit plant operators and managers alike.

The first SCADA systems were independent, with no connectivity to other systems and were traditionally used for operating and monitoring production in a plant. The evolution of SCADA capabilities means that the new generation are now more advanced.  Modern systems can remotely monitor and control operations with coded signals over communication channels and log data for auditing purposes

The importance of collecting, storing and analyzing data is crucial, but this increase in data raises new questions of cybersecurity. If systems are not maintained and software becomes outdated, SCADA-based systems can be left open to vulnerabilities. For this reason, operators should regularly review their systems to protect them against cyber-attacks.

With an increasing amount of data, a DCS system can process a large amount of current information, however the failure of one controller affects more than one loop and requires a skilled operator to minimize downtime. In the food industry, any period of downtime can have catastrophic effects and can result in lost production. With new challenges faced by SCADA and DCS systems, unifying all operations into one master system is key to improve efficiency.

Coupled with technological advancements, rapidly changing consumer demands in the food and beverage industry have forced manufacturers to adapt quickly to retain a competitive edge. Consumers expect traceability throughout the entire supply chain, meaning the need for real-time continuous data is essential. Digital transformation in the food industry continues to be driven by these two key trends. So, what do these shifts mean and how can a move towards an integrated digital operating environment benefit food manufacturers?

Control system modernisation
Unifying control systems into one fully integrated system provides the synchronization of all applications and devices involved in the manufacturing process. This allows for the successful merging of information flow from DCS and SCADA systems, so that it is available in one interface in real-time. And one of the best means of unifying these communications is by using a single industrial software system.

ABB’s Manufacturing Execution System (MES) is an award-winning solution that allows users to optimize plant manufacturing and maintenance as well as a host of other benefits. These include powerful data analysis, improved quality, targeting areas for efficiency improvement and business-wide visibility. ABB’s system allows users to visualize pending tasks, work instructions, materials, equipment and quality test specifications, all of which are particularly important in the food and beverage sector.

Environmental factors such as trade instability, tightening industry standards and changing consumer preferences mean that manufacturers must ensure their MES is effective and secure to allow swift adaptation to new challenges.

Improved performance
The full integration of systems allows actionable information to be available in real-time to operators, often across multiple plants. Greater control and visibility of data improves security and allows for targeted improvements to processes. It also makes digital twinning feasible, where plant managers simulate plant operations virtually to achieve full plant visualization, support proactive maintenance and aid the decision-making process, not only from an operational but also from a cost-cutting perspective.

Secure reliable processing and an increase in manufacturing flexibility can boost efficiency and productivity, letting users optimize plant manufacturing and maintenance to the maximum.

Meeting industry standards
The food industry has been hit with numerous safety scandals, resulting in former UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove announcing a new law that will require manufacturers to include full ingredients labelling on pre-packaged foods from 2021.

 

Working to rigorous industry standards, key regulations and new manufacturing practices is vital. Plant managers in the food and beverage sector can improve the safety and quality of their operations, reduce unplanned downtime and mitigate food emergencies by viewing all data points in one place. Faster reactions to any manufacturing process anomalies can improve quality standards which also cuts down on wasted ingredients.

An integrated master system also allows for a shorter time to market for new products due to less delay. If less stock is held up at different stages of the process, this can reduce inventory levels and help raise quality standards.

The future of the digital factory
The successful integration of all systems in the manufacturing process means that plant operators can leverage the diverse capabilities of each system to improve productivity, cost-effectiveness, meet price competition, launch innovative products, and enter new markets. The consideration of multiple data sets with interconnected factors allows for businesses-wide improvement, which is essential in the current climate.

With many food and beverage companies now embracing an integrated control system, the future of manufacturing is digital.