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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Schneider Electric: transforming food & beverage

Schneider Electric are on a journey to enable the next-generation food & beverage industries. Here, Louise Liddiard reveals how the company’s digital solutions are helping brands achieve sustainability, efficiency and traceability. In other words, smart food

 

What is the role of Schneider Electric within food & beverage?

Schneider Electric’s function stretches across the whole sector. We work closely with different sized companies from large, house-hold name enterprises that are well established to small, speciality businesses or start-ups seeking a coveted spot in the fridges and cupboards of the UK consumer. We support our customers through a range of objectives too – from those that are digitalising their processes to become more efficient and productive, to others that are working towards decarbonisation or other sustainability goals that are innovating, diversifying, or improving supply chain resilience. Whatever a company’s motivation, we like to work as a partner rather than just a supplier and foster ongoing relationships that support a company’s growth and development in a sustainable way.

Food & beverage is a competitive sector, and while businesses vary greatly, what are common challenges facing the sector?

Whatever an F&B company makes, they are making it for consumers, so the biggest common challenge at the moment is the cost of living crisis, which is directly impacting the choices being made by shoppers everywhere. This is caused in large part by inflation, which in turn is partly driven by rapidly rising energy costs which make production more expensive. The good news is that, through digitalisation, we have the tools to dramatically reduce demand-side energy costs. At the business management level digitalisation enables the use of energy management systems to monitor, analyse, and optimise energy consumption and enhance production scheduling. At the manufacturing level, digitalisation helps drive down wastage, improve uptime, make use of predictive maintenance, streamline supply chain and logistics and lay the groundwork for expanding capabilities that use machine learning, AI, Cloud, extended reality, and Digital Twin technologies for continuous improvement. Such measures are becoming increasingly important to remain competitive in such a challenging market and are also central to wider and more long-term sustainability objectives and the drive to NetZero. You could say that the twin targets of profitability and environmental sustainability are aligned through strategic digital transformation.

What is the next generation of industrial automation in food & beverage?

I think the answer to this question is evolving all the time, if it were asked a year ago it might be a slightly different answer to what we would say now, and in a year’s time, it will probably be different again, but there’s no doubt that it requires digital transformation. For now, it’s about how to achieve the visibility and integration within an organisation that allows for the level of internal and external collaboration required to become more sustainable, productive, resilient, and flexible to meet the rapidly changing needs of consumers and legislators.

We work with lots of companies that have multiple sites, both nationally and globally, and we find that to unlock next generation automation capabilities requires secure access to usable, contextualised information from across the whole enterprise. Achieving this ‘single pane of glass’ overview of a ‘single version of the truth’ provides insight and actionable, real-time intelligence to make any number of improvements to production. Importantly, this sort of capability isn’t reserved for large businesses, and smaller operations, even single-line production facilities, can undertake a digital transformation of this type through a step-by-step approach.

It’s worth expanding quickly on the role of collaboration in the next generation of industrial automation since it offers a valuable insight into the future. Digital transformation requires technologies and expertise from a vendor as a starting point, but it will impact every part of an organisation, from finance, to operations, IT, HR, and procurement. The next generation of industrial automation then, requires collaboration and integration with many external organisations from raw materials suppliers to logistics, supply chain and often all the way to the consumer and will rely on input and expertise from Systems Integrators, Machine Builders and (often multiple) technology vendors. So, choosing the right partners, those who can support you, work with each other to integrate technologies and be with you one every step of the journey is vital.

Looking ahead in the sector, what is Schneider Electric doing to support Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) and how does that play a role in food security and sustainability?

We work with multiple vertical farming companies in the UK in this emerging market which represents a massive step forward for the industry and we expect it to play an important role in future of UK food security. As consumers we are very spoiled when it comes to produce and expect year-round availability of foods from all over the world. Vertical farming is a way to bring production closer to consumers and reduce the carbon footprint associated with transporting food by exploring ways to grow produce locally out of season. It is important to note that CEA will not replace traditional farming, instead the two methods will work hand in hand. This burgeoning industry should be seen as a fantastic opportunity to augment traditional farming and explore the immense possibilities it offers to feed growing populations efficiently and sustainably.

One common thread that runs through all food & beverage companies is the drive to sustainability. How can Schneider Electric support this?

Something that separates Schneider Electric in this space is that we’ve done it. We have our own factories and are constantly learning; learning from all of our work with customers across the incredibly varied food and beverage sector and beyond. While sustainability underpins everything we do at Schneider Electric it can be daunting for businesses to start that journey and focus their investment. The drive towards NetZero isn’t going to happen overnight, it is a collective, collaborative effort from all of industry and any improvement to sustainability, no matter how small, will play a role. Regardless of the initial reasons or objectives that lead a company to Schneider Electric, we ensure that our solutions not only address those specific requirements but also enhance sustainability for the industry that nourishes the globe.

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Louise Liddiard is Schneider Electric’s Key Account Manager – CPG Segment (Food & Bev)

 

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