An integrated factory, in which all sectors talk to each other and the generated data is used in a systemic way. Fully automated production lines, where employees need only to operate control panels so that the transformation of raw materials into a final product takes place.
R&D departments where 3D printers simulate the final result of new formulations. A few years ago, all these descriptions could be easily used to describe a futuristic movie set. Nowadays, however, all of it and more can already be part of the reality of the food sector due to the rapid advance of technology.
To know how to use the technological tools to our advantage has become a factor of competitiveness. Those who can store more data, and more important than that, to create action plans and strategies from the analysis of these data, are a step ahead from others.
The food industry, in general, is in a fast process of transformation. Tracking so many new things and understanding how they work can be an arduous task. For this reason, the time has come to take a deep breath and try to understand what all these changes can result in practice.
Digital checklists: much more than a simple to-do list
Checklists are very common in the area of food services. The use of these lists helps in the planning of quality control tools, such as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), also in team training and business management issues.
Many businesses still use paper checklists, which are easily subjected to human error and can be destroyed or lost, causing problems and even loss.
The good news is that this type of checklist can be easily replaced by digital checklists. With this change, one can access multiple checklists on the same platform, increase efficiency, improve administrative control, reduce errors, and decrease paper usage.
Another advantage is that all team members can access the checklists in an easy way with a nice interface. There are many checklist applications, both for free or paid. Therefore, one must look for the option that will meet the specific needs of the business.
Usually, it is good to keep in mind basic aspects that this type of application must have when doing this research.
The first one is being easy to use. This is a basic rule that, if not followed through, result in the opposite idea of having a virtual checklist. It is necessary that all employees who will use the checklists can access and use it without problems, regardless of the level of education of the person.
Another important aspect is that the checklist system should help the user to identify errors that are happening and suggest ways to fix them. For example, inside the food industry, the system may point out when the inputs required for production are near the expiration date. Which would avoid waste.
It is also ideal that the checklist limits the access for modifications. This type of action helps one fight fraud and gain greater control over the actions being taken.
Finally, it is interesting that the checklist allows remote access to the data and sends notifications in real time, either by actions that were completed or problems that are happening at that moment.
IoT: integrating systems to cause impact in quality
The internet of things, or IoT, can be defined as the network of devices that collects and transmits data via the internet.
But how does such a wide definition affect the food industry in practice?
One of the biggest concerns in the food industry, if not the biggest one, is the food safety. To reduce the risks of epidemics caused by foodborne diseases, there are different types of sensors to monitor the essential production stages, delivery time and temperature.
These sensors can be combined with digital checklists, mainly for HACCP, greatly increasing the effectiveness of this type of control.
The use of sensors can also help in the quality control in real time. For example, some of these sensors can continuously inspect color and texture of the product, which helps identify inaccuracies immediately.
After the food is produced, it’s time to distribute it. Logistics can be one of the most complex areas of a food company due to the perishability of the products.
This is the point where GPS and RFID technologies come into play. Actually the latter is the same technology behind the sensors that release tolls and antitheft systems from several stores.
With these two technologies working together, it is possible to monitor the entire distribution chain. These devices also allow companies to track the preferences of their customers to better meet market demands.
Another important issue that is very typical nowadays is the demand for transparency with consumers . The traceability of ingredients and products can be one of the outputs to suppress this type of demand.
In this way, not only can the company track the entire production chain, but also the final consumer, improving the relationship between producers, industries and their target audiences.
Thinking about sustainability, the internet of things can also act by monitoring the status of the products on the market to avoid waste and generation of large amounts of residues.
Artificial intelligence in the food industry
Through artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning makes it possible for computers to learn from experiences and analyze data in order to conduct human tasks with a higher level of accuracy and efficiency.
AI has also very interesting uses in the area of food. Think about a processed food factory. When the raw material arrives there, it is necessary that several employees do a manual sorting of what is fit to be processed or not.
In the North American market, TOMRA developed solutions based on optical sensors to make this type of separation using artificial intelligence. Infrared cameras and sensors are used to separate foods based on what is acceptable to consumers.
In supply chain management, artificial intelligence can be used to monitor food safety and the product analysis at each stage of the process. It can also be used to monitor prices and inventories, as well as the issue of product tracking as discussed before.
Even the R&D department can benefit from the use of artificial intelligence.
It is already possible to use machine learning together with predictive algorithms to model consumers’ taste and odor preferences and predict how they will respond to new flavors. This data can be segmented into demographic groups to help companies develop new formulations that will please their target audiences.
Technology can be a key ally in the food industry. The use of tools such as machine learning and digital checklists helps to increase efficiency, reduce errors and increase productivity of both companies and food industry businesses.
It is important to always be up-to-date and well-informed regarding these technologies, as well as to apply them according to the capacity, available budget and needs of each business.