For anyone with experience in the chocolate and bar manufacturing industry, they would have seen many different technologies and trends come and go. Industry 4.0 is another looming trend – but what is it and what does it mean for you?

Industry 4.0’ (i.e. the fourth industrial revolution) is a catch-all phrase for the next generation of manufacturing. It’s where the power of the internet, sensors and software can be combined to improve manufacturing operations. But what is it and how does it apply to chocolate and bar manufacturing?

Most of the building blocks for this industry movement exist today, particularly within large, established manufacturers. The energy and excitement of the 4.0 term comes from the combination of these elements in new ways. It’s useful to think of industry 4.0 encompassing three linked elements:

  1. Physical matter or energy: e.g. the chocolate and component ingredients, the manufacturing equipment, the energy required to drive them etc.
  2. Sensors and display: the technology that gathers information (e.g. machine speed, product temperature) and displays it (via mobile devices or other interfaces).
  3. Analytics and algorithms: software that takes all the information and has the intelligence to make decisions about it, or guide humans to make decisions.

In practical terms applications for chocolate and bar manufacturers include:

  • Replacing humans in the quality control process, e.g. machine detection of defects in the shape or size of a bar product, or debris in a chocolate product. Technology with the right level of sensitivity and accuracy will do a far better job at repetitive task like these than a human operator. Those people can then be freed up to focus on higher value tasks.
  • Increasing speed of detecting sanitation issues. Technology is becoming available that will enable almost instant detection of sanitation issues with food manufacturing equipment. Currently, this process can be time consuming, as it involves a person taking a swab and sending it to a lab for analysis.
  • Augmented and virtual reality could be applied in many areas of the chocolate manufacturing process, but training is a logical one. Instead of having to find and understand operating manuals, a new staffer could use AR enabled mobile device (e.g. a tablet) to simply point it at a machine and understand how it operates and what they need to do to complete their task.
  • Operators could be empowered with much richer data than the traditional fixed terminal on manufacturing equipment. A mobile device linked with sensors could tell them whether there was a product temperature issue with a particular batch of bars or monitor machine speed for a chocolate bar line against their standard benchmarks.

How quickly will these new ideas come into the chocolate and bar manufacturing sector? A useful way for thinking about new waves of technology is a model from IT advisers the Gartner Group. Their hype cycle suggests technologies typically come into an industry with much hype and publicity, but are used relatively sparingly at first. Over time, businesses see their value and slowly start integrating them into normal practice.

Take the humble microwave oven. Microwaves went from scary and expensive technology to something many households desired, as more consumer-oriented manufacturers made products that were simpler and cheaper. A mass market of people started to understand that this invention delivered a faster, easier way of cooking food. According to Wikipedia, microwave sales increased from 40,000 per annum in 1970 to 1 million a year by 1975. Now market penetration is estimated to be 90% and you can buy one at the supermarket with your bread and milk.

On a much broader scale, industry 4.0 has to go through the same cycle for chocolate manufacturers. According to Industry Today magazine, only 13 percent of manufacturers are implementing industry 4.0-type approaches such as using the internet of things or smart manufacturing techniques. It has to go from hard to understand and expensive, to something that can be integrated into daily operations.

Chocolate manufacturers want product that is of good quality, is the right size and shape and is safe to eat. And they want to achieve these outcomes as efficiently as possible. How industry 4.0 technologies can help achieve these outcomes is what counts and varies widely depending on the particular manufacturer.

A tailored approach to applying 4.0 is key. Large, mature manufacturers and co-packers will be looking at how to achieve efficiencies while maintaining quality within the scope of their existing operations. Start-up food manufacturing businesses will look at applying at broader mix of 4.0 technologies to try and disrupt the status quo.

PTL’s approach to industry 4.0 is what we call purposeful innovation. We actively monitor developments with new technologies, and combinations of technologies, and where they could fit into our customer’s requirements. Engaging with customers around their specific needs and applying design thinking is key, as tailored solutions are critical to realising a return on investment in these types of technologies. It’s easy to waste investment if new technology isn’t tightly aligned to manufacturing process.

We also have some world class partners like Rockwell Automation that are operating at the sharp end with AR/VR, diagnostic technologies and so on. With their size, resource and reputation, they can provide technology that is proven and cost-effective.

In a technology sense, the complexity is not necessarily in implementing some of these technologies but understanding how they are best applied in your specific situation. PTL’s deep knowledge and experience in the chocolate and bar manufacturing industry is where we can add real value in helping you understand how to apply the exciting suite of industry 4.0 technologies to your manufacturing process.

Interested in learning more about trends in chocolate manufacturing? Check out the free resources we have on offer.

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