Rethinking Productivity and Sustainability in F&B Plants

In recent times, food and beverage manufacturers have learned to pivot quickly to keep the supply accessible to consumers. The current economic slowdown presents new challenges. With potential lower consumer spend, there may be more pressure to cut production costs in order to maintain price levels.

During challenging times, it may be difficult to keep sustainability issues at the forefront. However, cutting costs and having a positive impact on the environment are not mutually exclusive.

Chris Humphrey is the Executive Director of the EU-ASEAN Business Council, which works with regional and international food value chain stakeholders to support a safe, sustainable and nutritious supply of food in the region. He sees a stronger trend in the industry that encompasses optimizing operations, supply chain resilience and sustainability.

“As the crisis has shown, the entire ecosystem is interconnected and there can be immense potential in collaborating across the value chain to ensure that food is safe, nutritious and sustainable. In ASEAN, growing populations and affluence, along with price or supply fluctuations and the growing impacts of climate change, show the need to bring resilience and reliability across the region’s supply chains,” Humphrey explained.

“Modernising the sector is an imperative – whether it’s in primary agriculture and basic infrastructure, or in food production and logistics all the way to the final point of consumption. By fostering a greater partnership between public and private sectors across the food value chain, and leveraging technology, the F&B industry can improve their operations while lowering environmental impact.”

Deploying technologies to move from the wow to the how

In a world where there is much discussion around environmental and social responsibilities, the challenge is often how to implement such goals. Running a more sustainable and energy-efficient F&B plant requires clear commitments from all levels of the organization to serve a higher purpose in creating a better world for future generations. Business as usual is no longer an option.

Adopting technologies which improve motor efficiency, automate production, or digitally optimise operations brings great opportunities to deliver energy savings. Almost overnight.

The cleanest energy is the energy saved

When it comes to energy efficiency, the first step is to identify the most significant sources of energy usage.

“Energy is used in almost every step of the production process across applications such as food processing, cleaning, drying, heating, sterilization, refrigeration and others in between,” said R Narayanan, Group Senior Vice President, Asia, Motion and Country Managing Director, ABB Malaysia.

“Electric motors usually make up the bulk of a plant’s energy consumption and hence there is significant opportunity to reduce electricity usage by upgrading from inefficient motors to ultra-premium motors, like IE5 synchronous reluctance motors (SynRM).”

Adding variable speed drives (VSD) can also have a significant impact on energy savings. ABB’s EnergySave calculator allows F&B producers to explore how much energy and money they could potentially save by installing drives. The majority of motors in factories run at full speed even when they don’t always need to. VSDs allow for more control over a motor and adjusts the speed or torque according to actual needs. This means the motor only draws the power needed to perform a specific task.

Replacing throttle valves with VSDs on pump control is another way to save energy. By adding VSDs to mechanical equipment such as pumps, fans, motors and compressors, energy savings of between 20 to 60 percent can be achieved to help F&B producers cut their energy cost.

In another case, a multi-national food company in Australia, producing a range of much-loved soups, stocks and meals, achieved a 14 percent reduction in energy cost and CO2 savings leading to approximately 131 tonnes annually by deploying ABB synchronous reluctance motor (SynRM) and variable speed drives.

There were also other benefits such as considerable noise reduction, lower running temperature, smoother operation and reduced vibration derived by taking simple measures towards sustainability.

On top of this, digital solutions such as ABB Ability™ Smart Sensors for either pumps and/ or motors, provide more insights and opportunities for energy saving. Data collected from the smart sensors, combined with information collected from VSD's inbuilt sensors and loggers can be collated, stored, and further accessed via cloud technology. The ability to gather and analyse this data can reveal information that can be used to make performance improvements that will increase efficiency.

Reducing material waste and improving energy efficiency through robotics

“With growing populations and ever-changing needs and tastes across the regions, F&B operators look for ways to meet new demands by maintaining plant flexibility, as well as further optimizing productivity and energy efficiency in factories.

“Resilience and flexibility in the supply chain have never been more important,” said Anand Natarajan, Regional Head of ABB’s Robotics business in South-East Asia, Oceania, Middle-East and Africa.

“When it comes to securing basic food needs, advanced manufacturing technologies can bring a greater sense of food security, safety and sustainability.”

For example, one of the world’s largest flour mills in Indonesia recently installed automated systems, switching from manual picking and palletizing lines. The company installed ABB robots and increased production speed by 25 percent, each handling 3 concurrent functions while accommodating space limits on the production floor.

These solutions help reduce the time-consuming tasks, minimize the wastage of resources and also reduce the high risk of human contamination in production creating a more sustainable solution for the food industry.

Keeping it clean and optimizing water usage

High-pressure cleaning consumes vast quantities of water. Activities such as cutting, dicing, slicing, and filleting also generate a large volume of wastewater. Minimizing the water used for process equipment and pipeline cleaning presents another challenge for food manufacturers.

One solution is to implement efficient pumping by using VSD pump controls to optimize water usage.

Using critical software functions to regulate pressure and flow rate for pipe clean and fill functions for Clean-In-Place (CIP) equipment, time, water and cleaning materials can all be reduced. Anti-cavitation software can also be deployed to detect and prevent cavitation to ensure the optimal flow of water throughout the plant and extend the pump’s lifetime.

Finally, another method would be to address the issue at the source, by choosing products that are very easy to clean – hygienic, stainless-steel washdown motors designed with smooth, crevice-free surfaces are one such solution that requires less time and water.

Digitalising operations for even smarter sustainable operations

Digitalising a plant’s operations using manufacturing operations management software is one way forward. Connected to motors, drives and other plant assets, the system collects data on energy usage and carbon emission levels, giving business owners real-time information to make operational decisions that benefit both plant and planet.

By prioritising energy and water conservation, the areas that need the most attention, and committing to energy and water-saving initiatives, manufacturers can make a positive impact on sustainability, as well as reduce costs.