Few businesses have the power to affect daily life as much as the food and beverage sector does. Still, not even this massive industry is immune from dealing with today’s most pressing issues. I’m specifically talking about the rising costs of goods and services due to inflation and the shortage of qualified labor—two threats against the continuity of production lines and the supply chain in manufacturing facilities. 

Food plant

As a food and beverage plant owner, are you prepared to face these barriers without losing revenues? If not, let me tell you about my approach to dealing with this scary reality and persevering.

Are you ready to plan, upgrade, and profit? Let’s begin with this five-step process. 

Step #1: Appraise where you are right now and set a path for the future

This first step is a simple exercise that lays the foundation for building a solid plan to bridge the gaps between now and the future. By addressing current problems, you open the door to finding solutions that will help the business grow amid rising disturbances.  

Your journey kicks off by taking a picture that is representative of where the facility is at the moment. Every defining metric must be measured:

  • Capacity (installed, used, in spare, out of service);
  • Utilities (generation, consumption, demand, waste);
  • Labor (effective, on leave, soon-to-retire);
  • Inventory; 
  • Resources; and
  • Revenue streams. 

Are you clear about your reality? 

Now, forecast your expectations for the future by targeting goals. They can be measured in short-, mid-, and long-term time frames. 

By the end of this step, you should be able to plan your next move. For instance, stop installation decay by improving output within 18 months. No new staff positions. Is this statement viable? Of course, just let digital intelligence give you a lift. 

Step #2: Develop a strategy for your new targets

You have entered the most sensitive phase of the entire process: building a well-thought-out strategy from scratch. Make it effective. Include the goals to be reached. Keep the stakeholders’ expectations in sight. Bear in mind that the more precise and concise your proposal is, the easier it will be for the top people to approve it.

At the very least, your analysis should cover these four areas of focus: 

  • Scope of work. Demarcate your reach. Ask and answer the key questions. For instance, our lead example is to improve output in 18 months. How do you plan to do that? Are you adding new lines, introducing more products, or using spare capacity? Is a physical expansion necessary? Is the utility count enough? What automation products do you need?  
  • Market research. Study the marketplace. What’s going on? What are the trends? How does the company fare against competitors? How will the changes impact stakeholders, O&M, inventory, suppliers, customers, and retail? Would they bring new bottlenecks? What is for gain? And, what could be at stake for loss? 
  • Risk assessment. Look at everything! Technology, safety, funds and financing, supply chain, providers, materials, inventory, social factors, and labor. Threats may come from anywhere. How do you respond? By preparing an equally robust mitigation plan that keeps you moving forward. 
  • Proposition value. Prepare a schedule with critical milestones. Estimate the costs to make the strategy tangible. Fare technological and social metrics, along with financial ones. Indicators such as return on investment (ROI) and net present value (NPV) will tell you if the strategy is worth moving forward.

At the end of step two, you should have a solid plan to fix up the plant and minimize the effect that outside and inside factors—such as inflation and a lack of personnel, respectively—have on performance, output, and profitability.

Step #3: Engineering time. Book the right technology partner for your project  

Your strategy was greenlit. Congratulations! The next big step is to look for a technology partner for engineering support and project execution. 

For that, you want an industry insider with a reputation for transparency. 

Someone with these accolades:

  1. Owns certifiable experience and knowledge about food and beverage solutions. 
  2. Lives and breathes automation. 
  3. Has the team, tools, and resources to carry on your project. 
  4. Is a practitioner of lean manufacturing or other methodology suitable to the work you want to accomplish.  

Since automation is my area of expertise, I’d like to tell you about four technologies to improve your operations. They’ll help speed up processes, increase accuracy, and make up for labor shortages. You’ll feel more capable than ever before.

  • Digital intelligence devices powered by AI, big data, machine learning, and cloud computing. They have proven to be successful at optimizing production lines and product quality, enhancing confidence in stakeholders, supply chain operators, retailers, and the end-consumer. Look at this case study and learn by yourself how a cocoa, coffee, dairy, spices, and nuts manufacturer improved throughput and yield using digital intelligence.
  • Machine vision (MV) is exceptional for sorting quality control in food inspection, reducing human involvement and human-related errors. Beyond the traditional safety inspections on the food (appearance, size, texture) and ingredient tracking and tracing, the MV system also analyzes the packaging, labels, and container integritythree product features valued by retailers and customers. See MV technology in action at a packaging plant in this link.
  • The Industrial Internet of things (IIoT) is another great technology to tally for to-the-minute monitoring and more consolidated supply chain logistics. Thanks to IIoT, it is possible to track single products from a batch stored in a warehouse or even when in transit to distribution and sale. Add more insight by reading this thrilling success story that happened to a frozen dessert manufacturer.
  • Robots are a great choice for packaging or palletizing. They save people from doing hard and dangerous tasks tied to repetitive injuries that can turn into long-term illnesses. They will also spare you time and add precision. For reference, feel free to watch a case study for a palletizing robot here.

By the end of step three, you ought to have a complete engineering book (with HSE and quality checks) that reflects the upgrades to make and the outcomes you, as a plant representative, aspire to see crystallized. A constructability analysis for scalable, modular growth must be at hand. Guidelines for installation and start-up should be included too.

Step #4: Implant the solution

You’ve already selected the most appropriate technology for your targets. The drawings and documents have been approved. Safety and quality checks are finalized. Procurement is done and on-site. The change management strategy is complete. A new design is ready for installation. 

What follows?

Having by your side an expert contractor who knows how to carry out the project’s installation phase.

Hire the best vendor for the job based on the bids received from each contractor. The value proposition with a closer range to the technical and commercial requests made, including scheduling and budget, should have the edge and be your top choice.

Ensure that the awarded contractor causes as little disruption to the ongoing production lines as possible. Synchronization between all parties involved is key to achieving that feat. 

As per usual, your team must keep an eye out for budget expense control, materials, quality verifications, and scheduling. Periodic progress tracking meetings should keep you up to date with the project’s happenings.

Your final product at the end of this step is a functioning smart plant, ready to be operated.

Before moving into the next (and last) step, don’t forget to ask your technology partner and contractor for the staff’s operational training. The transition to digital environments tends to go swiftly for most. Still, such a critical passage shouldn’t be overlooked or rushed to the last minute.   

Step #5: Operate & maintain

Drawing some inspiration from Drake, you started from the bottom and now are here… at step five. You made it. The project was completed successfully. Now, it’s time to do what you do best:

Operate and maintain your plant. This time around with a new perspective provided by the new and smart toys just installed. 

Leave it to them to set you up with a fully automated facility and superpowers such as:

  • Accurate measurements across the plant.
  • Capacity to manage the information in a centralized manner.
  • Enhanced process and supply chain insight to reduce costs.
  • Error-free certifications.
  • Reliable and efficient quality assurance.
  • Ability to catch equipment malfunctions early, predict failures, and develop preventive maintenance plans focused on optimizing operations.
  • Awareness of utility inefficiencies and facilities for improvement.

Long gone will be those limiting manual procedures. 

After a few months in Step 5, you’ll begin to reap the rewards that first motivated you to get started:

  • Smart manufacturing lines with productivity levels tied to the product’s demand.
  • Revitalized operations and maintenance from access to real-time data used to boost stability and guarantee product safety and traceability.
  • Faculties to jump two to threefold in productivity with the help of smart machines.
  • Up to 30% in savings from reduced errors and manpower optimization.
  • Better production procedures.
  • Improved market confidence.  

That’s all there is to it, guys. I hope this information was useful to you. 

My name is Raul Verdusco, and I’m the founder of Verdusco Consulting. If you require my assistance in moving forward with your plant revamp, please contact me at: