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In the age of Industry 4.0, professionals in many industries are going to great lengths to identify production-enhancing insights from their data. These insights help increase efficiency throughout operations, increasing uptime and cutting maintenance costs, but adoption in the food & beverage (F&B) industry is trailing others (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: A 2020 Accenture global survey of 600 industrial companies shows digital adoption varies greatly by industry. The chart shows high, low, and mean digital adoption percentage of respondents, with Consumer Goods and Services trailing the pack. Image courtesy of Endress+Hauser

At the heart of the issue, adoption is trailing in F&B due to a lack of awareness of the digital capabilities already present in existing instruments. And secondly, the level of communication among processors, original equipment manufacturers, and integrators is not where it could be. By increasing collaboration, F&B facility design can increasingly take advantage of digital instrumentation tools.

While the benefits of automation and equipment upgrades have not always outweighed the costs, the scene has changed in the last few years with the widespread advent of smart instrumentation. In today’s data-centric landscape, smart instrumentation provides a wealth of diagnostic and other information, enabling plant staff to get far more from their instruments than a single 4-20 mA primary process variable.

This added information, transmitted from instruments to host systems via digital communication protocols, helps plant personnel improve efficiency and avoid unplanned shutdowns by empowering them to implement proactive maintenance and predictive monitoring (Fig. 2).

Engineers, managers, and operators in the F&B industry are observing their peers in other industries, who are often farther down the path of digital transformation, and—encouraged by the results—are beginning to also embrace the digitalization trend.

Challenges for adoption
Processors must weigh the payoffs of instrument and data upgrades with installation costs and document control implications to justify efforts prior to entering change protocol and modifying control loops. By charting a strategic course before upgrading, F&B processors can ensure the availability of diagnostics and information, which can be used to effectively generate insights for improving operational efficiency and production.

Installing smart instrumentation that supports digital protocols is the first step, but there are additional challenges once this is in place. More geographically dispersed processes, such as in the water/wastewater or oil & gas industries, can take full advantage of wireless protocols for communication among digital devices. But F&B facilities often require alternative communication plans due to tightly packed machinery and steel walls, stifling wireless communications

Read more: Increase insights and efficiency with smart instrumentation