Monday, 19 November 2018


Not long ago, it was mostly large multinational potato processors with deep pockets and technical sophistication that could adopt advanced process control and monitoring systems for the purpose of creating competitive advantages. Now, as the cost of these systems falls and ease of use rises, even the smallest regional processors are rapidly joining the game and leveling the playing field.

By Marco Azzaretti, Advanced Inspection Systems Product Manager at Key Technology

The race is on to utilize systems to collect, analyze and share data in ways that improve food safety and product quality while increasing efficiencies to reduce line operating costs and maximize yields. The goal is to tap into bigger data sets that can yield the next-level of insights for continuing to enhance processing operations.

In this article, I will explore how digital data, powered by IIoT (the Industrial Internet of Things) and Industry 4.0 methodologies, is transforming the food supply chain from growers to retailers, with a close look at how potato processors of all sizes can best utilize these tools.

The Supply Chain

At each step within the supply chain, the ability to leverage advanced sensor technologies and smart systems to collect, analyze and share data promises significant rewards.

Growers can monitor fields and environmental conditions to manage pests, adjust nutrients and schedule planting and harvesting in order to produce larger and higher quality crops. Food storage facilities control environmental conditions to ensure optimal storage and reduce spoilage, maximizing food safety and product quality. Food processors leverage smart technologies at multiple points within their operations to improve production efficiencies, food safety, product quality and process yields. Distributors automate track-and-trace functions to reduce inventory and better secure their portion of the supply chain. Retailers analyze purchasing patterns to quickly identify changing consumer preferences and adjust their product offerings to reduce waste and improve profitability. Finally, even the end consumer is beginning to have access to tools and information at the point of purchase, which allow a better understand of the origin and process history of the products they are buying.

Industry 4.0 allows aggregating, in the cloud, the data collected at each step within the supply chain, creating an integrated end-to-end information exchange from farm to fork.

For example, a digital sorter at a processing plant may be collecting data about the color, size, shape, structural properties and chemical composition of potato strips during the production process. This information can be shared with raw material suppliers, informing them of trends that allow the grower to take corrective action to improve future quality.  

Potato Processing

While the vision of fully integrating the entire supply chain remains somewhat futuristic today, the data revolution is well underway within potato processing companies of all shapes and sizes around the world. The benefits being achieved depend on the nature and extent of associated technology adoption.

Data from a smart machine can improve the system’s operations, conducting self-diagnostics tasks, sending smart alarms, performing auto-learning functions and more. Integrating smart equipment on a line enables data from one system to improve other systems along the same production line. In between machines, unique sensors on the line, such as at the outfeed of a freezer or prior to packaging, can share the data they collect to monitor and control a wide variety of process parameters.

Beyond individual machines and line integration, delivering data to the enterprise level empowers the large-scale analysis of ‘big data.’ The ease of harnessing large amounts of valuable data is rapidly improving and, with larger data sets, comes the opportunity to develop more valuable insights and actionable information. To be an effective smart device within the Industry 4.0 framework, flexibility to support a variety of data formats and connectivity protocols is essential. Proprietary formats are unlikely to scale. 

Read more on this topi in Potato Processing International, Jul/Aug, out soon in our online shop!

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