LAS VEGAS — Everything in a processing plant from ingredient handling to packaging creates droves of data that manufacturers collect and store. But what’s the point of all that data if it’s not being put to good use?
Bradley Weber, application engineering leader at Datalogic, spoke at Pack Expo Las Vegas, being held Sept. 25-27, about big data and the internet of things. He said that, for companies striving to be more efficient, they must understand what both of those things really are.
The definition of the internet of things is the interconnection via the internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data, Mr. Weber said. And all along many modern processing lines, sensors, vision systems, scales and more are collecting data and transmitting them through P.L.C. and H.M.I. systems.
“These systems are not just controlling the machines anymore. They’re creating data,” Mr. Weber said.
This data is critical as companies increase automation and machines begin sorting and storing products, moving product and interacting in different ways with human operators. This data at large baking and snack facilities is being collected in some cases in several countries on numerous lines, but it must all come together to create a more efficient company.
When it comes to packaging, companies need to collect more than just data on throughput and cases or bags per minute. Automated systems must be able to identify what’s inside the box and properly label and protect it, Mr. Weber said.
“Because e-commerce is really taking off, you really have to be aware of what’s inside the box,” he said. “It goes beyond the barcode now. You have to get more data about the package.”
That information includes size and shape dimensions along with properties like fragility, shelf life and sensitive materials. By tracing everything from the ingredients to the packaging, data systems create traceability. And traceability protects companies in the event of a recall.
Ultimately, Mr. Weber said, big data lends itself to increasing efficiency and flexibility. Consumers today expect to purchase a product on-line and have it either the next day or the day the product is released.
“We as consumers are driving this,” he said. “I want my new iPhone with my name engraved on it the day it’s released.”
On a production floor, that means companies have more s.k.u.s to manage and are expected to make smaller batches of products and more frequent product changeovers. In order to manage those, collecting data for each process is critical to replicate it and improve it.
In the end, it comes down to the customer experience, Mr. Weber said. Technology builds comprehensive databases not only to capture data, but also to help communicate that information to all parties, whether that be the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, machine operators, plant managers or even consumers. It provides the story of how a product came to land on a shelf, and proper data management allows producers to improve how it gets there.