An efficient production line depends on minimal downtime, skilled operators and equipment that is running properly for consistent product quality. Automated data collection and analysis can improve all of these variables. Streamlining this data collection throughout the entire production line, that’s the Internet of Things, or IoT systems, which can take an operation to the next level.

“When an entire production line is interconnected, and the appropriate sensors, devices and systems are in place, you have what many people call smart manufacturing,” said David Watson, process engineering subject matter expert, baking and snack, The Austin Co. “The production line becomes capable of collecting, measuring, monitoring and analyzing all critical components and KPIs that would have traditionally been handled by operators.”

This level of data collection and analysis speeds up quality checks and frees up operators to do other tasks. Data can predict when maintenance needs to be done before there’s a need for an emergency shutdown, and adjustments can automatically be made to process parameters to keep product within spec without waste.

“The R.O.I. on many of these systems surpasses traditional analytics, controls and algorithms,” said Brandon Davis, vice-president of operations and general manager, The Austin Co. “With the advancement of artificial intelligence programs, it’s only going to become more and more valuable to have big data. In the future, those production facilities that collect this data along with the tools to use it properly should be the most efficient and effective operations.”

Integrating the line

Collecting data on a commercial baking production line is not a new concept. Individual machines have had sensors doing this job for years now. Consolidating that data and analyzing it in real time, however, has added value.

“IoT provides the ability for information to be collected through remote sensors and devices and then transmitted via the internet or cloud to an MES or ERP system,” Mr. Watson said. “By monitoring base data management, decisions are quickly made and trends identified, leading to smarter decision-making.”

This data can include temperatures, product flow, levels, motor loads, pressure and even utility usage.

Each piece of equipment often already measures these factors, whether it is dough temperature coming out of the mixer or the amount of steam in an oven. What sets IoT systems apart from standard data collection on individual machines is the fact that it brings it all together.

“The ‘I’ stands for internet, but it’s more about integration,” said Michael Arp, senior automation and controls specialist, Burns & McDonnell. “You’re taking stand-alone machines and making them operate as a system. There can be 10 different machines on a line, and we will have all those integrated into an upper-level MES system for monitoring.”

This integration creates one complete data set for production in its entirety, from raw materials delivery to finished product leaving the warehouse.

“We’re seeing the clients really like the idea of having one cohesive system from a data standpoint,” Mr. Arp said. “It’s huge from a quality control standpoint to be able to trace lots from beginning to end.”

Not only can this information be collected into one integrated data set, but it also can be accessed by different people in different departments and in different locations. The convenience cannot be overstated.

“In the past, the production line alarm has been viewed from either a control office or the HMI on the production floor by the equipment,” Mr. Arp said. “If you wanted to see what was going on, you would need to stand at the line to see the problems. With an integrated IoT solution, you can have this data available in other locations and across departments and roles.”

Even though teams may be accessing the same data, they are using it for different reasons. With an IoT system, reports and graphics can be tailored to those teams’ specific needs.

A world of possibilities

Collecting information isn’t difficult. IoT systems gather a wide range of data points that can address consistent product quality, traceability, production efficiencies and maintenance. Without a plan of how to use it, however, bakers can drown in a sea of numbers.

“We can collect all this data, but it is important to know how you want to use it,” Mr. Arp explained.

Understanding how the data set will be used can help determine what needs to be collected, the reports that will be generated and who will have access.

Predictive maintenance is low-hanging fruit for IoT systems. Sensors can monitor equipment for motor loads, vibrations, wear and general performance. These reports can alert the maintenance team to any potential issues before failure happens.

“Predictive maintenance allows for the replacement of the component as part of a planned downtime event versus dealing with the breakdown as an emergency,” Mr. Watson said.

Besides downtime, IoT systems can improve production efficiencies by automating data collection, particularly those related to quality control. IoT systems measure and adjust parameters such as scaling weights, oven temperatures and damper settings. They can measure ingredient characteristics, moisture content, product color and shape.

“By using the right sensors, this data can be monitored in real time, providing the ability to measure the critical production and quality metrics and course-correct or alert operators to a condition quickly,” Mr. Watson explained.

In the time it takes an operator to do a quality check, product could be lost before the equipment is corrected to keep it in spec. IoT systems, on the other hand, can continually monitor for quality parameters, track trends and automatically adjust equipment as necessary to keep product within target specifications.

Not only can IoT systems assist with improving production efficiencies, but bakeries can also use them to track energy usage as well.

“Many companies are trying to reduce their carbon footprint and be more efficient in how they use energy, so they’re putting in different types of sensors associated with utility systems,” Mr. Arp said.

These sensors can measure compressed air, water and electricity and help bakers see where they can improve their energy use.

The wealth of capabilities that IoT systems deliver can be overwhelming, and that’s why, if bakers are working within an existing facility, Mr. Watson suggested starting small.

“Sensors are relatively cheap, so select a few critical control points to monitor and begin collecting data,” he said. “Once data is gathered for some time, look for trends and outcomes that can be used to make process changes or provide critical information for management reporting.”

Predictive equipment maintenance is a good place to start, Mr. Davis said. These uses of IoT systems have been proven through ROIs and can be implemented in select places on the production line starting out.

This article is an excerpt from the December 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on line layout, click here.