Because of the widespread lockdowns and lack of access to operations during COVID-19, remote technology surged as food manufacturers searched for ways to reduce unexpected downtime, drive efficiencies and bolster capacity to meet the demand for more products.

While cybersecurity remains an issue, many food manufacturers discovered ways to alleviate those concerns using cloud-based, wireless and other solutions and embraced predictive maintenance, noted Jorge Izquierdo, vice president, market development, PMMI, the association for packaging and processing technologies and sponsor of Pack Expo. 

In fact, PMMI’s automation study shows 58% of CPGs use remote access while 32% plan to use it in the next three years, and 43% currently rely on predictive maintenance, while 45% expect to roll it out soon.

“They are saying, ‘Why should I stop my operation to replace this ball-bearing and find out it’s OK,’ ” Mr. Izquierdo said. “Now I’m measuring vibration compared to the speed of the line, and everything is running well, and I don’t have a problem.”

Martin Dalbec, product group leader, AMF PackTech, an AMF Bakery Systems brand, said the company’s interface software provides maintenance support by allowing the bakery to program its own maintenance schedule on the machine, based on run time, units or other factors.

“The OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) screen can be reduced to identify main downtime causes and get information on which components fail more,” he said. “Thus, you can adjust your preventive maintenance schedule accordingly. We also provide an isometric visual representation of the machine with its components, and by clicking on one, you will pull out component information like part numbers or suppliers. The machine can pull its operation manual from the web.”

Mr. Izquierdo mentioned that QR codes on machines commonly link to videos or additional information to speed up maintenance or even have operators fix a simple problem.

“You take your phone, and it tells you what to check to fix it when you scan it,” he said. “It shows you how to tighten screws or pull out a component to check if there is a jam.”

To simplify maintenance and cleaning, Cavanna Packaging USA combined enhanced sanitary design with poka yoke, which is the Japanese engineering principle where equipment is designed for quick assembly and disassembly

At Pack Expo 2022, Bill Kehrli, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing, demonstrated how to prepare a conveyor for cleaning by pushing levers, releasing the belt and lifting it up.

“We are building lines across the board that are geared toward inexperienced operators so they can take apart and clean the equipment with no tools,” he said.

Greater reliability also emerges as a top issue in PMMI’s automation report. CPGs rank longer warranty periods and longer-term service contracts near the top of their wish lists from equipment suppliers.

“We are transitioning our design toward increased reliability and trying to minimize machine breakdowns,” Mr. Dalbec said.

As bakery production rates increase, he added, so does the amount of waste. A bread line running just 60 loaves a minute, for example, loses 300 loaves during a 5-minute breakdown. Mr. Dalbec noted that AMF is conducting more finite element analysis simulations, design failure modes and effective analysis studies to enhance reliability on newer equipment.

This article is an excerpt from the December 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Packaging Innovations, click here.