Why food and beverage manufacturers should adopt a modular approach
Mohammed Ahmed, regional sales manager at automation expert COPA-DATA, explains how modular production can help food and beverage manufacturers stay profitable and competitive in today’s climate.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that, in 2023, UK food prices are rising at the fastest rate in over 40 years. This growth also applies to Input Producer Price Index (PPI) data, which reflects the price that UK manufacturers pay for materials and fuels used to produce their products — from the flour used in bread to the electricity that powers food processing sites.
Food and beverage manufacturing is undergoing a digital transformation, and businesses must either adjust to these changes or risk falling behind the competition. A major challenge for manufacturers is keeping up with changing consumer demands and preferences, while also staying cost-effective to avoid knock-on price increases for the consumer.
But what sort of preferences are we talking about? One example is that many consumers are looking for products that are organic, gluten-free and do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMO). A report by the European Commission has highlighted that potential long-term effects of GMO crops on human health are a major concern for consumers.
Food and beverage manufacturers must keep up with these changing consumer demands, but also do so cost-effectively while staying afloat in a highly competitive sector. This can be tough due to the rising costs of ingredients, labour and energy that all impact profitability.
Keeping up with evolving consumer demands can also entail significant changes to production processes, which could be time-consuming and expensive. Traditional food manufacturing processes are often rigid and inflexible due to strict regulations. Manufacturers must meet high-quality standards and comply with a range of safety standards to guarantee their products are safe for consumption.
In the UK, food and beverage regulations are set by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), an executive agency of the UK Government responsible for ensuring safety and hygiene in food and beverage manufacturing in accordance with the Food Safety Act 1990. The act stipulates that food manufacturers should not include or remove anything from food, treat food in any way that can be damaging to people’s health, and serve or sell substances to a quality that is expected of consumers.
The trends that food and drink manufacturers must keep up with are also fast-changing, and it is vital they do so in order to remain competitive and relevant. By understanding evolving tastes, dietary trends, and health concerns, manufacturers can develop products that meet consumer demands, drive sales, and foster brand loyalty in a dynamic marketplace.
How can manufacturers deal with these many challenges through often rigid and inflexible manufacturing systems? The answer lies in embracing the continuing digital transformation — and, particularly, by embracing modular production and module type packages (MTP).
Modular production technologies can add efficiency and flexibility to production processes. MTPs, especially, are designed to be flexible and easily reconfigured, to produce different products or adjust for changes in demand and consumer preferences.
The MTP approach is a manufacturing process in which a product is assembled from individual modules or sub-assemblies. These modules are pre-designed and pre-manufactured and can be combined and reconfigured in different ways to create a variety of end products. The concept of modular production allows for greater flexibility, scalability and customisation in the manufacturing process. This also helps reduce lead times and improve customer satisfaction by ensuring that products are always available and meet consumer expectations.
By breaking down the production process into smaller, self-contained modules, manufacturers also reduce the need for excess inventory and streamline production processes. Additionally, modular systems are inherently scalable, which allows manufacturers to adjust and expand their product lines without needing to invest in new production facilities or equipment.
Adapting to market changes
COPA-DATA recommends the modular approach for keeping up with changing consumer demands. That’s why its automation software platform, zenon, has been designed to enable manufacturers to implement modular production and MTP without any hassle.
MTPs can reduce production costs by 40%, which is particularly useful when producing small batches. It allows manufacturers to, for example, produce product A on the first two days in a week, then switch to product B for one day, then transition the setup to produce product C for the remaining two days. This process allows greater flexibility, without the need to spend time and money on making the switch in production.
For example, the UK’s brewing industry has changed drastically in the last decade. This change is especially due to rising consumer demand for craft beers from independents, rather than large and global manufacturers. COPA-DATA’s zenon, which can be used in breweries, was developed to help manufacturers adapt to these changes while better utilising data to manage operations, handle recipes and apply data to production. zenon connects machines and plants through targeted data acquisition and creates the ideal Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) backbone for the future.
Let’s say a brewery needs to produce several types of beer with varying alcohol content, the process of switching between different equipment can lead to downtime and reduced efficiency.
This is where a modular approach can help. By using a zenon MTP, the brewery can overcome this challenge and increase their production flexibility. A modular brewing system that includes interchangeable modules allows breweries to switch between distinct types of beer production, without the need for additional equipment or lengthy downtime.
The modular brewing system might include several pre-designed modules such as mash tuns, lauter tuns and fermenters, which can be easily integrated into the control system, instead of being mechanically installed and wired. With the MTP approach, relevant lautering process information is gathered in advanced and stored in a comprehensive database, containing over 50 years of brewery and automation knowledge. Using this data, an algorithm generates a customised lautering MTP based on specific conditions. Eliminating the need for manual programming and time-consuming complex adjustments on-site.
Hence, by using MTPs for beer production, breweries can increase their flexibility, reduce costs associated with equipment purchases and manual labour, and optimise their production process. Manufacturers can produce a wider variety of beers without having to invest in separate equipment for each type. A MTP provides the user with the data and information needed to change or complete individual process modules at any time.
With features including a user-friendly interface that can be customised to the needs of each individual manufacturer, COPA-DATA is certain MTPs can help unlock the full potential of modular production in the food and beverage industry. Food and beverage manufacturers can turn to industrial automation software to stay profitable and competitive, even when faced with evolving consumer demands and the fastest-rising food prices in more than 40 years.