When industrial food supply chains slowed to a crawl or fractured outright during the Covid pandemic, attention turned toward governments–what could be done to get things back on track? And when food prices around the world soared last year, people again asked leaders to intervene. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s recent Farm to Fork summit, which aimed to address the country’s multi-layered food supply-chain issues, brought attention and some investment to the problems, but was considered either a well meaning yet ineffective first step, or a blatant PR stunt. Mr. Sunak is also in the midst of trying to address inflation by working directly with supermarkets. In the U.S., interest rate hikes and price-gouging investigations provided mixed results, though manufacturing and supply chain investments have been cheered by most as an essential move to help make the industry more competitive through advanced technology.
While government oversight and investment is crucial to the industry’s safety and its move toward 4.0 maturity, the real solution could be in industrial AI technology, which is beginning to have real, measurable impact on everything from food quality to plant-floor efficiencies, with benefits for both manufacturers and consumers.
The State of AI in Food and Beverage Manufacturing
In data collected for “The State of Production Health 2023” survey, Augury found that confidence in AI’s capabilities is quite high among food and beverage manufacturing professionals:
- 37% believe AI could help them achieve quality, yield, and throughput goals
- 32% say AI could help them optimize asset care
- 26% say AI would assist them in controlling the cost of materials and energy
This confidence in AI technology is translating to actual adoption in the industry, with supply chain optimization, tracking energy consumption, and overall production health being the top three use cases. Yet, it appears that food and beverage players are missing one of the most impactful AI use cases in the industry: AI-driven machine health. Just 9% of manufacturers say they try to improve machine health and reliability using AI tools, far below the average of 28% across other industries.
This is a surprisingly low number given the success many food and beverage manufacturers experience after deploying machine health solutions. For instance, Augury’s Machine Health helped one of the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers document less machine downtime and fewer unexpected breakdowns, while also helping them lower spending on replacement parts and avoid the loss of more than one million pounds of product.
Looking at another finding in the report helps explain why the industry might be hesitant to embrace AI more fully. When asked about their ability to quantify the impact of AI in meeting business objectives, their self-reported scores revealed a disconnect between how AI was being used and how its impact was being measured.
For which of the following areas are you able to quantify the impact of AI in meeting business objectives?
- Improving production health: 15%
- Reducing loss, wastes, and emissions: 15%
- Maximizing yield and capacity: 14%
- Reducing machine downtime: 12%
So while AI is being used across organizations, including on the plant floor, businesses are still in the dark when it comes to understanding how or if the technology is paying off, either flying blind or lost in a sea of data they can’t act on. Those gaps need to be filled in order for the industry to find true success with AI.
Still, there are AI bright spots for food and beverage manufacturers. Rising investment is one such area, with nearly 14% of respondents saying their companies planned to invest significantly more in AI in 2023 and 60% saying they plan to invest at least slightly more.
The survey also revealed encouraging statistics around workforce and AI:
- 78% say AI, IoT, and Machine Learning will positively impact their workforce upskilling efforts
- 29% say AI and advanced technologies will help create new jobs in the manufacturing industry
These workforce findings will come as a beacon of hope in an industry where 73% of employers face hiring challenges.
How Food and Beverage Manufacturers Will Advance their AI Journey
The industry is ticking some boxes when it comes to AI–they’re deploying it where it can help both the business and, ultimately, the consumer, such as for production health, process optimization, and materials and energy efficiency; and they are incorporating the technology with the workforce as part of their upskilling plans. But they are also not getting full ROI from their solutions, which means they are not meeting their true production potential, not lowering costs, and not working fast enough toward Industry 4.0 standards.
First, each food and beverage manufacturer–and every other industry, of course–should understand AI for what it can do for them specifically, and not view it as a cure-all. That means using it as a purpose-built tool applied to their biggest production challenges–like machine downtime, food quality, or energy tracking.
Second, manufacturers need to find AI that works with and for the people using it. Most companies using AI to its full potential know that the technology is a co-pilot, a way to give workers more capabilities while advancing their skills at the same time.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, AI solutions should be more than a technology. It should come with end-to-end services, analysts, system integration managers, trainers, and change management assistance to ensure adoption and value-at-scale.
Advances in AI are changing the manufacturing world, giving companies the information they need to improve their machine reliability, optimize processes, and transform their operations. That means they can save time and money, and those savings can be passed on to shoppers through lower prices. The good news is that the sooner manufacturers start or expand the use of AI solutions, the sooner the benefits will show up for businesses and consumers alike.