Two of the largest problems in the food manufacturing industry are traceability and safety. The ability to track food from farm to table is vital in order to ensure food safety and to avert financial disaster in the event of a recall. It’s a question of the supply chain process and how well those processes can be automated. The government estimates there’s around 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses annually, with about 128 thousand of those cases turning into hospitalizations, and 3 thousand of those being deaths. There’s a vast range of food-related bacteria that can cause many diseases, and the unfortunate part is we can’t eradicate all of the illnesses, but what we can do is take proper precaution against them so that we see a reduction in cases. Food manufacturers are turning to industrial computers and rugged tablets both in the field and in the processing plant to help automate the supply chain and provide full transparency into how the food you put on your table got there. The challenges in accomplishing this are process automation, reduction in infectious diseases from food handling, and keeping food manufacturing computers functional at all times. How do we combat these problems?
Maximizing Yield with Industrial PCs
Contrary to popular belief, farmers are quick to embrace technological advances. The need to increase yield while maintaining the same footprint is essential not just to stay afloat financially, but to feed a population that is growing by the year. Automated farming sounds like something from a sci-fi novel, but it is already here. Farmers are using industrial computers to run a number of automated processes. Things like irrigation systems, drone monitoring of fields, alarms and sensors that track livestock can all be controlled by industrial computers. These computers need to be able to run 24/7, process large amounts of data, have the connectivity to work in more remote locals and still withstand environmental challenges. To put it bluntly, you can’t walk into your local electronics store and walk out with a computer capable of this job. Industrial computers are engineered with military grade components designed for 24/7 operability and have rugged casings to protect against harsh weather.
Achieving Lot Traceability in the Field
In the event of a food recall, lot, bin and serial traceability is crucial. Being able to identify which batches are contaminated and which are safe can be the difference between tens of thousands of dollars in losses compared to millions. The further back in the supply chain you are able to trace the source of a contamination, the better. A rugged tablet with an integrated barcode scanner can help provide insight right from the fields. These tablets are designed to withstand dust and dirt. They can hold up against drops and shock damage. They are even waterproof. Using one of these tablets in the field, you can scan an invoice as produce is put on a truck. Now that produce is timestamped as having been picked from a specific field on a specific day at a specific time. When that produce arrives at the manufacturing plant it is scanned again upon receipt and traceability from the first leg of the supply chain is complete.
Process Automation with a Touch Screen PC
There are a number of regulations that food manufacturers need to follow in order to stay compliant with the FDA. Some products might need to be steamed. Other might need to be kept in freezing or near freezing temperatures. Bio-waste needs to be properly disposed of, and the plant itself needs to be regularly disinfected to prevent the spread of dangerous bacteria. All of these are conditions that would wreak havoc on a commercial grade PC. Human Machine Interface or HMI computers are engineered with industrial grade components to withstand these conditions. They are designed with touch screen interfaces to easily start and stop processes and keep plant operations automated and running smoothly. As central points of control, these HMI computers need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly. That’s where IP65 certification comes into play. IP65 is a designation that means a computer is water resistant, and can withstand regularly cleanings. This is extremely important in a food manufacturing environment to prevent the spread of disease and keep vital hardware up and running at all times.
Once food is processed and packaged it can be traced all the way back to the field in which it was grown. Industrial computers are helping food manufacturers increase yield, track supply and process food safer. All of which results in higher quality food finding its way to your kitchen. Cybernet manufactures a complete line of industrial computers meant to meet these challenges. For more information you can visit our website or contact us here.