As a society, we are all becoming an ever-connected digital community. Almost everyone has a smartphone in their pocket. We are continually sharing data through various applications and technologies. Our refrigerators can order food when needed or call for maintenance, our cars continually monitor performance and are able to ‘self-drive’, and fitness trackers are monitoring our health and personal performance in real-time and giving us feedback to improve ourselves. These connected networks have helped us to improve our personal lives, but how do we take this connected, real-time, data environment onto the manufacturing floor as part of Industry 4.0 initiatives to provide that next incremental jump in safety, quality, and productivity?

For the past few decades, within manufacturing, there has been a significant focus on Industry 3.0 activities. Through the implementation of PLCs, robotics, networking, and other computerized system on the manufacturing floor, we have driven significant improvements.

Sargento has embraced these technologies for years— from the utilization of PLC-based controls on most machines to the expansion of robotic systems to improve ergonomics for our employees. We continue to expand the utilization of these technologies over the years to include product pick and place, package alignment & picking systems, palletizing, automated storage and retrieval systems, and order picking/staging systems. These investments helped to lay the groundwork that will be necessary for the transition to Industry 4.0.

The next step in this journey is to utilize the Industry 4.0 processes and systems to improve our understanding of systems, materials, and processes and how we react to those items. This will be done through a more connected enterprise where we can access, review, and respond to data that was either not available in previous environments or was not timely enough to make meaningful decisions.Imagine the opportunities as manufacturing systems are better able to predict performance based on raw material attributes. With improvements to machine system controls, we can provide improved condition-level reporting that can help to support maintenance activities and reduce downtime events and increase machine availability and reliability. This will also cause a continued blurring of the lines between IT and OT and how each area supports the other in a continuous manufacturing environment.

This journey does not come without challenges. As we increase the amount of data collected and utilized, the process for preparing and supporting employees will continue to expand. There may be increased needs for education, onboarding time, on-the-job training, along with continuous training and education to retain skills and knowledge to actively utilize the systems. The ways that maintenance or system downtime recovery is managed will likely change as we need to maintain data integrity and accuracy to support these systems. Our employees are our best asset, and we need to prepare ourselves with how we create an environment where we prepare and support them to be successful.

“Our employees are our best asset, and we need to prepare ourselves with how we create an environment where we prepare and support them to be successful”

In conclusion, we are currently living in very exciting times. Technology will only improve. Access to data will be ever expanding and evolving. Systems will become ‘smarter’. As a manufacturer, we will have access to more relevant data in real-time than we ever have. Beyond just our investment in technology, our investment in our employees will be a critical component for success. Systems, processes, and technologies will be changing more than ever before, and we need to make sure that our new and existing employees are well supported as we make these changes. I look forward to all the exciting changes that the next few years will bring and can’t wait to see how differently things look in a few years.