Drives & Controls November/December 2023

30 n AUTOMATION November/December 2023 Food and beverage gets a taste for automation Take a look at the big picture and it is clear that automation in the food and beverage sector is being driven largely by three of the same global megatrends that are buffeting the rest of industry: a growing, shifting population; the quest for improved sustainability; and rapid digitalisation. Of course, there are plenty of more specific, local drivers that are nudging individual food and beverage companies to invest in automation, but many of these have one or more of these global trends at their heart. Take population growth and urbanisation. These are shaping both food supply chains and the demand for products. Most studies predict that the global population will reach more than 9 billion people by 2050, with the most explosive growth being concentrated in emerging markets such as India and Mexico, where up to 70% of the population are under 30 years old. At the same time, forecasters predict that more of us will be living in cities in future, with the urbanised population increasing from 55% to 68% by 2050. Analysts warn that food production will need to almost double by 2050 to feed everyone. However, 30–40% of global food production is currently lost or wasted every year and if we can tackle the root causes of waste, the challenge of feeding so many people becomes a lot more manageable. This focus on waste ties in with the second global trend – sustainability and the pursuit of a circular economy. Various countries are tackling green issues in different ways and at differing speeds, but in all markets, food production, transport and packaging are being reassessed to gauge their impact on the environment and how that can be reduced. Meanwhile digitalisation is making its mark throughout the food supply chain. Food and beverage manufacturers are increasingly tapping into data to improve the efficiency and adaptability of production processes, while other links from farm to fork are looking to exploit upstream intelligence and consumer data to improve profitability. For instance, Big Data can help to tackle supply chain uncertainties, target marketing more effectively, and provide the transparency that consumers and regulators are seeking. It is already helping to optimise food production and minimise waste by ensuring that supply more closely matches demand. Automation steps in Automation, including robots, has a major role to play in tackling the challenges that these global trends present, and many food companies have already made great strides with the help of automated systems. In addition, zooming in from the global picture reveals some of the more specific local challenges that food and beverage producers face. These too can be mitigated Barriers to automating the food and beverage sector are falling away and the latest technologies offer clear business advantages. Julian Ware, ABB Robotics’ sales manager for the UK & Ireland, believes it is a recipe for change in the sector. Food and beverage manufacturers are increasingly making use of robots and other forms of automation on production lines