April 6, 2018
- On the farm. With farmers facing unprecedented cost pressures and new trade wars and tariffs, boosting yield is a high priority. Any extra advantage helps. Sensors are being used to monitor weather conditions, moisture level of soil, crop maturity, and even presence of insects or fungus. Soil and moisture sensors in fields help optimize irrigation, automating switching on systems in certain location and shutting off as needed. Monitoring soil can also help determine when and where fertilization is needed. These tools help take the guesswork out of managing processes and making a science out of maximizing the crop yield per acre.
- In the livestock barn. For farms with livestock, sensors can monitor herd weight, and other signs of herd health, like milk production in dairy cows. Sensors and timers can automate feeding cycles, controlling the diet of the animals as needed. Breeding can also benefit from controlled environments, including brooding barns and hatcheries which require strict temperature control.
- On equipment. Smart technologies have also found a place in equipment. GPS tracking is being used to aid in everything from planting straight rows in the field to optimizing position of irrigation equipment. Today, drones are added to the list of tech solutions which can be leveraged by tech-savvy farms to remotely inspect and monitor field or building conditions.
- Maintenance. Sensors embedded in the farm machinery can also be used to monitor machine performance and detect early warning signs of equipment needing preventive service. Farm equipment today is highly complex, with advanced electronics and built-in performance analytics and safety procedures. The equipment represents sizable capital investments, so it makes sense to do everything possible to extend the lifecycle of the equipment though smart maintenance.
- Improving margins. The insight gained by adopting new sensor-driven practices is truly only valuable, though, if fed into systems to facilitate predictive analytics to make better, more informed decisions about future activities. Through gaining greater control and predictability over farming practices, opportunities are easier to exploit and margins maximized. Data trends, collected from sensors, can be used to spot early warning signs while intervention is still possible. Just as sniffles point to a cold coming on, early warning signs of equipment failure or declining herd health can be detected from anomalies in sensor data. When warning signs are caught early, prevention or intervention tends to be more effective.
- At the table. Then there is the other end of the supply chain – the consumer. If you take a broad view of IoT, it is fundamentally the idea of utilizing sensor-embedded technologies to capture, analyze and transmit volumes of data from all types of sources. For example, SmartLabel is an initiative by the Grocery Manufacturers Associations (GMA) along with a number of consumer product manufacturers to enable consumers to have easy and instantaneous access to detailed information about thousands of products.
- About the product. Using smart technology, the product’s history, including ingredients, can be tracked, captured and made available to the consumer by scanning a QR code which opens a website page full of information such as nutrition, ingredients, allergens, third-party certifications, social compliance programs, usage instructions, advisories & safe handling instructions, etc. In the future, it’s reasonable to assume that the depth of information about the product could even include where each of these ingredients came from, how old each ingredient was before utilized, and a whole host of additional information points that could never all fit on a label.
- In the plant. It can be argued that the plant floor is where the most important benefits of IoT technology can be found. Here, manufacturers are investing in sensors and predictive analytics in order to embrace IoT insights. As machines, processes and people on the plant floor become more connected, the value of IoT becomes more apparent. IoT can drive quality improvements, boost efficiency, and accelerate time to market for new offerings. Data and access to this data in consumable formats makes it possible.
- About compliance and safety. The value that IoT has played and continues to play for companies as they fine tune their FSMA (food safety modernization act) plans has been a common editorial topic for several years. The foundation of FSMA is the need to have proactive plans in place to prevent quality and safety issues. A prerequisite is the means to collect data that could give insight to a potential problem before it occurs. A fully integrated solution will also enable food processors to know exactly what lots of products are suspect so they can be isolated--while releasing all other products with confidence.
- Empowering people. IoT technologies play important roles in improving the productivity and efficiency of the workforce. This is an area which receives much attention—and investment. An example of this is the use of wearables throughout the plant. Although early prototypes of high tech glasses did not live up to the hype in the consumer market, the technology is successfully being used in plants. A maintenance worker can have instructions on how to repair or maintain a piece of equipment overlaid within the safety glasses he or she is already wearing.
The Internet of Things has many applications in the Food and Beverage industry. It can be a driver for better quality and compliance. and it can enable innovation and better communication with your customers. This will require broadening the “things” being connected to also include processes, machinery and the workforce. Then, IoT can reach its full farm-to-fork potential.