Top Trends from New Zealand’s Leading Food & Beverage Manufacturing Trade Show, Foodtech Packtech 2021

After a year of social distancing, a sense of normality was experienced in returning to a tradeshow in Auckland, New Zealand.

There were three top trends permeating Foodtech Packtech 2021. These trends speak to the rate at which the food and beverage industry is adopting and intelligently applying new technologies to produce better quality products for New Zealand and the world.

Trend One: The Use of Robots & Cobots

Robots and cobots are not a new trend. However, it was great to see the ways in which robots are being integrated with more traditional technologies, such as automated conveyor systems. We saw the use of cobots as an end of line packing solution. This speaks to the flexibility of the emerging technology. Packing is also a physically demanding and repetitive task which is ripe for automation.

As the use of robots trends upwards globally, the cost of the technology is also decreasing making it more accessible to New Zealand-based manufacturers. Cobots are a technology well-suited to contract manufacturers and packers, for example, handling a range of products in a single shift.

As cobots are both flexible and human-friendly, manufacturers can experiment with where to best place a robot in their facility to maximise ROI.

For manufacturers considering a robotics integration in their facilities, partner with an organisation equipped to work with you to establish where you can best add value in your facility. Our advice is to start in a defined and measurable area of your facility. The impacts of integrating a single robotic cell can be significant if done right.

To achieve success, the focus must be on incremental improvement. The gains achieved over time will elevate your business performance. With an eye on your ideal future state, your business should track towards this goal. If it diverges from its original course, this is where your technology partner should work with you to establish how and where the technology will best add value.

Trend Two: Sustainability

Sustainability was another top trend at Foodtech Packtech 2021 with a focus on recyclable packaging and the reduction of food waste throughout the manufacturing processes. This was supported by the increasing focus on the impacts of manufacturing on the environment.

The environmental impacts of manufacturing are certainly becoming clearer with IIoT tools on the market to accurately assess resource consumption in real time. In theory, this should lead to greater accountability among manufacturers as this enhanced visibility highlights where improvements can be made to current processes.

It is also important to note that this data has always existed and has always been available to manufacturers if collected via cost-effective sensors. Now, manufacturers have the tools to interpret this data effectively.

There was also promotion of packaging options that are made from previously recycled materials. It is powerful to see manufacturers committing to a circular economy in which producers are focused on waste reduction at each stage of the manufacturing process.

Trend Three: Food Safety Using Smart Technologies

Product recalls and food safety scares have the potential to cause significant brand damage.

In the continuous fight to ensure the safety of food products and to secure market access, it is no surprise to see an expanding range of technologies at the disposal of manufacturers willing to invest to protect both their brand and consumers.

An example is the range of manufacturing technology providers offering solutions that detect foreign objects in food products on the production line. Such solutions prevent an unsafe product from leaving the facility while also reducing false rejects through the efficient detection of such foreign bodies.

However, the fight to ensure food safety must start with the raw ingredients before they reach the factory floor. This is where end-to-end traceability solutions add significant value through protecting both consumers and manufacturers. The lack of integration between these technologies is a significant limitation. Watch this space.

In a piece on this topic, my colleague refers to Tyson Foods’ infamous recall of 39,000 pounds of frozen chicken patties on the grounds of potential foreign matter contamination. 

The speed with which a brand recalls an unsafe product is critical to minimising the risk of harm to consumers. However, the brand is often a casualty of this public recall process.

Manufacturers must take a proactive approach to managing their manufacturing process to significantly reduce the likelihood of needing to action a product recall. This is achievable with the end-to-end traceability of each raw material and the finished product when it is en-route for supermarket shelves.

Smart quality assurance processes on the production line are best paired with end-to-end traceability solutions to provide manufacturers and consumers with the security that their food products are both legitimate and safe.

Faced with increasingly globalised supply chains, the threat of food fraud and increasing demand for visibility over product origins, manufacturers are facing pressure to continue evolving their manufacturing processes to serve their markets safely with greater speed than ever before.

For manufacturers ready to take on this challenge, consider the role of robotics, the importance of sustainability and the powerful combination of in-line quality assurance systems and end-to-end traceability in your facility.  

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