The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has been compared to electricity in terms of its potential to fundamentally change how we work. For manufacturing in particular, the IIoT opportunity is immense as companies look for ways to survive in the face of increased competition, tighter regulations, and an aging workforce.

In the food industry, manufacturers are embracing the IIoT as a way to trace products along their supply chain journey, monitor their equipment for signs that maintenance is required, and even provide a new point of engagement for consumers.

But not all companies are taking advantage of these opportunities. In fact, the food industry has been slower than other manufacturing industries to adopt the IIoT, according to Sean Riley, Software AG’s Global Industry Director for Manufacturing and Supply Chain, talking to Food Dive.

Let’s look at three obstacles to adoption of the IIoT in the food manufacturing industry.

Security, especially concerning proprietary information

Ask anyone in just about any industry about their top concern regarding the IIoT and chances are they’ll say security. Food manufacturers are particularly wary of hooking their machines up to the Internet and putting their data in the cloud.

Part of this fear has to do with hacking — the idea that someone with malicious intentions might hold a company’s systems hostage or, as this Quartz article suggests, spoil their yogurt.

But most of the security concerns revolve around the possibility that competitors could steal a company’s data and thus gain access to proprietary information. As GE Digital’s Reid Paquin notes in this video from Meatingplace, competitors stealing your data is certainly not impossible. But the chance of them actually being able to do anything with it are very slim.

As an example, say you have an Internet-connected CERTUSS steam generator feeding data back to the supplier’s data center in Germany. CERTUSS collects data from more than 14,000 steam generators installed in plants in several industries and across the globe. The chances that a hacker will be able to separate the data from a single processing plant, much less a single steam generator, are probably worse than the chances you’ll win Powerball.

And even if your crafty competitor can pull temperature, steam pressure, and other data from a single boiler in your plant, what would they be able to do with that information? As Paquin says in the video, there’s a big difference between data and the physical assets and processes the data represents.

Dan Stammer, the Engineering Manager for Product Handling Concepts, a manufacturing OEM that makes conveyors, product redistribution equipment, and other solutions for the food industry, offers some insight into how to overcome this obstacle. Essentially, it boils down to perception:

“Reluctance to implement the IoT boils down to perceived vulnerability. Manufacturers fear unauthorized parties will be able to access internal systems and retrieve data. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there are large, established companies designing IoT software. They test, verify, and stand behind the technology along with the OEM providing the implementation. IoT does not need to be viewed as a risk, but rather an opportunity with enormous potential to increase productivity.”

Old machines

Like in other manufacturing industries, food facilities are aging. Many of today’s plants were built decades ago, before the IIoT was a twinkle in anyone’s eye. And the equipment in them can be just as old.

Can a company implement IIoT technologies without having to invest in entirely new systems and processes?

Fortunately, the answer is yes.

Many new machines come already equipped with the capacity for Internet access. But most older equipment can be easily adapted.

One solution is to use edge devices, which are network devices, like routers and switches, that have a direct connection to the Internet. Edge devices can be used to connect sensors on existing machines to the IIoT.

Another option is adding an interface that allows software, like an ERP, to interact with the existing monitoring and control systems. CSB-System, which makes just such an ERP system, notes that adding a new interface to an old machine usually does the trick. However, in some circumstances, a machine’s PLC (programmable logic controller) will need to be replaced.

New products are also coming on the market to solve this problem. For example, Fraunhofer’s PLUGandWORK cube, which debuted earlier this year, provides a communication server to connect legacy plant floor equipment with IIoT software like GE’s Predix.

Lack of talent

Finally, food manufacturers are already facing a skills shortage for jobs that already exist in their companies — like service and maintenance technicians. Even if they do implement IIoT technologies, who will be able to turn the data into actionable business intelligence?

Again, this obstacle isn’t quite as prohibitive as it may seem at first. And it can be solved through developing strategic partnerships with others who have the necessary expertise. Shawn O’Brien, Account Manager for engineering software company Aucotec, told us:

“IoT is becoming mature enough where the talent market is starting to catch up, but finding capable people to complete your vision can still be a challenge. The talent is out there, but it can come at a hefty price and you may have to look outside of the industry. For food manufacturers just testing the IoT waters, it might not make sense to hire a Chief Data Officer or other dedicated person quite yet. In these cases, developing strong partnerships with equipment and software vendors can go a long way toward bridging the talent gap while also ensuring you get the most out of your IoT investment.”

As an example of these partnerships, consider the steam generators mentioned earlier. These machines send data back to a central repository where numbers are constantly crunched to identify any abnormalities. If a problem is detected, the software sounds an alarm and a CERTUSS representative can contact the owner of the machine to provide maintenance recommendations.

Note that this type of predictive maintenance not only saves you from losses due to unplanned downtime, but also takes the pressure off of your maintenance team. If you’re struggling to find qualified workers to service your machines, the IIoT provides a solution by reducing the service requirements.

Are you considering or launching an IIoT project in your plant? What obstacles have you encountered and how are you addressing them? Tell us in the comments — we’d love to hear your perspective!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.