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How process instrumentation meets food & beverage needs

Talking all things digital tools, asset health monitoring and standardization

Food and beverage producers have always been asked to leverage process instrumentation and control technologies to fulfill society’s nutritional needs in ways that are simultaneously efficient, safe and scalable. But how do you do this with fewer people? And with the added challenges of a global pandemic?

In this podcast, Ola Wesstrom, Endress+Hauser’s Food & Beverage Industry Marketing Manager sat down with Keith Larson, publisher of Control magazine and to talk about the role of process instrumentation controls in supporting these growing industry needs. They discuss the ways that digital tools, asset health monitoring and standardization can benefit operational efficiency, safety and scalability.

Listen to the podcast!

Learn how this design and engineering company uses digital tools and process instrumentation to enhance their processes!


Keith Larson: From inline product quality control to the traceability of packaged goods, the food and beverage industry has long leveraged instrumentation and control technologies to fulfill society’s nutritional needs in ways that are simultaneously efficient, safe and scalable. But food and beverage producers are being asked to do more with fewer people, to anticipate and prevent potential disruptions to production, and to advance the overall sustainability of their operations. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only brought added pressures to bear. But suppliers of instruments and controls are once again answering the call.

Hello, this is Keith Larsen. I’m editor of Control Magazine and Welcome to this Solution Spotlight episode of our Control Amplified podcast, sponsored today by Endress+Hauser. With me today to talk about how instrumentation controls are addressing the changing landscape of food and beverage industry needs is Ola Wesstrom, food and beverage industry marketing manager for Endress+Hauser USA. Welcome, Ola, and a real pleasure to chat with you today.

Ola Wesstrom: Yeah. Hi, Keith. Thank you so much for having on here. I’m really looking forward to this little conversation.

Keith: Yeah, me too. Me too. The pandemic has only made it more challenging to find, train, and retrain the skilled people that food and beverage companies need. How would you say instrumentation technology is helping these manufacturers fill that gap?

Ola: Well, I’m not sure if technology is necessarily filling the gap in how to find and retain skilled workers. That’s obviously a bigger task in order to do that. But having that said, some of the digital tools that manufacturers are providing today to help educate either through self-directed learning, or maybe training for on- or off-site has really evolved a lot in the last couple of years. And it was really accelerated during the last two years here when the access and, let’s say, that the personal touch was limited. But taking advantage of the, maybe we are all part, a little bit, of a YouTube generation, where online videos or remote-directed learning can really help people that have, let’s say, long skills but also people are coming on board to get up to speed as quick as possible.

Increasing automation to fill the labor gap

Keith: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And certainly fewer people can be next to each other on the packaging lines, especially early on in the pandemic. So that really accelerated the need for that also. Are you seeing also more automation being deployed to address the shortage of manual labor?

Ola: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. There’s no doubt about it. For many years, we’ve seen the application of robots and other types of digital tools for packaging and machinery. And I would say, it’s moving up in the liquid processing side as well. Where you have operators that are running a line that are being asked to do more things, to monitor more things, and maybe even replace certain things if they go wrong, as to place less tax on the team and maintenance staff. So that is definitely coming there. It takes quite an effort to get to that point that there are technologies available today to make that easier.

Some of those could be like the usage of wireless LAN technologies. We have started to apply Bluetooth connectivity for the instruments. This makes it easier to troubleshoot and configure devices. Then that could then help reduce any downtime and make it easier for operators or maintenance technicians to get their problems addressed as quick as possible.

Keith: I imagine that’s especially important in classified or hazardous environments where you don’t want to open up the instrument. Wireless connection is going to be much safer in those kind of situations as well.

Ola: That’s for sure. Yeah. Fortunately, we don’t have too much of hazardous areas in food production except once you get into maybe some flavor rooms or, obviously, in the distilleries, you may encounter some of that. But still, not opening up the end of the enclosure or even a cabinet or getting access to it. And maybe not so much an issue for hazardous area but also to protect the equipment from the washdown that you have in food industry all the time. I mean, there’s water and condensation and moisture everywhere. So. anytime you can avoid opening the housing is one less risk of moisture or water getting in.

Keith: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And there’s also the occasional powders and such that can make explosive combinations in bins and stuff as well. Not so common in the production environment but certainly in the silos and things like that.

Ola: Oh, yeah. I know it. It happens in bakeries and pet food facilities. You have areas dealing with powders, which you always have to be careful with from an explosion hazard perspective.

Using digital tools and asset health monitoring to avoid downtime

Keith: You mentioned maybe somewhat less-skilled technicians working on the lines and combining that with increased demand for prepared food and beverage products seems a recipe for downtime, especially if some of the technicians are not used to the warning signs of equipment stress as it were. What sort of digital tools are being deployed to keep an eye on asset health and problems affecting production?

Ola: Yeah, there’s a lot of things going on there. And it’s a really good point you’re bringing up. I’ve talked to a large number of processors in the last year to figure out how they’re adapting to COVID. On one hand, is the production need for the retail sales, so they’re trying to keep supermarket shelves full. So, that’s been a challenge there. At the same time, the industry is dealing with a supply chain issue on the equipment side as well.

One expression I’ve heard in the last 6 months more I’ve heard in my entire career is the expression of running to failure. And I find this quite worrisome. Now, clearly there’s the balance of how you handle unscheduled downtime versus preventive maintenance. But let’s say maybe the, I don’t know if it’s a realization or maybe it’s where people find themselves to get into that mindset of running to failure, how to make up for that when you have a lot of, let’s say, production or orders to fulfill and suddenly you’ve run to failure.

So, I think you mentioned asset health and asset health monitoring. I think there’s a lack of awareness on advanced diagnostics in today’s instruments and control systems. You look at the diagnostics of valve and valve tops, motor drives, and others, there’s a lot of things in there that can give an early warning if an instrument or whatever the device it is, if it is seeing something that is out of the ordinary, which could either be due to the instrument or the device or process-related problems, which can really help reduce any unscheduled downtime.

Keith: Yeah, I’m surprised that you’re hearing that run to fail methodology. I thought we were moving away from that, with all the diagnostics that we’ve been working on for decades now. But I understand they’re under pressure.

Ola: There’s a lot of pressure out there, so it’s been quite surprising. I’ve asked that question many times because to your point, I thought we were beyond that. But maybe due to the pressures of the market today, we’ve fallen back a little bit. I think there’s definitely opportunity to help bring that awareness out that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Keith: That sounds good. That same skills and resource gap is also driving end users to rely more on third parties like OEMs to keep production lines running. Do you find clients calling on you to fulfill those services? And do you see a disconnect between the wants and needs of the users and priorities and what services are being provided by the OEM community?

Ola: There is a bit. I mean, this is not new, but it certainly is a challenging topic. On one hand you have the CapEx that needs to be balanced between the cost today and future operational costs. And on one hand, OEMs plant builders, suppliers, integrators, and so on are being asked to provide more for less. So, often the focus then falls on the short-term CapEx budget, which has been available. Sometimes just the simplest or lowest cost solution is applied to get the job done.

And of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. You know, I mean, generally you know that things will work really well. But there are certainly times where it could become an issue for accuracy, performance, reliability. Or like we mentioned earlier, about the diagnostic tools or it’s the simplicity of operation or just the digital integration of a device into a control system could then lead, in the future, to production losses, rework, you know, increased downtime, and so on. So I think that it’s really best to try to really carefully evaluate the processing need and then apply what is the, I’d say, the of best fit to balance budget and technology there. And today those capabilities are there. Pretty much every supplier has entry-level, mid-range and high-performance devices, so you can balance those requirements.

Keith: Yeah, it seems that, similar to the run to failure, looking at lifecycle costs should be the accounting mechanism now for what actually can be performed with these instruments. But maybe not there just yet.

Ola: No, but I think we’re close. Looking at my 20 years in the food and beverage segment, I think we’re making strides in the right direction.

Keith: Yeah, absolutely. I know Endress+Hauser, you have digital tools for doing augmented reality and really assisting your customers’ technicians at the plant. How have those kind of digital tools been received by your customers?

Ola: I would say they’re being slowly adopted where people start saying, “Okay, this is not as hard or not as difficult to adopt as we thought it was.” People are embracing it, it’s a little bit of hesitancy maybe in the beginning to apply it or say, “What else do we need to change in order to put this in here?” But once people put those asset health monitoring tools into place, where it’s like, “Yeah, how did we operate before this?”

Generally, we see it’s like maybe start small or start in one area of a production facility, get a feel for it, and then after that, add it on to other areas. Usually it’s looking at where are the critical processing steps. You don’t have to apply that to every single device out there because if they’re not critical to an operation, you can run without the device and it’s simply providing additional information, you may not need to have that on an asset health monitoring type of environment.

Keith: Yeah, that makes sense. It’s not just food and beverage industry but all the industries we’re covering now. They have operators that have a base level of skills and they can’t be expected to specialize in one area. They have to do multiple things, and they’re trying to meet those requirements by having training. Plus technology assist to help fill the gaps in specific types of tasks. Are you seeing that as well?

Ola: Yeah, I see that as well. And let’s give you an example of, let’s say, how this scenario could play out. So you have, let’s say, the asset health monitoring up and running. On one hand you would have it connected up to the operator HMI. They have this ability to pumps valves, instruments, measurement values, and so on, right? So that’s usually what they see. They know what they mean. Now on that HMI, you can then also say, “Okay, everything is running fine.”

But if one of the instruments is starting to give you a warning and say, “Okay, it seems like I’m starting to drift off a little bit here,” or even worse, “Something has happened here, I’m out of commission. You cannot trust me anywhere.” 

On that HMI you can have a red or green light for the operator to say there’s something seriously wrong. This one has a yellow light on it. I can probably run my process, but I need to get a technician to come and look at it. If it’s red, maybe I shouldn’t even start my line because it may not be correct. I might be producing off-spec product if this instrument is not doing its job. Maybe my recipe will be off.”

And on the same time, in the maintenance shop, they have that same screen but in a different way to give an idea. Let’s say you have 200 critical assets in a facility, you come in, in the morning, you see what you have on your screen, you see you have 195 that are green, everything is good. You have four of them that are in the yellow and you have one red. Well, now let’s say your priorities for that morning outlined for you as you come into the facility. And no need to try to figure out or even wait for operations to call you and say, “Hey, there’s something wrong.” You can just go straight to it and say, “Okay, what do we need to do to fix this?” So, that’s a scenario that this asset health can provide.

Self-verification and self-calibration ease maintenance burdens

Keith: And Endress+Hauser instruments actually have ability to verify their own operation even as far as self-calibrating in some cases. Can you talk a little bit about that functionality and how that comes to bear?

Ola: Sure, sure. Some of that is very specific to certain technologies and so on. But since you mentioned, let’s say the self-calibrating, that is referring to one of our temperature sensors where through some really clever innovation we came up with a way to have a fixed reference point built into the temperature sensor, so that every time the temperature crosses that particular point, the temperature sensor of a temperature transmitter self-checks itself against that reference point. And if it starts noticing that it’s drifted off by whatever tolerance you define, let’s say if you define half a degree, 0.2 degree, or five degrees, you can define, “At what tolerance are we still good here?”

Then that gives you an alert and say, “Okay, this temperature sensor has now drifted off. We need to replace it”. Instead many plants shut everything down every three months and spend a lot of time calibrating every single sensor. Now you only go fix the ones that are not working. So, that’s one aspect of it. On many other instruments, we have a diagnostic tool, Heartbeat Technology, which is running a deep diagnostics of the instruments. Think about it this way, say in your car you have your check engine light, right? So the check engine light would be the normal, “Yeah, okay, something is wrong”. Some people just keep on driving, others are more conscious about it and bring it to the shop. So, that’s kind of a basic.

Now, once you get to the dealer they hook up their diagnostic tool to dig into what exactly it is. They can tell you that it’s the O2 sensor or this sensor or whatever it might be that needs fixing. That’s what we built into the instruments. That advanced level of diagnostics is built into the instruments so that generating or just initiating that heartbeat report.

It gives you a document to say everything checks out, this instrument is as good as when it was manufactured. You can rely on it and you can keep operating. Or if there’s something it detects that, okay, 9 out of 10 or 20 out of 25 checkpoints is fine. There’s one that looks a little suspect, you may or may not have to do anything about it. So, those digital tools are there.

Investments in sustainability and profitability

Keith: It’s great. Very, very clever. Very clever. And another front, like everywhere else, margins are getting squeezed for food and beverage manufacturers. Even though they’re seeking automation and operational efficiency initiatives, stakeholders are still clamoring for sustainability. They do this through resource conservation, lower energy consumption related to greenhouse gases and water reuse. Can the investments needed to advance those initiatives pay off on both sides of the equation? Resulting in more profitable and more sustainable production?

Ola: Yeah, I think they go hand in hand, certainly every situation has its own return on investment. Sometimes it might be monetary ROI, sometimes it’s using carbon footprint from a marketing perspective or other views, that is more consumer-driven from there.

But from operational efficiencies, closely looking at where the suspected losses are, maybe energy, water or just product losses. Generally, each facility has at least an idea where those losses are at. But I would want to give the, you know, I will call it a warning, but it had sounds like don’t assume that you know because I’ve been involved in a couple of scenarios where there was a perceived idea that they were losing water in a certain area, but after a deeper dive into it, it turned out that that area wasn’t actually the problem at all.

It was a completely different location of a plant where water was being wasted. And it was more operator-related and shift-related, which was invisible until we actually started measuring it. Let’s say, for water is especially easy. Generally there are flowmeters somewhere in place. You can also put a temporary clamp-on meter on a line and run it for a couple weeks. So, I would suggest the best way is to try to get real values wherever possible. Plants today do a lot of changeovers that produce a large number of different types of products. That has resulted in more changeovers.

Each changeover, there is a risk or some loss of product or loss of water in between the different products. So to have a good phased operation sensor or switch in between can go a long way to reduce losses.

Keith: Oh, that makes a lot of sense. So you spend less time purging, and you know when things are cleared out of the pipes.

Ola: Correct.

Keith: Another issue that I’ve been hearing about is food and beverage companies aiming to reduce costs through more standardization. How does this trend really affect end users, investments and instrumentation control technologies from your perspective?

Ola: Yeah, I think the largest impact is on operational efficiencies. Like we talked about earlier here, finding skilled workers can have an effect as well. But by standardizing, then you can potentially reduce the amount of spare parts. So, you can then maybe not have a policy of running to failure. But if you do, you’ll have spare parts on hand – you can’t rely on getting spare parts in from somewhere. When 10 minutes downtime is too long, how do you justify waiting two days for a spare part? So, by standardizing, you can tighten up the spare part inventory get back to operational efficiency as quickly as possible.

And to some extent, the training needs and familiarity, then also help reduce downtime if and when something goes wrong. You don’t want somebody reading the manual to set something up if it’s the first time they see it. So having a standardization, you’re speeding things up as well. And some of the tools.

So when you install a new device, instead of a notepad from five years ago you have a digital file. This has all the programming information in it, and you just download the actual settings into this new unit. That all goes towards standardization that have a familiarity, have the data files in place to be able to quickly replace instruments when they fail. For a well over 10 years now, we’ve assisted plants by providing an installed base assessment.

People often underestimate the I/O count by large factors. Easily 10%/20% where people say, “Yeah, we have 300 instruments in our plant”. We do an install base assessment and find they actually have 400-450 instruments but had no idea. Yeah, you know, we did that expansion five years ago. I wrote that stuff 10 years ago and somewhere along the lines that documentation was on track. Or instruments got moved from one location to another one. Nobody knows where we’re at.”

Maybe it has a tag number to it but what the actual device is, nobody really knows. And then you run into scenarios where things were phased out years ago and you can’t get a replacement. So now you’re scrambling to find the part or something similar in order to get back on track. So all that drives towards the importance of standardization. You have as few parts as possible, a clear migration path, and you know how to program them.

Keith: I imagine that’s even more critical today with some of the supply chain issues that industrial companies are facing. Downtime, when you don’t know what you need to replace could really climb quickly, I’m sure.

Ola: Yeah, exactly. And even if you do know what to replace, unfortunately, the supply chain has strange connections.

Keith: Yeah. Well, hopefully, the days of dealing with that are coming to an end. Let’s hope we get our supply chain issues worked out and don’t have to deal with that additional complicating factor. So, hopefully.

Ola: I somehow suspect it might be another six/eight months before things really start settling down on that. But we certainly are doing our best to keep our supply chain as uninterrupted as possible.

Wrapping it all up: How process instrumentation meets food & beverage needs

Keith: Well, good luck with continued success on that front. Thanks again so much, Ola, for sharing your insights on digital tools and instrumentation with us today. We’re coming up to the end of our allotted time. Thanks also to Endress+Hauser USA for sponsoring this episode. My name is Keith Larson, and you’ve been listening to a Control Amplified Podcast. My guest today has been Ola Wesstrom, food and beverage industry marketing manager for Endress+Hauser USA. Thanks so much, Ola. Really appreciate it.

Ola: Thank you so much.

Keith: Well, good luck with continued success on that front. Thanks again so much, Ola, for sharing your insights on digital tools and instrumentation with us today. We’re coming up to the end of our allotted time. Thanks also to Endress+Hauser USA for sponsoring this episode. My name is Keith Larson, and you’ve been listening to a Control Amplified Podcast. My guest today has been Ola Wesstrom, food and beverage industry marketing manager for Endress+Hauser USA. Thanks so much, Ola. Really appreciate it.

Ola: Thank you so much.

End transcript


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