Digital solutions for the beverage industry

A joint study by VDMA and the management consulting company McKinsey & Company investigates just how far product and service portfolio digitalisation has advanced in mechanical engineering. They state that the revenue share for digital platforms and value-added services is only around 0.7 percent (about 6 billion euros) of the total European mechanical engineering revenue (around 850 billion euros).

The beverage industry shows a similar trend, where the advantages of digital twins, blockchain solutions, artificial intelligence and robotic technology are being steadily implemented. A Siemens study on the food and beverage industry expects that, for the next five years, digitalization investments will reach $567 billion . But where can the beverage industry use these new digitalization tools? And how can its processes and offerings be reformatted for the future? Many fields in the industry could be solid options for this digital leap,from creating contacts to the production of drinks and liquid foods.

Digital twin

Several of the digitalisation tools are particularly well suited for the beverage industry, i.e. the digital twin. By digitally simulating a beverage machine and integrating its data into software tools, functions can be tested in real-time before the machine is built. The digital twin also helps the ongoing machine operations by avoiding downtimes. Moreover, the process data can be shared with others – even beyond one’s company. Before maintenance, the manufacturer can simulate real production conditions and adjust the maintenance intervals to the actual machine load. However, the company providing the data always remains in control of the use of its data.

Blockchain technology

Connection forms the basic principle behind another digital technology that could help evolve the beverage industry: Blockchain. This software system combines data in unchangeable lists via a forgery-proof method (distributed ledger) and can comprehend the entire supply chain of products. Blockchain solutions are already utilised today, particularly for verifying product authenticity. Industry experts predict this could generate savings of $31 billion by 2024 – all by improving supply chain traceability, reducing the time required and simplifying the recall process.

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) can also play an impressive role in the continued development of digital solutions for the beverage industry. A cross-industry study by Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO of over 309 companies shows that 75 per cent of the surveyed companies are currently engaged with AI and 16 per cent already utilise AI, i.e. for creating recipes or to help prevent food waste.

Robots – cleaning the plant

Robotics, digital twins and artificial intelligence have been combined in the intelligent cleaning robotics for interiors and exteriors. A research team from the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Dresden, Germany, has developed two types of modular cleaning robots: One drives through the production plant via conveyor belt and cleans it from the inside, the second cleans the floors, ceilings and walls of rooms, as well as production machine exteriors. An extendable robotic arm with a jet cleaner also reaches the higher-up areas. This mobile, modular device drives autonomously through the production hall. Installed sensors determine the level of dirt and adapt the cleaning parameters, such as the pressure and amount of cleaning foam.

This is also possible with a self-learning AI system: It selects the appropriate cleaning parameters and specifies the process steps. The process data are displayed via simulation in a virtual twin. The level of dirt is then transmitted to the 3D model of the plant. Depending on the distance of the cleaning device from the surface in question, the spray pressure can be adjusted as necessary.

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Photo: Mobile cleaning robot for production (source: Fraunhofer IVV)