Probat takes coffee production into the digital age

Although Industry 4.0 has been brewing as a concept for only a half-dozen years, Probat has been innovating toward the next industrial revolution for the past decade. It’s no coincidence, then, that both the concept and the commercial coffee-processing equipment manufacturer have their roots in Germany. Just six years ago, the German government coined the phrase for a high-tech strategy it was promoting that called for a move to computerised manufacturing. In 2015, General Electric and Accenture emphasised a similar concept of the “industrial internet,” where Big Data and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) merge, in its Industrial Internet Insights Report. Meanwhile, Probat was already five years into its move toward and development of a “smart factory” for coffee producers. “At that time, the idea of Industry 4.0 didn’t even exist yet,” says Probat Head of Sales Controls and Automation, Sebastian Kersten, of the company’s 2007 decision. The idea was spurred by a customer who wanted internet connectivity into its various coffee-processing equipment. So in subsequent years, Probat started developing highly intelligent control solutions that enable nearly all equipment across the entire plant and the human user to communicate in real time via internet-connected devices. Naturally, the analytical, connectivity and transparency benefits of Probat’s manufacturing execution system (MES) align with the four design principles that Industry 4.0 is largely centred on: interoperability or interconnectivity, decentralised decision-making, information transparency and technical assistance. With interconnectivity, individual machines can communicate with one another, share information and collaborate toward a common goal, i.e. a coffee producer’s various specific roasts. Based on what the machines are programmed to do with particular information, decentralised decision-making allows the machines to react and adjust appropriately without the intervention of a human. Users have complete transparency into that information and data, providing the technical assistance to make informed, strategic decisions. “IIoT is key because of the Big Data that come out of it,” says Sebastian Fichthorn, Head of Software Engineering and IT at Probat. “In every way these machines can measure, data will be available.” As part of the Industrial Internet Insights Report, Accenture conducted a survey of enterprises across eight industries in seven countries. Of those surveyed, 84 per cent indicated that the use of Big Data analytics “has the power to shift the competitive landscape for my industry” within just one year. And 89 per cent said that companies that do not adopt Big Data analytics strategy in the next year risk losing market share and momentum. Outside of the endless data to analyse and leverage, the benefits of a smart coffee processing plant are significant: more efficient production, reproducible coffee quality, optimum human resource planning, and predictive maintenance to reduce costly downtime. According to GE’s report, predictive maintenance capabilities can save a company up to 12 per cent over scheduled repairs, reducing overall maintenance costs up to 30 per cent and reducing breakdowns up to 70 per cent. Additional benefits include traceability along the value-added chain and quality management. These are particularly important in the current era of stricter food and safety requirements as part of the US Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernisation Act that went into effect last year. “We are able to track and trace the product as it passes through the production process,” Fichthorn tells Global Coffee Report. “Our system allows us to monitor the entire line.” One of the first implementations of a customised plant control solution was with Canadian coffee and tea producer Mother Parkers in 2014. “We have 17 packaging lines and three roasters that run around the clock seven days a week,” says Susan Horsley, Production Manager at the Mother Parkers location in Fort Worth, Texas. As such, the automation, intuition and resulting efficiency of Probat’s innovative solutions were essential. Together with Probat, Mother Parkers has recently succeeded in integrating all its coffee production processes (at three different factories) into a single software platform. By connecting the Probat’s MES to its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, Mother Parkers has access to all production process data in real time, which facilitates automated quality control and integration with other business areas, such as ordering and sales. It also leverages radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to further monitor its coffee along the production line. Although the initial investment in Probat’s smart technologies is a significant one for roasters, “the return on investment will be very big,” says Kersten. “It’s hard to see in the beginning because it’s such a big investment, but it’s definitely there. Mother Parkers saw an amortisation in fewer than 12 months.” Other coffee companies that have completely integrated Probat’s intuitive system include Industrias Banileja (InduBan) in the Dominican Republic, Johan & Nyström in Sweden and Costa in the UK. As Industry 4.0 or the “industrial internet” increasingly becomes the reality, more and more coffee producers will be adopting these intelligent, highly automated systems. By 2020, Cisco forecasts that there will be 50 billion “things” connected to the internet, double the number from 2015. While 65 per cent of Accenture’s survey respondents said they were using the innovations in connectivity to monitor assets to identify operating issues for more proactive maintenance, a smaller percentage is collecting and analysing the operating data to produce insights. Even less – 40 per cent – can make predictions based on the data, and only 36 per cent can optimise operations from that data. What that says is engineers, machine operators and, most importantly, decision makers need to keep up with IIoT and Big Data to get the most value out of it. Naturally, when asked about future plans, survey respondents noted more ambitious and sophisticated plans for use of Big Data, including gaining a competitive edge and improving environmental safety and emissions. The latter strategy is in line with what Probat sees as the next steps for Industry 4.0 in its business. In the near future, intelligent energy management will make it possible to precisely measure all types of consumption and resources. And already, Probat’s technology is helping coffee companies comply with country-specific environmental guidelines and standards, as well as in the area of security. Also in the near future, Probat is rolling out its new Service Level Agreements (SLAs), which are customised service packages that supplement the productivity goals of Probat’s control solutions. Depending on the level, the SLAs may include discounted training, unlimited telephone support, prioritised on-site support, and free monitoring and inspections. Extended software and hardware services and additional training options ensure customers are getting the most out of the advanced equipment and out of their personnel. Additional consultation services and condition monitoring increase productivity and supplement the predictive maintenance component of the smart factory by guaranteeing an optimal maintenance strategy. As such, “monitoring is very important for a smart factory”, explains Kersten. Thanks to IIoT, Probat is able to easily “help our customers all over the world by monitoring and analysing plant and machine data from a smart device”, adds Fichthorn. The SLAs will roll out next year.  GCR

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