Now more than ever, your Food & Beverage or Consumer Packaged Goods operations are experiencing unusual changes to product demand. It may be a dramatic cut in demand, or it might be a huge spike in orders. Your business may also be experiencing supply chain disruptions. And of course, new hygiene practices to protect against the spread of COVID-19 have added layers of complexity to production processes.
As both a manufacturer and an expert in digital transformation technologies, GE understands many of the decisions your team has had to make. We see the ripple effect operational decisions have on short-term production agility, and also, the long-term opportunity these unusual circumstances present.
Working with F&B and CPG companies around the world, we’ve compiled a list of the seven most critical actions your operation should consider right now. Unlike most market forces, the global pandemic has had far reaching impact on EVERY operation. In these moments of turmoil, the decisions you make matter to both short-term profitability but also long-term brand viability
Some products like toilet paper, disinfecting supplies and face masks have experienced almost insatiable surges in demand. The unexpected increase has left global shortages that have sustained for months. While that demand spike won’t last forever, it’s clear it will remain a force for some time longer.
Once loyal to specific brands, most consumers are eagerly purchasing whatever they find left on store shelves. Gone, or at least on hold, are the days when they can be picky about the size and pattern of their paper towels.
This is good news for manufacturers who are looking to accelerate throughput for in-demand products. Reducing the variety of products coming off the line lowers line changeover time and simplifies packaging while still meeting customer expectations. Now is the time to simplify.
In some cases, the demand for a class of products has dropped so much that manufacturing operations must consider shutting or slowing operations or redirecting raw materials to new products. For example, with people honoring stay-at-home orders around the world, consumer demand for makeup has tumbled, and with bars slowly opening and sporting events and concerts cancelled, keg beer usage has decreased.
Processing plants need to consider the raw material and packaging solutions available to them and anticipate what else they can produce that consumers want right now. For example, many wineries and distilleries have produced hand sanitizer for the first time. And the raw materials and production processes that produce makeup can instead be used to make skin care lines that might be in more stable demand.
Shifting products isn’t the only option. In some cases, demand remains but has shifted to new distribution channels. For example, a large processor of cheese that served restaurants with bulk product, is transitioning to serving supermarkets. Under normal circumstances consumers might shy away from bulk cheese purchases, but nothing about shopping behavior is normal right now.
Restrictions on transportation of raw materials across borders to protect against the spread of COVID-19, staff shortages due to illness, and safety measures that require physical distancing have all placed pressure on the supply chain of raw materials.
Yet, access to raw materials is foundational for production agility. Equipment can run harder and longer, but if the raw materials needed aren’t available, they are stalled.
One way to combat the risk of supply chain disruptions is to diversify suppliers, increasing the chances of maintaining production agility without having to store excess inventory that under normal circumstances wouldn’t be used.
It’s tempting to focus on the immediate action in front of us – meeting the growing or shrinking demand for products. Yet we know that the decisions made today will have a long-term impact on your brand. It’s critical to make those decisions with as much insight as possible.
Predictive analytics and machine learning play a critical role in modeling the actions and consequences of actions in a way that is always valuable but are absolutely critical when circumstances are volatile. It’s important not only to understand an operation’s OEE but to be able to break it down in a granular way to take action.
We have had our Proficy CSense customers use its AI and machine learning analytics in a variety of ways. One international food manufacturer decreased customer complaints related to product weight by 33%, improved product quality, and decreased waste. Additionally, a pulp and paper manufacturer predicted Critical to Quality (CTQ) KPIs to improve productivity and eliminate wastewater regulatory issues. As a final example, a third company implemented an advanced process control solution to increase throughput by 10% using optimization technology.
Analytics can optimize production uptime, reduce waste, and accelerate learnings from one plant to another. Now is the time to learn from each other, and fast.
Some production lines are running overtime for products that have seen increased demand as a result of the pandemic. They are running much harder and much faster than they were before. And others are making products they don’t traditionally produce to close the gaps in demand for their normal run.
Both circumstances are a break from the norm which means maintenance schedules, reporting and even training likely need to change. What’s more, it’s unclear how long changes in consumer demand will last.
For example, consider the influence of online shopping on production and packaging. eCommerce distribution has grown considerably the last decade as consumers spend an increasing amount of their money online. That influence has just gotten a lot stronger, as retail locations shuttered, shopping malls closed, and grocery delivery services stepped in to help shoppers stay home. Although in-store activity will not stay shut down forever, we will likely see a permanent uplift to digital shopping trends, accelerated by necessity.
Now is the time for manufacturers to put a strong focus on optimizing production and packaging agility. Not only for the situation at hand, but to prepare for future demand changes to come. This includes lowering line changeover times with rapid line changeover solutions and putting data more easily into the hands of operators for quick decision making.
A good deal of manufacturing staff must work on-site to complete their job, but there are parts of the workforce who, given the right tools and connectivity, could work from home to reduce the spread of illness. F&B and CPG manufacturers are having to cope with unpredictable absenteeism whilst maintaining productivity, and many are considering solutions to provide some operational oversight remotely.
Read my other blog to learn more about our free remote monitoring and control licenses that are empowering our customers’ workers to work remotely and continue to keep their plants running during this difficult time.
Shift changes are an important transition time. Valuable information is transmitted between personnel as one shift takes over for another. Under normal circumstances much of that information is provided informally in conversations between individuals.
But these are not normal times. To protect employees and reduce the risk of production schedule interruption due to illness, extra time has been built into shift change schedules to eliminate overlap. There are no in-person hand-offs.
This is where technology can play an instrumental role. Detailed reporting and the use of notes in the form of digitized operator logs can effectively transfer knowledge in the absence of informal mechanisms. Our advice is always to invest in a digitalization technology that integrates with as many of your existing plant systems as possible. It would come as no surprise to you that our newest solution, Proficy Operations Hub, does just that.
While the camaraderie of in-person shift changes will be missed, digitized hand-offs offer long-term value. There is now a recorded history upon which to conduct analysis and a greater likelihood that lessons learned can be shared broadly across the organization.
The scale of change required to navigate the global pandemic is deeply challenging, but it also offers the opportunity to focus on production agility in a way rarely experienced. The changes made today, can have a lasting, positive impact on operational efficiency and safety long after the pandemic has slowed. Those organizations that use these turbulent times to become more agile will both endear consumers to their brands, but may also open new opportunities to reduce waste, decrease downtime, increase throughput and optimize production changes.
In today’s fiercely competitive economy, manufacturers face intense pressures to boost production efficiency and meet increasing consumer demands. Now more than ever before, consumers expect a constantly changing breadth of diverse, innovative products, and inventory managers everywhere have had to adapt to smaller, more targeted runs to meet demand and minimize excess inventory.
Discover how to enable rapid changeovers through the use of electronic work instructions in your operations.
GE Digital has scored in the top four across these Critical Capabilities: Process Quality Management, Data Management/Data Collection, Production Equipment Integration, and Enterprise Integration Architecture in the 2021 Gartner Critical Capabilities for Manufacturing Execution Systems report.
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Let GE Digital show you how we can help improve your F&B and CPG manufacturing operations