AS CONSUMERS become more conscious about healthy diets and are willing to pay more for nutritious food and drinks, digitalisation is playing a key role in fulfilling their needs, said Kai Schneiderwind, senior director for food and beverages (F&B) at Siemens.
Rapidly changing customer demands are forcing companies to come up with ever more customised products within the shortest possible time, and at a consistently high standard, Schneiderwind said in an interview with The Nation in Munich.
The southern German city last week hosted Drinktec, the world’s leading trade fair for the beverage and liquid food industry, where Siemens showcased its innovations.
Consumers want transparency in the process that delivers what they eat and drink, and to have more personalised food choices, Schneiderwind said, adding that these factors will lead to greater flexibility in mass production and the faster arrival of products to the market.
“Digitalisation is the answer to cope with these trends. This enables us to connect to the wishes of consumers on delivery and with the demands of the industry,” Schneiderwind said.
Siemens, a German global technology powerhouse, became a leader in digitalisation after starting that journey 10 years ago, backed by investment of 10 billion euros (Bt395.1 billion) .
The strategy allows companies to simulate, test and optimise their products, production processes and plants in a completely virtual environment on the basis of a "digital twin", Schneiderwind said.
With a digital twin, machine manufacturers are able to use the power of digitalisation to achieve improved efficiency and quality, he said.
He said Siemens had a range of tools that had been implemented for the benefit of customers and, over the coming years, the company would connect these tools in order for them to work together seamlessly, “giving them the right data at the right time and enabling more flexibility in mass production”.
“This is the vision in the digitalisation strategy, which is the fourth level of productivity,” Schneiderwind said.
Amid the changing technological landscape on the path to digitalisation, the key challenge for him relates to the implementation of information technology that must be connected to the company’s mechanical and automation designs. This will help the company to determine the skill sets for the people it will need in the future.
Digitalisation is very broad and many people understand the concept differently, so the challenge is how to approach it with the same language and to identify the skill sets of the people required to implement digitalisation, Schneiderwind said.
He sees the food and beverage industry as being in a very stable environment, with growth supported by urbanisation and a growing awareness among city residents of the need for quality food. Such people have become more discerning on what meets their increasingly high standards.
This increased consumer awareness is driving the trend for digitalisation and automation, resulting in such outcomes as the company now having to substantiate the origins of the milk or meat or other ingredients in its products, he said.
“And I am pretty sure that soon you will be able to screen and detect your products in the refrigerators with a QR code and you can see a little of where the food was produced and how the produce is evaluated by people,” he said.
Siemens, which has offices in many Asian countries including Thailand, sees Asia as a rapidly emerging market with a very high percentage of growth each year, he said. Average growth in the company’s food and beverage business is 3.5 per cent and in its Asian market, the growth is double that.
He said the Asian market is becoming more mature in having processed food in refrigerators, so that is driving the need for a higher level of automation and industrialisation.
Another factor, he said, is the ecosystem in Asia, where local businesses are purchasing high-end technologies and looking at the big companies as models for the levels they want to reach.
Schneiderwind said his company had to ensure that the machines built with its equipment are delivering success and that there are sufficient people who can run them in the countries it operates in.
“So, we have to work locally with the end-customers on the maintenance of the plants and services,” he said.
Siemens’ strategy is to work with local networks and set up offices in Asian countries that can be managed locally, “so that we get people to the places where they are needed”.
As the head of food and beverage, Schneiderwind said Siemens’ key ambition is to be more focused on customers.
“In food and beverage, we need to be a local partner and not only a global partner. With the local set-up for food and beverage, we would like to work for and be part of the new digitalisation,” he said.
“We would like to be a partner under a globalised economy, with ingenious services for people’s lifestyles, and this way we can make a difference as part of the global economy.”
Innovation adds value
Siemens’ slogan for this year's Drinktec, the world's leading trade fair for the beverage industry, held in Munich last week, exhorted visitors to “Discover the value of the Digital Enterprise for the beverage industry”.
At its booth, Siemens demonstrated how industrial enterprises of all sizes can benefit from the digital revolution – from the digital value chain in the engineering process through to the in-line integration of machines.
The five highlights are:
BRAUMAT, a brewing industry automation solution. Siemens showed how the integrated brewery-wide automation works, from incoming materials to the filled bottle and from the sensor to the laboratory system.
Digital Twin: Siemens demonstrated how enterprises can simulate, test and optimise their products, production processes and systems in an entirely virtual environment, based on a “digital twin”.
Market-specific Solutions: Siemens showed its complete software and hardware portfolio on its industry solution wall which realises automation and digitalisation within the soft drinks industry.
MindSphere: The cloud-based open Internet of Things operating system offers seamless connectivity between data-based services from Siemens and third party providers. And it lets you seamlessly integrate your own apps and services.
SIMATIC Energy Management-Software: Siemens offers customers a comprehensive, scaleable ISO 50001-certified portfolio of products and solutions – ranging from field-level energy data recording to company-wide energy analysis at the management level. It would help lower energy costs, increase competitiveness and comply with statutory requirements.