Small food manufacturers are under constant pressure – to improve product quality, boost efficiency, stay competitive and enhance safety, while remaining profitable.

In this blog, we explore the best pieces of tech already out there or coming down the tracks that can help your manufacturing business achieve these goals. 

Wearable Tech

It is mandatory for companies to ensure the health and safety of their employees and new technologies are supporting success in these measures. Wearable tech, in particular, is improving safety in the manufacturing environments.

From tracking biometrics, scanning barcodes, detecting exposure limits to harmful substances, enabling calls and recording data wearables can positively impact manufacturing environments. The key to the successful implantation of this type of technology is in the application, and with some creative thinking, they can be useful in a lot of ways. For example, a wearable can be used to detect extreme tiredness in an employee and notify a supervisor asking them to check in on them

From determining work-related illnesses to preventing them from occurring in other employees in the future, wearable workplace tech is improving employee health and as a result, staff engagement as employees become more productive and happier with improved health. Companies that engage with and implement this technology experience better attendance levels and more satisfied, healthier employees.

Industry Internet of Things (IIoT)

The Internet of Things is right at the forefront of the advancement of the manufacturing sector and its commercial use has evolved, with it being termed the Industry Internet of Things (IIoT) in industrial settings. Huge gains await business that cut the cord and go wireless, with connectivity enabling flexible production by allowing ‘smart manufacturers’ to rapidly changeover production lines to shorten lead times.

Today’s small manufacturers are gaining insights, that have never before been possible, because of the IIoT. Companies embracing this tech are able to streamline processes, improve safety, save money and advance their own NPD to create new products with IoT capabilities. It is helping manufacturers to connect and monitor the various components of their operations, providing valuable data that enables them to change, optimise, and improve every facet of their manufacturing process. By creating a digital foundation, manufacturing automation will increase productivity and performance.

A great example of this is the use of IIoT on air quality. Being able to regulate air quality is particularly important in the food manufacturing industry as there are often very specific controls on what temperatures need to be in place for certain food stocks – through the IIoT this is becoming an easier process to both manage and monitor.

Digital Signage

Repainting caution lines and other safety essential markings and notices across a food manufacturing premises can be expensive – especially if the business is a burgeoning one that needs to adapt its set-up as it grows.

In these types of manufacturing environments, as well as those where noise can affect verbal communication, digital signage is highly advantageous. It has the ability to convey to a workforce important information that is vital to employees maintaining a safe, efficient environment.

Digital signage can be used to display relevant information to particular employees, notifying workers of any immediate dangers, delivering notice of hold-ups on the assembly line, marking out safety perimeters, alerting workers to supply-chain concerns and helping to reduce response time for production quality issues.

Employee communications have historically been in the format of less-agile communication methods – such as charts, spreadsheets, diagrams displayed on white boards, posted on walls and pinned too bulletin boards. The major issue with these approaches is how fast a sign can be changed and replaced. Digital signage eliminates or greatly reduces print publishing, helping to eliminate waste and providing a format that can be changed quickly and cost effectively. It can also boost morale and promote teamwork as floor managers can spend more time on the floor accompanying their team, with the tech picking up communications on the production floor.

Safety Compliance Software

From cutting edge apps to ground-breaking software, there are a number of options open to businesses looking to employ tech as a better way of managing safety within their business.

Risk management software and/or platforms are the perfect tool to assist with any processes that include the management and archiving of training and certification records, statistics, and data collection and analysis. A great example of this kind of software is the Compliance Centre SaaS platform.

Designed to take the complexity out of health and safety compliance, Compliance Centre is an all-in-one risk management, cloud-based platform. It helps businesses to streamline their safety processes and is a simple and secure way to manage compliance. From monitoring safety performance, digitally managing and recording incidents and cases and securely storing key documentation to assigning tasks, setting alerts and automating registrations for compliance certification, the software gives small food manufacturers a way of keeping track of their risk in a way that saves time, creates peace of mind and ensures that legal requirements are met.

Due Diligence App

As developments in health and safety management tech gather pace, many businesses are choosing to invest in disruptive mobile apps that link to web and cloud-based systems. A convenient due diligence app, or a safety checks app, that assists with the management of the documents and workflows involved in safety processes, can not only improve daily business operations but also save a lot of time.

One such app is Riskproof. This handy app allows employees to carry out any safety checks using their mobile devices even when they are offline, removing the need for paper-based processes and checklists. Considered the ultimate app for recording, managing and organising risk management, Riskproof helps businesses simplify their safety checklist process.

Drones

Drones can go high, they can go wide, they’re fast and there is more to these machines than the ability to deliver goods door to door and this is why they’re being used in warehouses and food manufacturing.

In fact, drones are an ideal alternative when it comes to performing cost-intensive tasks in small food manufacturing. An increasing number of companies are using drone technology for visual inspection, as it offers a cost-conscious and effective way to inspect at heights and inaccessible areas, providing a visual overview of the production site.

Nestlé is one of the companies that use indoor drones in its manufacturing operations to help with stocktaking and safety checks. In an article in The Grocer, Nestlé group safety, health and environment adviser Gary Dripps explains: “Drones equipped with high-quality 4k cameras mean we can avoid working at height, something the law asks us to do wherever possible. Using drones for jobs like checking factory rooftops following severe weather, or solar panel inspections, is affordable, quick and avoids working at height using scaffolding or cherry pickers.”

Drones can access dangerous manufacturing areas where humans would be at risk and access places where conditions are too cold or too hot. They provide a quick overview of the production site and the state of the equipment and can also capture images, as well as measure and see things the human eye can’t. This makes them ideal for carrying out condition control, performing leakage detection and validating the cleaning of equipment. They provide sharp and detailed images and video of defects and failures, data and insights useable in the maintenance planning and reduce downtime while optimising production and ensuring high levels of safety.

Recognising the growing need for 5G

While this might not necessarily be considered a piece of tech, one of the key digital transformations currently facing the UK is the advent of the 5G. As mentioned earlier, the IoT is changing today’s production environment through the plethora of connected devices, however the bandwidth needed to satisfy the demands of these devises is great. 5G satisfies this need for high speed, reliable and secure connectivity, and with a speed of up to 100 gigabits per second, 5G is roughly 100 times faster than 4G.

Technology can improve efficiency, accountability, and capability in small manufacturing environments. To implement these technologies, you need to do your research and take a realistic approach to understanding how they can be used in your food manufacturing operations. However, when an operation adopts the right technologies, the results can have a remarkable impact in areas such as quality, cost, employee engagement and safety.