Automation / Innovation / Columns

Editor's Note: That which speeds production could also bring it to a halt

December 5, 2012
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A few months ago, this column addressed the topic of finding the right electronic balance not only in your personal life, but also in your professional life. After attending the Rockwell Automation Fair in Philadelphia last month, I became more convinced smart phone technology is on the verge of infiltrating food and beverage manufacturing in ways some of us could never have imagined just a few years ago.
Today, mobile devices are used on the production floor to monitor processes and to communicate with supply chains.  However, employees who bring their own devices to the plant floor pose security risks, according to Sujeet Chand, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Rockwell Automation. 
Trade secrets about formulations or processing tactics could be released knowingly and sometimes unwittingly by employees with smart devices.  Therefore, with the proliferation of personal electronic devices, plant security must remain a top priority for food and beverage manufacturers. Cyber security will only grow in importance for the food plant of tomorrow.
Craig Giffi of Deloitte & Touche USA also addressed key future manufacturing issues at the Automation Fair. According to Giffi, growth in manufacturing capabilities is the most important link to increasing economic prosperity. One current pressing manufacturing challenge is the skill gap, both for operators and engineers. Giffi thinks manufacturers can only drive innovation through high-level talent management. (For more on the future of manufacturing, see pages 13-14 in this issue.)
I experienced a true feeling of manufacturing growth at another important industry event just a few weeks before the Rockwell meeting. At PACK EXPO in Chicago, the mood was brisk and upbeat. Nearly every booth I visited offered a new innovation. At many industry trade shows over the last decade, exhibitors focused on speed and other basic throughput efficiencies. Today, the focus has switched to end-user needs, whether they are related to food safety, sustainability and data collection, or to the operator skill gap reflected in the upgraded user interfaces on display at the show.
Addressing the factors that will promote manufacturing growth are key for our industry’s profitability. But the importance of proper cyber security cannot be overlooked. After all, what speeds production efficiency could also quickly bring it to a halt.

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