Gone are the days when physical labor was involved in manufacturing and packaging food products. Today, food manufacturing has become a completely automated process. Feed the raw materials at one end, get the packaged product ready to be shipped at the other.
The shift toward automation has radically changed the infrastructure requirements for food manufacturers. You need software to control and manage automation in your facility. You need network-enabled machines to perform automated tasks. To power all the equipment and software, you require a robust communication network.
Communication Networks in Food Automation
In modern automated facilities, the communication network acts as the backbone of the production infrastructure. Networks are used to send information from the central servers to each machine. Data captured at the individual machines are also sent to the servers through the network. Communication networks are critical for the functioning of automated food manufacturers.
When this communication network breaks or experiences a bottleneck, the whole production process is held hostage. Machines do not get their instructions and will not be able to perform tasks. You will experience downtime in production until the network is back up and running to its full potential. This leads to a breakdown in efficiency and significantly hampers the profitability of your organization. This has downstream consequences of not being able to serve your customers and having trouble with your distributors.
The communication network of your food manufacturing facility can be connected to the internet. It can also be a local area network that is not connected to any wider network. But the infrastructure needed to distribute information across your facility remains more or less the same. You need to ensure that the network is strong and reliable to enable smooth factory operations.
Tips and Best Practices
Communication networks are built with the following common components:
- Structured cabling
- Ethernet cables
- Wifi routers
- Servers, etc.
The components that go into building a network remain the same. The design, planning and implementation of the network make or break the network. The following sections cover some of the common tips and best practices that you need to follow for networking food manufacturing facilities.
The important part you have to get right is the design of the network. The network design is concerned with the type of network suitable for your facility, wired or wireless network. It also specifies how the various components are connected with each other. The networking protocols, specifications of the components, etc., are part of the network design.
The network design you create should be taking into consideration the requirements of your facility. The desired bandwidth, speed and latency should be estimated prior to designing the network. The future requirements for your facility should be ascertained before designing the network. The final network design should be created factoring in the environmental, financial and physical limitations of your facility. For example, devices that are installed near a kiln should be resistant to heat. Similar small factors should be considered to build a reliable network.
People and machines that have access to your network have the potential to disrupt it. Managing access to the network is an effective way to protect and preserve the capability of the network. You need to have role-based access control in place to protect the network assets. Network-enabled machines should also come under the ambit of stringent access control. With regard to access control, you need to follow the principle of least privilege. The principle of least privilege is giving access only to the resources that are absolutely required to perform authorized tasks. Other network and information resources will be out of bounds. This ensures data protection and eliminates chances of network bottlenecks.
The network components have to be installed in the ideal locations according to the network design. It is a wise practice to install network components in enclosures. It prevents unauthorized personnel from accessing and tampering with the network infrastructure. Ethernet cables and other cabling solutions can be run through conduits. Network devices such as Wifi routers can be placed in enclosures with lock and key. Keep in mind that you need to provide adequate power provisions near enclosures to energize network devices.
The room in which the central server and other main network devices are kept should be air-conditioned. Network devices get hot during regular operations and an air-conditioned room helps to keep the devices cool. Prevention of dust accumulation on devices is another benefit of air-conditioned rooms.
You need to perform regular maintenance of network components to ensure the network infrastructure remains healthy. Replace components regularly according to the timeframe recommended by OEMs. Regular cleaning and upkeep of network devices are also required to prevent dust accumulation. Regular checks have to be performed to ensure the devices are working as expected. Software maintenance like installing patches and updates also has to be done promptly.
Today food manufacturing facilities need to be connected to the broader internet to use cloud computing and a broad suite of other software necessary for operations. This poses a cybersecurity risk for your food manufacturing facility. Malicious actors have the ability to smuggle into your digital infrastructure and cause disruptions in your network. You need state-of-the-art cyber defenses in place to protect your digital assets and communication network. Cybersecurity is critical for safety even for a food processing facility in the current environment.