CRB, a leading provider of engineering, architecture, construction and consulting solutions to the food and beverage industry, today released its latest Horizons report—focused on digital manufacturing and the rise of automation, control systems and data analytics as producers seek new efficiencies in a dynamic, highly competitive environment.

Available today as a free download, the Horizons: Digital Age of Food Manufacturing report is based on a survey of more than 300 manufacturing leaders across the industry. The resulting responses and analysis from CRB’s F+B subject matter experts go deep on digital manufacturing and its implications for food and beverage suppliers. The report captures perspectives from across the manufacturing chain—including operations, plant engineering, procurement, and executive leadership in the C-suite—and delivers a snapshot of how F+B makers are achieving digital maturity to bring their products to market safely, profitably and at the quality consumers demand.

The report finds 37% of respondents identified themselves as early adopters of Industry 4.0, boasting technology integrations and predictive, real-time analytics in their plants. More than a fifth of respondents, however, said they are grappling with digital islands and disconnected pockets of automation—underscoring concerns over the cost and complexity of keeping pace with rapid digital transformation.

In the report’s opening passages, Jason Robertson, CRB’s vice president of food & beverage, frames the industry’s steady but sometimes halting push toward digitalization, noting that conferences and workshops are filled with talk of “Industry 4.0” even if many would struggle to explain its concepts and key advantages.

“The term has become a catch-all for shiny new technologies, making it seem both inevitable and impractical—a difficult combination for any manufacturer trying to figure out exactly how to move their business forward,” Robertson writes. “We offer this report as a searchlight … by exploring Industry 4.0 not as a catch-all term but as a concrete objective enabled by realistic, incremental steps.”

Additional key findings and actionable insights found within the report’s 85 pages:

  • More than 7 in 10 respondents are targeting the highest levels of digital maturity within the next three years, with roughly the same number ranking productivity as the most attractive operational advantage of automation and digital manufacturing.
  • Amid mounting pressure from regulators, retailers and customers, food and beverage manufacturers are striving to demonstrate progress on sustainability. The report shows 97% of survey respondents are partnering with outside experts to bridge knowledge gaps on environmental, social and governance issues (ESG), while roughly three of every four respondents reporting the use of tax credits to fund ESG initiatives.
  • As manufacturers account for regulatory changes, unpredictable labor markets, and fluctuating supply and demand, better than half of Horizons respondents are prioritizing instrumentation, automation and integration. Additionally, about three-fourths reported utilizing or planning for digital technologies to enable enterprise-level data sharing, bridging the gap between boardroom decisions and real-time operations on the plant floor.
  • Despite rising interest rates and inflation, one out of every two survey respondents plan to invest in automation-related projects in the next three years. By prioritizing better instrumentation and automation, manufacturers can extract accurate, real-time data from existing assets and unlock more capacity without significant capital investments.