In the March cover story on the digital journey of a food and beverage facility, we looked primarily at planning and executing a successful implementation of digital techniques to improve processes, make them more efficient and glean actionable information from them. We also looked at plant and device-level networking (the backbone of a successful transformation) and company culture (especially the IT-OT face-off) and considered whether the digitalization journey required a “rip-and-replace” of sensors, networking, controllers and other equipment.

Fortunately, there are several options to rip-and-replace, and we began to look at an overlay approach, which means keeping what’s in place and adding new sensing and data concentrating devices that can be used separately from the existing sensor networks. I’d like to pick up at this point and delve into more detail on sensors, then look at what applications can make use of this data (e.g., MES, ERP, etc.) and present it to those who need it in ways that make the most of this information to each user.

Finally, I’d like to look at the role of the “cloud” in the digital transformation, and what opportunities it lends to food and beverage processors. In addition, we’ll look briefly at some successful implementations so you can see how this digitalization journey can help you arrive at the outcomes to make your business successful.

Can we keep existing sensors?

Today, sensors are practically everywhere you look and closer to you than you may realize. For example, your smartphone probably contains—besides video and image capture— accelerometers, magnetometer, barometer, ambient light sensor and a proximity device plus others. These devices tend to be built right into the circuitry and have become quite inexpensive to replicate on such a large scale, compared to traditional sensors and transmitters that have been employed in industry and often cost upwards of $3,000 for a wired device—nearly twice that for a wireless sensor. New manufacturing technologies, however, have made it possible to produce sensors at much lower costs, making them attractive for new industrial applications. But, are traditional sensors going away?

“Traditional sensor technology will still be on the stage for awhile,” says Todd Gilliam, ABB US segment leader, food and beverage. Wireless sensors will also assume an increasing presence in the market. While Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing comprise many different elements, one important commonality in a plant is the ease of connection and interaction of all components, such as sensors, actuators, controllers, production equipment, etc.

Wireless connectivity makes it easy to add a sensor to an existing wireless network or create an overlay network as we described in the first part of this article. One example, according to Gilliam, is the ABB smart sensor, which can be field-mountable on an existing motor or bearing to monitor key parameters like vibration, perform condition-based monitoring, identify concerns and/or reduce the likelihood of downtime due to failed assets.

Condition monitoring of assets is a prerequisite for predictive maintenance (PdM), and Hunter Beck, digital enterprise manager at SKF, sees a big role ahead for wireless sensing. “Based on asset criticality, outdated/aging equipment can be retrofitted with the necessary condition-monitoring devices…As the cost of wireless sensors continues to decline, it is possible to financially justify these technologies for a greater number of ‘balance of plant’ equipment. So it’s really a cost-benefit relationship, but as wireless sensors become a more cost-effective alternative, you’ll see route-based condition monitoring go away. People won’t be walking around doing data collection anymore. Right now, the cost of those sensors is several hundred dollars each, so it doesn’t make financial sense, but that’s going to change in the future.”

Depending on the application, there is no need to replace a sensor solely because of its age, says Allen Tubbs, product manager at Bosch Rexroth Corporation, a Control System Integrator Association (CSIA) member. “The trick is finding a way to mobilize the data to other networks. Gateways can help with this by providing a bridge between newer and older technologies. However, newer sensor technologies, like IO-Link, can be useful to replace the function of older sensors while providing more data through the same wires.”

Stephen Pflantz, CRB USA associate director offers some practical advice on sensors. If a sensor is installed and properly working, then you don’t really need to change it if your control system can read the signal. If your sensor or transmitter uses a 4-20 mA analog signal, then any major control system can use it as 4-20 mA is still a solid standard. You could upgrade to Fieldbus, but only if you need to or have a sound business argument to justify doing so. Otherwise, you can continue to use the analog sensor. Many control system manufacturers also have ways to migrate systems while leaving older legacy I/O in place, providing new communication adapters that allow the I/O to work with newer processors/controllers.

“The good news is that while there have been recent advances in sensor technologies, the way in which sensors communicate to I/O and controllers largely hasn’t changed,” says Arun Sinha, Opto 22 engineer. “Even sensors and instruments designed to communicate via a protocol like Modbus serial can join an IoT network through a controller.”

While some newer sensing devices may not yet be totally compatible with industrial networks, if their output can be sent to an input of a data concentrator or hub with an industrial protocol, then the devices will be brought into the industrial network via the hub or concentrator. For example, a leading wireless sensor network is WirelessHART, and its gateway can output an Ethernet-based signal, says Sinha. “So existing sensors can likely be repurposed, as well as new sensors added to provide the necessary ‘last mile’ data in an IoT application,” adds Sinha.

Marcus Parsons, Emerson director, food and beverage, discusses a couple of important points regarding the adding/replacing of sensors. “Sensors that continue to meet your accuracy and reliability requirements can continue to be used with an updated I/O or control system. Measurements, which were not made during the original design, can be added through standards-based wireless solutions like Wireless HART.”

Beyond standard wireless protocols like WirelessHART, cellular providers may provide an unexpected option: 5G. “The coming of 5G connectivity with performance and functionalities specifically designed for millisecond-based communications (they can enable autonomous driving) and low energy transmission will enable [users] to install sensors in any place and connect them easily,” says Luigi De Bernardini, president of Autoware Digital LLC, a CSIA member. “This will change the data collection landscape both inside and outside the plants.”

What about controllers?

Sometimes, according to CRB’s Pflantz, ripping out the old devices and putting in new makes proper economic sense, but it is not always the case. “Many systems can be successfully upgraded while leaving the instrumentation and I/O hardware in place. From the controller level on up, software and technology evolution tends to drive the need for more frequent upgrades. Consider the upgrade and what it will do for you to determine if you need it. If it fixes something that is not working—or adds something you need—by all means, go ahead. But don’t just upgrade to get the latest and greatest. That mentality is OK in the consumer world, where we feel compelled to have the latest and best. However, in the OT world, make an informed and practical decision when it comes to upgrades.”

Controllers can be problematic, especially if they’re installed on aging equipment, says Sinha.

“Legacy control systems, and even many shipping in 2019, do not support IT or business software protocols and data formats. Food manufacturers will need to look to control system vendors embracing technologies compatible with IT systems by supporting higher-level software languages, along with cloud or web applications such as RESTful APIs, JSON, Node-RED and MQTT.”

In regard to aging machine controllers, there are other aspects that should be considered as well, says Parsons. “Many machines purchased and deployed by users in our industry come with the programs locked.” To alter the program can create undo expense for users because they must go back to the original equipment manufacturer and pay for reprogramming to accept additional sensors and/or I/O. This makes it difficult to add sensors to the local I/O and provides an opportunity to use innovative wireless solutions independent of the control system—thus, we’re back to the “overlay” concept discussed in the prior article.

Getting intelligence from brown-field installations

One solution to aging equipment that never communicated well in the first place is an ABB device, which came out of the B&R Industrial Automation acquisition, and is B&R’s Orange Box. The Orange Box is an IIoT solution package that brings smart factory intelligence to brown-field installations. This smart controller reads and analyzes data from previously isolated machinery and equipment. The collected runtime data can not only display and track OEE, but also related energy consumption and efficiency of the equipment, adds Gilliam. Ralf Hagen of Nestlé Germany described a successful Orange Box implementation at a B&R Hanover Fair 2017 press conference, according to the ARC Advisory Group.

Speaking of brown-field installations, some machine builders, such as Krones, have already provided a solution that allows the addition of new sensors and data aggregators without touching the original legacy machine. Scott McCausland, director of data services for Process and Data Automation, a CSIA Certified Member and the North American integration arm for Krones’ Syskron SitePilot suite of products, describes the “Ready Kit.”

“For consistently harmonized IT interfacing of all process areas, a solution is now available in the shape of ReadyKit, which has been specifically designed for use in what is known as a brown-field environment,” says McCausland. This enables older machines or models with a restricted communication interface or lacking one entirely to be integrated into the central data acquisition system. In addition, ReadyKit provides an option for computing key ratios and compensating for missing information with the aid of algorithms on the basis of measured and acquired values. These algorithms fall back on the acquired values over variable time periods.

Using ReadyKit does not require any elaborate retrofit work on the machine control systems, because the solution has been designed to use an enormous range of different data sources for acquiring the raw data. First, there are interfaces with the machine’s control system, in order to acquire signals and values directly from it. Second, different sensors (e.g. vibration meters) can be linked up and read out, in order to acquire missing data with the aid of photo-cells, for example. The two options can also be combined for a comprehensive database.

Basically, this means that the most important information from the machines can be thus recorded and evaluated. Thanks to the minimized work involved in installation—and the lean concept—clients can benefit very quickly and uncomplicatedly from ReadyKit, optimize their processes and save costs.

MES, ERP or something else?

Most small and medium-sized food processors have some type of ERP system to manage the business and keep track of inventories and work in progress (WIP). Some manufacturers may also have data acquisition, SCADA and/or HMI systems, which may have come with a process control system linked to certain process equipment they purchased. But do they—or should they—have a manufacturing execution system (MES) on the plant floor?

Some ERP systems, according to Mike Edgett, Infor industry & solution strategy director, will have some elements of MES, especially if they’re designed with food and beverage in mind. These ERP systems may also have some more advanced asset management tools available to use this data, but it all depends on your specific data collection needs.

MES systems come into play to fill the gap between SCADA and ERP with a range of capabilities, from light-weight digital operational excellence tools such as OEE, through to more comprehensive systems that provide broader capabilities to improve performance and reduce waste across the plant, says Keith Chambers, AVEVA Software director, manufacturing operations management. For companies with multi-site operations, it is important to ensure standardization of processes, KPIs and reporting across the business. Often this is easier said than done, says Chambers. “We believe in a model-driven MES approach where best practices and business rules can be documented and enforced by the system, enabling performance sustainability.”

Manufacturing execution systems help to manage and monitor work in progress on the factory floor, says Melissa Topp, ICONICS senior director of global marketing. They typically involve control systems that rely on up-to-date info to provide real-time insight into the current state of products being manufactured. Some food and beverage organizations might operate without a true MES “per se,” but have had success utilizing ERP and HMI/SCADA software to achieve their business goals. No one scenario can categorically be determined as best for all organizations. Each individual manufacturer should determine what its most important metrics or KPIs are and whether they can be identified, updated in real time, and easily made available to decision-makers.

“Referencing the ISA-95 model, we would highlight that there are two types of data in play here: one is real-time data from Level 1 (sensor, transmitters, etc.) via Level 2 (PLC, DCS, HMI) to MES/MOM (manufacturing operations management), where the system is able to handle this real-time data and transaction-based data,” says ABB’s Gilliam. Then, the transaction-based data flows from the MES/MOM to and from the ERP system.

MES or MOM, as a general term for the “Level 3” software space, is providing vertical and horizontal integration capabilities, including execution, quality, intelligence and compliance capabilities, adds Gilliam. These are capabilities that are normally not found at the PCS/SCADA/HMI level or in the ERP. A manufacturer focusing on “process excellence” will benefit from a PCS/SCADA/HMI application, and a processor on a plant or enterprise-level “operational excellence” journey will benefit from an MES application.

The next generation MES system will enable leaner and more flexible deployments involving IT/OT convergence and micro-service architectures. It will enable predictive analytics, cloud and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) deployments, says Gilliam.

While a processor can invest in ERP and/or MES, the important issue is that a manufacturer derives value out of a system, and these investments should be considered very carefully, according to CRB’s Pflantz. “While a good ERP or MES system can offer a good solution, many times I have seen a lot of money spent on some software systems that really do very little that could have been accomplished with something less extravagant. Look at what you have, define what you need, and carefully review solutions to make sure they do what you need them to do.”

Over the years industry has called for more data and more insights without necessarily providing direction for the insights, says Emerson’s Parsons. “Big data is good, but without manageable ways for interpreting the data, it can be overwhelming.”

Therefore, Emerson has employed both a full MES solution (Syncade) along with its Plantweb Insight, a single lightweight, easy-to-install web-based platform that automatically and strategically interprets plant data through a scalable suite of applications that delivers the right information to the right people.

“For all small to mid-sized applications, where MES may not be the right solution, Plantweb Insight can be deployed as functionality is needed,” says Parsons. “For example, if steam is critical for the user, Emerson’s Plantweb Insight for Steam Traps application in combination with our acoustic transmitter provides a preconfigured solution for monitoring steam trap performance.” Parsons also notes that Plantweb Insights Pump and Valve applications monitor and report problems with associated devices in the field.

Similarly, instrument manufacturers have software packages that perform MES-type functions for instrumentation, says Ola Wesstrom, Endress+Hauser USA senior industry manager, food and beverage. Typical packages fall into two basic categories: instrument management programs, which analyze real-time information from instrumentation; and asset management software, which keeps track of every instrument in the plant and stores vital data such as manuals and part lists.

“It is very common to have SCADA but no MES,” says Travis Cox, co-director of sales engineering for Inductive Automation. Successful companies need to have an integration between the plant floor and ERP. ERP determines what should be produced, and the plant actually produces it. Shouldn’t the two be in lock step? “Ignition [software] provides an easy integration between the two without the need of a complete MES. You can start small and have data that is collected automatically on the plant floor delivered to ERP without manual processes, such as production counts,” says Cox.

“Typically, MES solutions are extremely expensive or difficult to set up,” adds Cox. “Ignition can fill the gap and provide both SCADA and MES functionality. Integration is native in Ignition because Ignition is standards based. SCADA/MES software must speak the language of IT for integration to be possible. The more OT/IT convergence, the easier [it is] to provide solutions to these kinds of problems.”

Use the cloud or stay on site?

Is the cloud better for small and medium-sized processors? What about large manufacturers?

“There’s no rule in my opinion,” says Autoware’s De Bernardini. “Cloud is a valid solution for small, mid and big companies. It enables certain functionalities and creates some new issues. It needs to be considered case by case and application by application. We have one multinational company providing MES functionalities to 15 plants with a cloud-based MES that connects to the PLCs, and it works perfectly. We have other small companies that for their specific reality need to have an on-premise installation. Cloud is neither an evil nor a panacea.”

“Small and medium-sized processors can certainly take advantage of cloud-based services, but it can become problematic if your network isn’t robust,” says Rao Kolla, Stellar senior controls engineer. “To be safe I recommend storing ‘mission critical’ data on premises. I’m talking about things that can’t be jeopardized such as product quality or food safety. I wouldn’t store everything in the cloud unless you had the proper infrastructure, but things such as energy data and downtime tracking are generally a safe bet.”

Similar to the difference between ERP and MES, cloud and on-premise solutions have different challenges and benefits, says Brent Stromwall, PE and vice president of business development at Polytron, Inc., a CSIA Certified Member. “Most often, we recommend a hybrid solution using both strategies for different reasons. You want the local data to help the local (on-the-floor) team. Moving data to the cloud for storage and processing then back to the floor for analysis and visualization is inefficient, and presents certain risks for security. Keep the local data local; backup and archive per your policies; and make aggregated data available across the enterprise as the business finds value in it.”

The cloud offers increased capabilities for small and medium-sized processors compared to enterprise-level strategies that were previously reserved for larger multi-site operations, says Aurelio Banda, Beckhoff Automation LLC CEO and president. In addition to making big data analytics of entire lines or plants possible, connecting machines to the cloud also allows the machine builder OEMs to troubleshoot remotely whenever there are issues, reducing downtime and providing more information to help identify why any malfunctions occurred. This is a key benefit for both brown-field and greenfield applications.

Another great option is edge computing, which typically uses a PC-based controller to preprocess and filter data before sending a smaller quantity to the cloud, says Banda. This reduces the amount of bandwidth required, which is directly tied to cloud service costs. Edge computing can also alleviate strain on cloud-connected applications, while helping plant machinery make changes more quickly based on analytics of the preprocessed data to increase efficiency and throughput.

At one point, a processor might face the decision on whether to spend money on replacing older, legacy equipment with newer IIoT-ready hardware. Edge computing helps to bridge the gap between older equipment and the cloud, says Topp. ICONICS helps to make this decision a little easier by providing its IoTWorX IIoT software suite, which combines IIoT gateway technology with its own HMI/SCADA, analytics and mobile solutions running in the cloud.

Cloud-based services tend to scale to actual production costs more effectively than on-premise solutions when it comes especially to hardware, says Bosch’s Tubbs. Users can save the costs of integrating and maintaining servers and networks. But the use case defines most of the decision. Sending operational efficiency data on individual machines is relatively simple and doesn’t require large data transfer. On the other end of the spectrum, analyzing vibration or process data continuously, where terabytes of data are generated, may not make a lot of sense in terms of costs.

It’s the scalability of cloud solutions that’s appealing for small and medium-sized manufacturers, says Hunter Beck, Siemens Digital Industries digital enterprise industry manager. Being able to alter resources on the fly, based on need, can help reduce the risk of heavier capital expenditures. However, any activities that require very low latency or the highest level of confidentiality will continue to be hosted either on edge devices or other on-premise systems.

“Sopheon’s experience is that cloud-based services are on the rise for enterprise software, especially ‘private cloud’ services that are more secure,” says Bryan Seyfarth, director, consumer goods. This approach is typically more efficient and economical for manufacturers of all sizes, as these services provide the same level of flexibility and security without the costly hardware and IT investment. Another benefit the cloud provides is the speed of which systems can be deployed and upgraded.

“We believe the future will be edge/cloud based as the mission critical nature of operations management will continue to require responsive systems, acting in near real time,” says AVEVA’s Chambers. That being said, many traditional operations management and maintenance management functions don’t require this responsiveness and can be more easily managed on the cloud. We see a lot of the advanced analytic applications such as predictive maintenance moving to the cloud.


Mini-success stories with digital transformation

  • Let IBM’s Watson check on it. Opto’s Sinha tells the story of a processor that is looking for a relationship between some of its process variables and final measured product results. The measurement of final product quality can take hours after the process is complete—when it’s too late to take any action. Solution: Use IBM’s Watson to find a correlation in the data, giving the processor time to make changes in the process to improve final product quality results.
  • Danske Gærfabrikker produces yeast sold throughout the world. ABB’s System 800xA is the brain running the increasingly digitalized and energy-optimized factory. Big data is now used to optimize the cooling process. Jack Domino, technical manager at De Danske Gærfabrikker, notes, “We know that energy doesn’t just disappear, but previously, we were unable to track the energy as it moved through the system. Today, thanks to System 800xA, we can do just that. Before, it was more based on gut feelings, but now we can take action precisely where the gains are the greatest.”
  • New Belgium Brewery wanted to increase the company’s ability to take full advantage of its manufacturing capabilities, achieve OEE to produce a quality product and operate the brewery at full production capacity and double case production. After installing Apex Manufacturing Solutions and AVEVA, New Belgium increased its OEE from 45 to 65 percent in just over two years, decreased downtime by 50 percent and increased efficiency of scheduled run times from 25 to 30 percent. For details, visit AVEVA’s site.
  • Marine Harvest, supplier of farmed salmon, has employed Infor CloudSuite Food & Beverage software with its core of Infor M3 in the cloud. Following a pilot in Scotland, the salmon producer will deploy the software globally to have a common platform and standardized processes, which represent a foundation for the company’s digitalization strategy. This will allow for more consistent reporting and easier access to insights, which will drive enhanced productivity. For more information, visit Infor’s site.
  • AMWAY’s global nutrition business is, according to Global Systems R&D Manager Todd Slater, “a very regulatory-driven industry and the ongoing need for updates to label, ingredient disclosures and global registrations pose re-occurring challenges.” AMWAY plans to implement Siemens PLM software, which will simplify managing all these issues. “Having our product content in a single software solution has many merits, which we hope to realize quickly after implementing this software.” For more information, read “Smartindustry: Industry Briefing: Digitalization in Food and Beverage.”
  • Land O’Lakes is leveraging Sopheon’s enterprise innovation management solutions to drive a digital transformation of its cross-functional innovation portfolios and processes. The dairy developed a three-year growth plan to refine its strategies and targets to continue to compete in the marketplace successfully, and then aligned its “innovation ecosystem” to support that. This meant designing a portfolio management model that would align those strategies to its hierarchical portfolios, cascading those strategies to each segment of its business. It also required process and tool standardization, which simplified and streamlined its Stage-Gate innovation processes. Lastly, this led to Land O’Lakes automating its resource planning and optimization processes, implementing a solution to capture project resources and empower its business units to prioritize project portfolios.

For more information,


Autoware Digital LLC,

AVEVA Software,

Beckhoff Automation,

Bosch Rexroth Corporation,



Endress+Hauser USA,


Inductive Automation,


Opto 22,


Process and Data Automation,

Siemens Digital Industries,