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Is your workforce ready for increased optimisation in F&B manufacturing?

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As Industry 4.0 accelerates in the global manufacturing sector, an often-overlooked field is food and beverage (F&B) manufacturing. Although F&B manufacturing is not perceived to be as important as semiconductors, nor as flashy as electric vehicles, it undoubtedly plays a critical role in feeding the masses – and Industry 4.0 could help create a more resilient, efficient and productive F&B industry.  

What benefits have Industry 4.0 adoption and digital transformation brought to F&B manufacturing? How has the industry prepared its workforce for the future? And, what are the repercussions if workforce readiness is not prioritised?

Case study: Addressing the skills gap in New Zealand’s F&B industry

The F&B manufacturing in New Zealand has been hit hard by skills shortage. The skills gap, if left unchecked, will widen by 38% to reach 40,000 workers in 2028. Given F&B manufacturing accounts for almost 40% of New Zealand’s manufacturing GDP, a decrease in productivity in this specific segment will have a far-reaching impact on the country’s economy.

One of the reasons behind this drop is cultural, according to research commissioned by Hanga-Aro-Rau, the Manufacturing, Engineering and Logistics Workforce Development Council. Maori and Pacific workers are an essential referrer to the industry, and it is common to see extended family working within the same firm for decades. When this fails to materialise, such as when an individual leaves the industry, there is a knock-on effect which results in a reduced pool of potential workers from future generations.

COVID-19 immigration policies, supply chain disruption and changes to the international labour market have also contributed to the skills shortage. The research found that one of the most difficult skills to fill is of a digital nature: understanding of connecting equipment and industrial control software.

To help make the sector more attractive to a diverse range of workers and bring in new blood, manufacturers should incorporate more shift flexibility and embark on new initiatives to boost participation in training. There is also a growing need for cultural and language skills to help break down training barriers that prevent people from diverse cultural backgrounds from participating in the industry, and upskilling existing staff.

In essence, New Zealand needs to expand and further cultivate its labour pool to achieve workforce readiness, in order to maximise the benefits of Industry 4.0 and digital transformation. This is true in many other parts of the world as well.

How Industry 4.0 is elevating F&B manufacturing

F&B manufacturing has similar pain points and optimisation needs as other types of manufacturing. However, F&B manufacturers must pay particular attention to food safety. In addition, the F&B industry is deeply impacted by resource shortage, tight immigration policies and price sensitivity due to complex work floor processes. This means digitalisation, automation, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) could dramatically transform the entire F&B supply chain.

For instance, supply chain automation has allowed F&B manufacturers to manage their inventory and forecasting, preventing inventory shortage. On a food safety front, automatic sensors are increasingly used to monitor ingredients as well as to track food safety audits, allowing for better quality control. Also contributing to improved food safety and quality control, F&B manufacturers can now use asset management systems to ensure machines and equipment are well-maintained.

Digitalisation has also helped optimise packaging in F&B manufacturing, thus promoting sustainable business practices and reducing waste. On the retail end, we have already started to see AI and robots being used to directly address labour and resource challenges, with establishments like cafes and pizzerias utilising these smart technologies to boost productivity, efficiency and service quality.

As the F&B industry continues to grow, with one report estimating the market will reach US$8.9 trillion in 2026, how can manufacturers ensure workforce readiness so their organisation is primed to thrive despite supply chain disruptions, inflation and other macroeconomic headwinds?

Anticipating the skills gap for the F&B sector

In view of the changing F&B landscape as well as even more technological advancements to come, workers are expected to be more digitally fluent. Being comfortable with automation and technology is now high up on the list of desired traits, alongside abilities and qualities such as critical thinking, being globally minded, food safety awareness, cross-cultural sensitivity, and problem-solving skills.

F&B manufacturing businesses have started to automate manual processes with zero-touch solutions, as these allow companies to cut down on human error and contamination, reducing recalls and protecting brand reputation. Such a solution may call for specific skills and knowledge, but given the ever-growing pool of technologies and options available in the market, it may benefit the company more to have workers who are broadly digitally-savvy but may not be familiar with any one specific solution, who are willing and able to learn about the new technology the company has acquired.

Furthermore, going forward, some businesses may seek to boost traceability with Direct Part Marks (DPM) or Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags throughout the production process and supply chain. Workers will need to be properly trained to work in tandem with these technologies, so that synergy can occur to deliver even better results.

Developing a smart manufacturing roadmap to help fill the skills gap

As your workforce becomes more digitally fluent and learns the skills needed to march into the future of F&B manufacturing, business leaders should also establish a smart manufacturing roadmap. This is to facilitate Industry 4.0 transformation as well as prepare infrastructure to enable increased optimisation.

Business leaders will need to identify and select technology vendors that best align with their organisational objectives and capabilities, to better navigate machine health, robotics, AI and advanced analytics, digital twins, virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR), and blockchain technologies. That said, with an increased digital surface, manufacturers will need to establish a strong security infrastructure, framework and cyber-safety culture to enhance internal risk awareness and reduce system penetrability.

Business leaders will also need to develop a workforce culture that embraces change and recognises the value of emerging technology both from an operational and commercial perspective.

Building a resilient, future-ready F&B manufacturing workforce

As F&B manufacturing undergoes digital transformation, more tech and automation will be integrated into operations and systems in manufacturing plants. However, businesses need to find ways to address the skills shortage to maximise the benefits of increased optimisation in F&B manufacturing.

Aside from hiring workers who may not have the exact skills or expertise required but who have sufficient digital fluency that they can easily be trained in technologies specific to your business, manufacturing companies may need to establish a framework of what is necessary for employees to succeed in F&B manufacturing. This will help create a strong internal learning and development programme, to allow both existing and new staff to acquire the skills they need to help take the business to greater heights.

On the retail and consumer end of the supply chain, establishments will need to embrace the mass adoption of AI and digital solutions to address the skills and resource challenges they face, so they can continue optimising their services and processes.

The International Centre for Industrial Transformation (INCIT) is a strong advocate for manufacturing transformation and has both the tools and the reach to support manufacturers globally in building future-ready workforces and organisations, to enable efficient and productive F&B manufacturing that will comply with food safety regulations.

To learn more about how you can position your business and employees for success in this current business landscape, contact us here.

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