5 trends observed in 2017

In 2017, we saw some exciting trends in food manufacturing. Whether you were at shows at home or abroad, there were similarities with what’s on the horizon. Here are five learnings we took from 2017.


  1. Virtual reality (VR)

While VR is a bit of fun for consumers, it actually has the potential to transform how products are created and how businesses are run, so it has a serious and important role to play in factories of the future. The entertainment industry, including gaming, has already put VR to good use, but as we saw at both Interpack 2017 and AUSPACK 2017, forward-thinking manufacturers are looking closely at how virtual reality can unlock a competitive advantage by showcasing their solutions and transporting people into a multi-sensory production line. Perfect for food manufacturing. Using VR, food processors can accurately simulate daily operations in a production line to help train new operators, envisage new production lines and improve maintenance. VR can also be used to identify potential manufacturing problems at the design stage. These benefits are seeing young engineering and manufacturing recruits with VR knowledge who entering the workforce already being keenly sought.


  1. Information-driven manufacturing (iDM) 

You’ve no doubt heard the term “smart factories”, well iDM is all about getting more out of your existing assets by making them smarter. In a nutshell, it’s where the information drives the manufacturing. With iDM you automate or optimise all your current manual processes, and network and integrate any equipment with that capacity; usually, you can make any legacy equipment that can’t be networked “smarter” by using sensors. iDM is all about closing the loop, so your production line is connected to your business systems. In this way, you can become better informed and therefore more nimble in decision-making — this is handy for everything from dealing with raw ingredients to quality control and supplier management, right through to capital investments. In Australia’s fiercely competitive food-manufacturing space, this is an excellent position in which to be. Probably the best way to think about iDM is as “Industry 3.5” because it’s the stepping-stone to closing the “gaps” while working towards Industry 4.0. By taking steps towards information-driven manufacturing, food processors can identify where there is opportunity to optimise, change and improve. See how Birch and New Birch & Waite’s new facility showcases Industry 3.5.


  1. Industry 4.0

Of course, iDM and Industry 3.5 lead us to Industry 4.0, which is also known as the “fourth industrial revolution”. Industry 4.0 comes after the first three industrial phases of mechanisation, electrical and computerisation and is where machines interact and respond intelligently to their surrounding physical environment by bringing together the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence and data science to digitalise industry. (Here’s how IoT is potentially an essential ingredient for Australian food manufacturers.) Industry 4.0 is about “mass customisation” rather than mass production. So instead of producing thousands of the same product, manufacturers can use data to customise products and make batches of one. The food industry is in a perfect position to use this “mass customisation”, as it allows people to select ingredients to create customised products. A great example is Mix My Muesli, Australia’s first custom-mixed muesli; see here under “batches of one”.


  1. Robots and cobots

We’ve heard a fair bit about robots and cobots this year, which was reflected by the larger number of stand demonstrations at AUSPACK than ever before. Cobots – or “collaborative robots” – caught the attention of manufacturers of all sizes at this expo, with many interested in how they can benefit from the equipment that is designed to allow repetitive factory tasks to be automated safely and flexibly. Cobots are a pillar of Industry 4.0 (see more here), with the market predicted to reach US$3.3 billion by 2022. Cobots’ cognitive powers make them much smarter than traditional industrial robots, along with being smaller, more active and more adaptable. For smaller food manufacturers particularly, this could be very beneficial.


  1. Know your customer

Knowing your customer has always been important, but it’s perhaps even more important today. However, while the old Gen Y, the Millennials, take up a lot of news air space, don’t forget older generations. Baby Boomers are approaching retirement age and by 2030, the United Nations predicts that more the number of people aged over 60 will increase 56% globally from 900 million in 2015 to more than 1.4 billion. With any demographic shift comes new opportunities, and the ageing population is no exception: the quickly growing market demand for new products and services is called the “Longevity Economy”. Innovating for an ageing world gives an opportunity to rethink existing products and think niche. With data showing many older people have a strong desire for health and wellbeing, the food industry is well positioned to take advantage of the Longevity Economy, equally as it’s well positioned to take advantage of catering to Millennials’ desires.


Of course there were more trends and movements in in 2017, but the above perhaps have the potential for the biggest impact. Understanding these trends offers the industry some key ways to strengthen and position itself for success in 2018 and beyond.


You can find more information on all these trends in Matthews’ resource library. All information is free to download.