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While the COVID-19 pandemic has created many obstacles for the food industry, enterprising manufacturers are speeding up their digitization plans to overcome these barriers. In the process, they are realizing that new digital tools can have transformative effects across their organisations.

Digital technologies aren’t just providing short term benefits. They are changing the way that companies operate and creating shifts in business models that will continue long past the pandemic. Now that companies are understanding how to drive value from data, and how IoT, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics and automation can dramatically improve their operations, they won’t go back. Meanwhile, companies that do not make use of these tools could place themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

Ensuring business continuity 
In the short term, companies have focused on leveraging technologies to run their operations amidst the disruptions posed by the pandemic. Ecolab’s Remote Assist program supports customers with mixed reality and IoT technology when access to a facility is restricted. The Ecolab service specialist wears mixed reality goggles to transmit live audio, video and other information from inside a facility back to a team of experts that can guide the operation (think of it like a guided moon mission, but the astronaut is in your manufacturing facility).

One of our food and beverage customers had a serious Listeria outbreak at their food plant and they needed us to find the source. Using our Remote Assist technology, our field representative visited the plant and through video, coordinated with a team of subject matter experts in three different states to identify the source of the pathogen and help the customer make corrections.

With a digital tool like mixed reality enabling Remote Assist, response times are quicker and multiple experts can collaborate to diagnose and troubleshoot customer problems without having to travel to the site. This saves time and money while boosting efficiency. Our customers are also using this technology to troubleshoot mechanical malfunctions, audit operations, identify leaks, train new employees and install equipment. This is just one example of how digital tools can boost productivity and resiliency in the face of unprecedented challenges.

Identifying potential food safety issues before they occur
Throughout the food supply chain, we’re analyzing data from our solutions and public sources to help determine potential food safety risks and proactively address them before they can impact operations.  For example, managers at a major Arizona dairy plant recently received a warning in the middle of the night that the plant’s High Temperature Short Time Pasteurizer, a critical piece of food safety equipment, wasn’t meeting the temperature required for proper cleaning. The alert came from Ecolab’s 3D TRASAR™ for Clean-in-Place (CIP) system and gave staff the opportunity to intervene before real trouble arose.

Profitability meets sustainability
The existential threats of climate change and water scarcity require industries around the globe take action to lower carbon emissions, conserve water and reduce waste. By deploying transformative digital innovation and adopting best practices, manufacturers can achieve their business and financial goals with a net-zero carbon and water footprint.

By harnessing the power of billions of data points, cloud-to-cloud integration, and digital twin technology, companies can assess performance across their enterprise and optimize their operations in real time. A cloud-based digital platform, such as ECOLAB3D™ uses predictive analytics and machine learning (backed by a global team of on-site and remote experts) to help companies enhance their operations and reduce their environmental footprint at the same time. By leveraging technology and adopting circular water strategies that go beyond their factory fence, companies can not only reduce their water use, but have a positive water impact in the watersheds they operate.

Get started now
There are very practical steps that your organization can take today to speed up your digitization journey. The key is getting started and accepting that it won’t be perfect out the gate, but it will pay off sooner than later. To succeed, companies will have to build highly agile and collaborative organizations that embrace a start-up mindset. It will require upskilling current employees and hiring digital natives, creating new roles, retooling incentives, and revamping the back office. And don’t look just inside your company: Work with external partners such as customers, suppliers and technology companies to learn new skills and build an integrated digital ecosystem.

Let’s seize this opportunity to transform the food industry, empower our employees and build a sustainable future. The time to digitize is now.

Learn more by visiting www.ecolab.com.

This blog was written and contributed by:

Pedro Sancha

Senior Vice President of the Industrial Digital group

Ecolab Inc.

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