The food and beverage (F&B) sector has been significantly challenged throughout the pandemic, with its supply chains having to rapidly adapt to its ongoing effects, in particular ensuring operator safety and dealing with issues such as raw material supply, inventory shortages, labour retention, movement limitations and dealing with spikes in volumes.
The pandemic has also changed consumer behaviours, and this is having flow on effects on the F&B supply chain. Beyond this, other global trends, such as switching to healthier lifestyles, an increased focus on sustainability and the environment, and regulatory change, are also rapidly changing the face of F&B distribution as we know it. Thus, how F&B businesses respond to these changes, how they can increase operational resilience and agility, will prove to be the critical indicator for their success during times of uncertainty both now and in the future.
Resilience will be the only way forward
These issues will continue to have far reaching effects on many businesses in 2021 and beyond, encouraging them to consider alternative solutions on how to handle these challenges with greater operational flexibility, greater system scalability and with improved supply chain capabilities. Adaptability is becoming a critical differentiator in the competitive F&B market.
Innovations to streamline operations for a proactive food and beverage supply chain
The good news is that there are various automation technologies that can increase the resilience and flexibility of F&B operations and reduce the reliance on labour. Automated Pallet Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) provide high-density, high-capacity storage for pallets in a fully automated way and at an extremely high speed. With an AS/RS, stock cannot be lost or forgotten, as the system provides complete and real-time visibility of overall inventory.
Another solution that helps to provide complete automation of transport as well as storage and retrieval processes are Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs). AGVs are purpose built for any environment – ambient, chilled frozen, production, warehouse – and ensure maximum workplace safety and impeccable accuracy, all while maintaining the flexibility levels of manual systems. Redeploying AGVs to different locations is also possible, and by using laser navigation, adjusting pathways can be easily modified.
Likewise, technology such as the Dematic Multishuttle Meat & Poultry Buffer Storage and Handling system is another innovative solution built for F&B chilled and freezer warehouse environments, providing speed, labour, inventory accuracy and efficiency advantages to post-production distribution, palletising and despatch operations. An automatic carton storage and sortation system, it consolidates product cartons coming off production lines, stores them, and once ready for an order, delivers cartons to be palletised in the specific sequence required. Its inherent system redundancy, combined with excellent storage density, makes it a very applicable automation solution for many F&B production facilities.
These advanced automation technologies break the paradigm that a truly flexible solution can only be possible with a manual environment. As the latest generation of automation solutions are more flexible and modular to better address the requirements of today’s F&B supply chain, they exist as a fundamental aspect for innovating supply chain operations and building the resilience and agility to withstand whatever lies ahead.