How dairy manufacturers can achieve results with Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 can help dairy manufacturers, particularly smaller ones, by improving analytics and general operations.

By Nick McCormick June 19, 2021

Many food and beverage sectors are experiencing struggles right now with small to mid-sized dairies being especially vulnerable. The dairy process is complex, very regulated and margins are tight due to a variety of internal and external factors. In addition, consumer preferences for dairy are constantly changing and it’s getting tougher and tougher for smaller enterprises to compete. Industry 4.0 can help, but it’s not a straight line to success.

Many dairy processors have experienced a financial bump from the COVID-19 pandemic, but most have not adjusted adequately. Production demands have increased and there has been little downtime to implement improvements, let alone perform much needed maintenance. As a result, many dairies have fallen critically behind, and not able to meet demand.

COVID-19 has also accelerated the advancement and deployment of technology in factories across all industries – everything from robots and collaborative robots, to augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), to artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML). For the most part, however, only the larger dairies have been able to implement and capitalize on these innovations. These advancements have only created a larger gap between the capabilities of large dairies and small dairies.

Despite these headwinds, it’s not all negative for smaller dairy enterprises. There are ways for smaller dairies to improve on the margins without breaking the bank or incurring significant downtime to the detriment of production. The benefits of automations and integration such as; improvements to food safety, quality, reliability, flexible production, and traceability are well within their reach.

The key is to not get stuck on the formal definition of Industry 4.0. Achieving Industry 4.0 results without upgrading and/or throwing out the entire infrastructure is not only doable, but preferable in most cases. Small changes and simple additions can make a world of difference.

Perhaps the low-hanging fruit of what to improve is analytics. Chances are, dairy farmers have the ability to collect some valuable data if you are not already doing so. Are you making strategic decisions with the date you collect? In a short amount of time, effort and dollars, dairy farmers can gather insights to improve your operations and produce returns for your business. Is the clean-in-place process maximized or is it bleeding costs? What is your real productivity and effectiveness and how can you use the info to improve? Are proportional-integral-derivative (PID) loops tuned to reduce waste and improve quality of control? In many cases, the data you already have can be used to shed light on these and other areas of inefficiency.

Implementing improvements with quick payoffs and using them to fund the obsolescence upgrades is important. Start replacing unsupported programmable logic controllers (PLCs) with those that provide increased functionality. Look to upgrade drives with more efficient and durable units. Replace any panels that have failing touchscreens. And, don’t forget about your network. To bring your whole enterprise up-to-date, your devices should all be connected in order to simplify support and enable information sharing.

Even if there is little automation now, there are low-cost products and technologies dairy farmers can deploy to lay the foundation for future improvements. For instance, there is process control software available with supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and manufacturing execution systems (MES) built in. Since it impacts your product directly, it’s best to start with the control automation and then add on layers of improvement later. With every implementation, keep the future in mind because technology is constantly changing and improving and there is a real risk something installed today could be obsolete tomorrow. Take the extra step to better position yourself for the future. What can you save off to your historian for a future analytics project?

The threats and corresponding opportunities to the small to mid-sized dairies are significant. Waiting any longer could be detrimental to your long-term success. Start small. If you are having difficulty figuring out what to do first, contact an integrator. They can help with everything including; prioritizing improvements, developing business cases, and providing a digital transformation roadmap. Don’t get hung up on deep and all-encompassing planning, just take one improvement at a time. Know the degree in which your business can benefit. Identify and implement small projects with quick payback and significant return on invest. This is the start to your Industry 4.0 journey. Any step, no matter how small, is forward progress.

Nick McCormick is business unit director, Avanceon, a CFE Media content partner. This article originally appeared on Avanceon’s website. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,

Original content can be found at

Author Bio: Nick McCormick is business unit director, Avanceon