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Technological innovations in the beverage industry
Tuesday, 30 March, 2021, 13 : 00 PM [IST]
Ashwin Bhadri
Beverages have been going through a subtle evolution for the past five decades. We have been seeing technological advancements where machinery was developed to replace manual tasks throughout the chain.

Smart technologies are driving the beverage industry into a new digital age with smart factories and artificial intelligence in robotics.

Automation and Digitalisation are Key Players
It starts with processing raw materials. Measurements are made using scales, flow meters and stylus type charts. Today, beverage processing centers are quite advanced in digital technology, with programmed devices that automatically control types of materials, their quantities, and even temperatures for most products.

Moreover, in some operations, product materials are now blended by quantity, type and temperature through pipelines directly into production lines, instead of batch manufacture. These digital applications have paved the way for fully automated processing centres.

Packaging displays got the digital taste as well, such as packaging the product at the filling station. In most operations, manual attention and control have been replaced with digital acknowledgement of status and automated measurements.

Digitally controlled equipment is used to configure containerised products into units for movement to storage. The equipment is subsequently used to palletise the unitised packages to form patterned layers onto a pallet, in order to link with the possibly automated storehouse.

Finally, post packaging and movement to storage, automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) with relevant software are used in fully automated beverage storehouses.

The need for controlling inventories and distribution logistics, as well as the SKU proliferation, has necessitated digitisation. That being said, let’s take a look at some of the key technological advancements in the beverage industry.

Smart Manufacturing via IoT-enabled Solutions
Automation and the Internet of things (IoT) are helping drinks and food manufacturers reap the rewards of the so-called 4th industrial revolution. The rapid increase in robotics and other smart technologies have reduced production costs, improved productivity and enhanced the safety of the staff.

Beverage packs can be filled in a range of sizes and switch formats on the fly with smart sensors introduced on packaging lines. Beverage producers can monitor their supplies, as well as track the filling equipment’s condition for predictive maintenance.

Also, for drinks in transit, IoT-enabled solutions can monitor transportation conditions and provide for a more detailed and accurate record-keeping, making sure products are in compliance with safety regulations.

Ensuring Consistency Across Products with Big Data
Big data can be a crucial component for the beverage industry when it comes to improving insights throughout the supply chain. The development of resource planning software has provided organisations with an online platform that compiles real-time data and helps them in identifying the best ways to optimise the production of smoothies, soft drinks and other beverages.

Coca-Cola, for example, is no stranger to data analytics. The organisation leverages an algorithm called the Black Book model to make sure its orange juice maintains the same quality and taste the entire year-round, even outside orange growing seasons. It does so by combining crop yields, weather data, sweetness ratings, acidity and satellite images, before identifying the best combination of methods to optimise juice production for consumers across the globe.

AI and Robotic Bartenders Experiment
Artificial intelligence allows computers to process data and make actionable decisions, emerging as a major boon for the drinks industry supply chain. AI can give beverages a new lease of life from a hospitality and consumer perspective. However, AI-powered technology is also being tried in a number of ‘unusual’ ways.

In 2017, Cornell University and IBM teamed up to explore the possibility of creating new AI models that could help detect food hazards in dairy products – especially milk – before they can cause an outbreak. This involved analysing and sequencing the DNA of microbes in milk to develop new AI-driven tools in order to identify hazardous anomalies.

Traceability and Marketing with Smart Packaging
Cases where products are deliberately diluted, tampered or mislabelled before they reach consumers cost the beverage industries billions every year. Smart packaging solutions are rapidly increasing in a bid to aid companies to track their products’ validity across the supply chain.

Drink brands are tapping into blockchain technology to create traceable labels. Consumers and retailers are able to scan products with the label via an NFC-enabled device (such as a smartphone) to track the product’s journey.

Beverage players are also making use of smart technologies for marketing their wares. Consumers are able to watch a 3D visualisation of packaging features via their smartphone camera using an app.

Smart packaging can also be the base from which new innovations emerge. In 2017, Smart Cups introduced a new line of energy drinks. These drinks were packaged in cups with 3D poly capsules technology printed on the side. When you add water to the cup, the capsules activate and release an energy drink flavouring.

Sugar Reduction Technologies
The negative impact of sugar consumption is one of the major concerns in the beverage industry, with sugar-laden drinks and soft drinks being cited as a vehicle for bad consumer habits. Drink companies have been attempting to create sugar-free or reduced sugar-versions of drinks as the sweetener market explodes. But could technology help?

An Israeli start-up developed an innovative technology solution that reduces the amount of natural sugar in the juice. The tech uses natural enzymatic activity in non-GMO microorganisms to convert glucose, fructose and sucrose in fruit into non-digestible natural sugars and fibres. As per the company, trials with several drink companies have shown that the tech successfully reduced sugars in orange juice in a range between 30 per cent – 80 per cent.

Moving Forward
In the future, brands will continue to develop technologies in a bid to tackle the main concerns facing the drinks industry. Sustainability could be a focus in particular, as food and drinks companies come under tremendous pressure to reduce their environmental impact.

For instance, the development of technologies that will help with the issue of single-use plastic. In 2018, a US-based company launched a machine designed to quickly sanitise and refill recyclable bottles with water at hospitality and retail locations.

As big data, blockchain and AI technologies continue to improve, drink companies will continue to find answers to their major concerns while augmenting their market appeal to consumers. Smart technologies will become more crucial in the future for an increasingly tech-savvy consumer base.

(The author is CEO of Equinox Labs)
 
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