Digitalisation in the food industry

In many business sectors, digitalisation is already well advanced. However, the food processing industry is still in the early stages, although it is clear that digitalisation can make a major contribution to greater efficiency, process reliability, and transparency, as well as higher pack and product quality. The current situation is illustrated for us by Dr Marius Grathwohl, Vice President of Digital Products and Transformation at MULTIVAC.


Dr Grathwohl, what are the positive effects that generally result from digital change in the food industry?


The food sector can expect the same opportunities as other processing industries in general: digitalisation provides a higher level of transparency in all the processes, allowing their effectiveness to be measured and subsequently optimised. In terms of food processing and packaging machines, the main aim of this approach is to increase machine availability and reduce unplanned downtime. In addition to this however, the technology available today can also be used to increase food safety and therefore consumer protection. Process and production data can be saved, evaluated and traced on the basis of specific products, and this aids food processors with tracking and tracing in the event of production problems, for example.

And last but not least, digital change enables coordinated operation to be achieved along the whole process chain and, by implementing appropriate platform models, this opens up new business perspectives, such as alternative sales opportunities. However, in order to be able to operate this successfully, production and packaging processes have to be designed much more flexibly. It is here that MULTIVAC is able to support our customers in a wide variety of ways. Our digital solutions are generally aimed at simplifying and accelerating production and packaging processes, while also making them as reliable and efficient as possible. One concrete example is our Remote Assistance service, which improves the reaction speed and quality of our customer service.


And the demands of consumers are also increasing ...


Very much so. The market today is influenced significantly by the wide variety and individualisation of products, as well as by the increasing awareness of consumers as regards quality, sustainability, communication, and above all transparency. In my opinion, this trend will continue to grow - and companies should see this not just as a challenge but also as a real opportunity. If, for example, the "information policy" within a company is improved, this strengthens the company image, helps to build trust, and can even provide a competitive advantage - and it is also a logical consequence of other developments that have gone before. A lot of product and company information, as well as event highlights or helpful tips on things such as cooking recipes, are today available on demand via digital channels like websites, apps, or QR codes. Both younger and older consumers use these opportunities today to the limit.

All of these demands, arising from outside pressures or the need to optimise internal processes, can however be met in full by implementing the appropriate digital models. This explicitly includes the platform economy already mentioned above.


In Germany, almost 90 percent of the food industry consists of small and medium-sized companies. Many approaches to digitalisation are clearly "oversized" for this target group. Which solutions can benefit these companies?


MULTIVAC is developing digital products specifically for this target group, allowing entry into digitalisation to be easier. The use of MULTIVAC Smart Services, for example, does not require a large start-up investment, since the modular range of digital aids allows them to be tailored flexibly to the particular MULTIVAC machine or relevant line components. Higher-level networking of machines is also an important point since many companies in the market tend to think more about lines and less about individual machines. This has also encouraged us to engage in overarching cooperation with other equipment manufacturers, for example, as part of the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance. This is because we want to ensure MULTIVAC machines can be networked compatibly in our customers' production environments, and that the entire production line is considered as one integrated whole.

Our customers also have the opportunity at any time of communicating their individual requirements to us, so we are able to take these into account when developing our services and thereby offering our customers additional added value.

Are companies in your view currently dealing with the necessary measures, in order to be able to keep pace with the technological developments?

There is much discussion at the moment about digitalisation. However, the requirements are always "individual", while the range of digital solutions available is generally very confusing. This results in an initial explorative phase, where the market is investigated and information is collected, after which in some cases preliminary digital solutions are tested. In my experience however, it is frequently difficult for companies in this dynamic development phase to decide on solutions which are intended to stand the test of time. This means higher levels of investment in digital solutions are often phased successively over many years. It is therefore extremely important for suppliers of digital solutions to make provision now for open interfaces on their own products, reassuring customers that they have not invested in an isolated application.


Which areas of a company are affected by digitalisation or Industry 4.0, and what are the preconditions that must be created?


Virtually all areas of a company can benefit from digitalisation. The term "Industry 4.0", which is frequently overused today, is aimed primarily at the production environment - and this is where MULTIVAC machines are usually located. If customers want to adopt Industry 4.0 with MULTIVAC, an essential requirement is Internet provision via LAN and WLAN. In addition to this, the necessary coordination between our technicians and the customer's IT department can sometimes be a "challenge", since the use of this technology is new and often involves security concerns. This dichotomy has to be clarified and resolved, and this can sometimes be time-consuming.


Can you briefly outline how MULTIVAC has made the transformation to a digital company with digitalised machines and digital processes?


MULTIVAC has been engaged intensively in this area for about three years. In addition to the digitalisation of our packaging machines, such as the new X-line generation, and the expansion of our range to include digital products such as MULTIVAC Smart Services and MULTIVAC Pack Pilot, we have also made groundbreaking progress with the digitalisation of processes within our own company.

Of course we also recognize digitalisation is a process of change. We believe this change can succeed particularly well for us, if we let our staff become actively involved in this change, and if they can help to shape it. It is for this reason that we have implemented internal change projects such as our Digital Architects Program, which have been received with high approval and commitment by our staff.

You just mentioned the X-line. What are the features of the new generation of thermoforming packaging machines and traysealers, which make them so well equipped for the new era?


The X-line is equipped with a high level of sensor control and offers a wide range of innovative features. This makes a major contribution to greater process reliability and pack quality, as well as higher output. Thanks to their networking capability, the machines are ideally equipped for the future requirements of our customers in terms of the digitalisation of their processes, and these machines are already pre-prepared for use with the comprehensive MULTIVAC Smart Services.

When equipped with the cloud-based Pack Pilot settings wizard, this makes a significant contribution to reducing set-up times and operating the machine at virtually the optimum operating point. All X-line models can be equipped ex works with the hardware and software required for Industry 4.0, as well as with the standard OPC-UA interface.

Ultimately, however, machines are still operated by people - one of the innovations of this groundbreaking machine generation is the new HMI 3. How does this innovative user interface ensure the link between human and digitalised machine is always reliable?


When developing the HMI 3, our software engineers in the Control Technology department were successful in adapting functions from smartphones and tablets, with which people in their private lives have long been familiar, to the demands of industrial purposes. These include multi-touch and gesture control, as well as widget-based guidance through very clear and flat drop-down menus. Our machines can therefore not only be operated more easily, but the operator's experience and acceptance of the technology are also elevated significantly.

Sustainability is similarly a core theme in the food industry. In your view, can the high degree of digitalisation in machines open up new opportunities for saving resources?

Many digital solutions focus explicitly on aspects of sustainability. In an industrial-scale context, MULTIVAC is already making an important contribution with its Pack Pilot. Since the optimum machine setting is calculated automatically, and the customer no longer has to aim for the correct forming and sealing settings by means of trial and error, it is possible to save considerable quantities of film, which would otherwise have been lost when optimising settings.

In addition to this, Pack Pilot can also help with determining the optimum gas mixture, allowing shelf life for the particular product to be maximised. When viewed overall, digital solutions also assist in raising awareness of the consumption of supply services to the machine, such as water, compressed air, power, or packaging gas, since the consumption rates for machines can be measured and made visible.


Another major topic as regards the IoT in industrial-scale operation is predictive maintenance ...

Predictive maintenance is a popular but complex subject. Since starting our projects in the industrial IoT context, we have been clearly communicating to our customers, that we regard predictive maintenance as a Polar Star. The vision of wholly predictive maintenance for a machine leads us on the path of digitalisation, but we will be proceeding step by step: we would like to move further forward in digitally monitoring the critical machine components such as cutting units, lifting units, chains, drives and pumps, as well as learning more about the relationships between sensor values and physical states. Here we need large amounts of relevant data, as well as the necessary technical expertise, and we will continue to collect this together with our suppliers so that we can develop solutions for our customers. This will enable our customers in the medium term to better plan their maintenance schedules, and in the longer term it may be possible to prevent unplanned downtime altogether.

One example of such an application is our new FS15 punch, which we have developed in conjunction with the RX 4.0. Since we can already measure the travel range of the punch, it is also possible to measure the abrasion on the cutting unit and therefore the wear, so the optimum time for replacing the cutting unit can be predicted.


How do you see the willingness of your customers to upload data from their production lines to the MULTIVAC Cloud? And what assurances can they expect from MULTIVAC?


It is true to say that the willingness of our customers to use the cloud-based MULTIVAC Smart Services does vary considerably. In particular, we have identified differences between product sectors and also between different sizes of companies. Whereas customers in the medical sector are still somewhat critical towards cloud-based products, and the production processes in this industry are organised comparatively rigidly due to legal regulations, there is, in my opinion, a greater willingness in the food sector to use cloud-based services. Small and medium-sized companies tend to be more open to digital solutions, since internal coordination is often less complex and organisational responsibilities are usually more clearly defined.

At MULTIVAC we know all about the special security requirements demanded of our digital solutions by our customers, and we take these into account when developing the products. For example, we decided at an early stage to have a functional separation of the IoT applications and the actual machine function. MULTIVAC Smart Services are operated on separate hardware and not on the actual machine control, so they can not endanger the operation of the machine at any time. All machines, for which we offer MULTIVAC Smart Services, are also equipped with an encrypted outgoing Internet connection. Therefore, machine operation must remain unaffected since the services are only assigned "read" (and not "write") authorisation.

Transparency in data usage is ultimately very close to our heart. All MULTIVAC Smart Services are therefore subject to a special Data Usage Agreement, in which we explain to our customers the purpose of collecting the data and how it is used. If customers are interested in viewing the data, they are invited to make a disk image themselves at any time of the stored machine data as part of a data audit.

MULTIVAC Smart Services create added value in every respect

Today MULTIVAC is already offering companies groundbreaking solutions with a wide range of tools for increasing machine availability and efficiency, and these can be implemented as required on a step-by-step basis.

Smart Production Dashboard - An essential component

From the point of view of the user, the control centre of a digitalised machine is the dashboard, which can be run not only on a large flatscreen beside the machine, but also viewed remotely if required on a PC in an office. This means not only does the operator at the machine have real-time access to all the relevant information about the current performance, but also the management. The benefit of such a tool lies in the significant reduction of communication channels and reaction times.

Smart OEE Analyzer - A strategic instrument


The OEE Analyzer offers detailed analysis to various degrees of a packaging machine's operating data within a time period of up to four weeks. The software captures the percentage availability, pack quality and output of the machine, then multiplies these values and calculates the Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) of the packaging line.

Smart Log Analyzer - A powerful tool for increasing efficiency


The Smart Log Analyzer reads the report and fault memory of the packaging machine, then loads the relevant data to the Smart Hub, where it is subsequently analysed. The data capture ranges from higher-level information, such as the machine's productive time, right up to individual events that cause downtime. The Smart Log Analyzer is aimed not only at users of the machine but also service technicians. In the event of a fault, the important data is available immediately to the service technician for troubleshooting, allowing machine downtime to be reduced to a minimum.

MULTIVAC Pack Pilot - A new dimension in process optimisation

With the MULTIVAC Pack Pilot a cloud-based software has been developed, which enables machines of the X-line generation to be set up without any expert knowledge. MULTIVAC Pack Pilot is operated directly via the HMI 3. When creating new machine configurations or recipes, the user simply selects the corresponding features of the pack, packaging material and product. In conjunction with the data for the machine and the dies used, a pack can be created to virtually the optimum operating point, and the corresponding recipe can then be loaded directly when required. Using the newly created configuration ensures packs are produced with consistent quality and maximum pack reliability.



All you have to do is get in touch!

We can't wait to develop a solution that works best for you. Contact us and together we'll find your best processing or packaging solution. We look forward to hearing from you!


News. Facts. Background.

What are the most interesting current developments in the world of processing and packaging? Developments, trends and challenges – all bundled together for you. Keep informed!


Key dates - national and international

Are you planning visits to upcoming industry trade fairs? Here, you'll find out when and where they'll all be taking place.



Let's reach the summit together! Maximize your productivity and minimize your life cycle costs - with our PEAQ Promise. PEAQ stands for Productivity, Efficiency, Availability and Quality. Find out what's in it for you.