December 3, 2020

Optimising food production & manufacturing with Building Automation Systems

As more plants transition to implement IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) devices, they will need comprehensive Building Automation Systems (BAS) software to manage the many facets of food production, automation, energy, and quality management. Here Chris Irwin, Vice President Sales EMEA & VP Global Marketing, explains why BAS are ideal for indoor farming and food processing plants as he looks at the technical side of providing a controlled manufacturing/growing environment.  

When most people think about smart buildings and building automation, they think of large office buildings or city centers. But Building Automation Systems have applications far beyond that of the corporate office world. This software technology can be applied in any building with HVAC, IoT devices, security systems, lighting, refrigeration or energy management needs.

Indoor farming and food processing plants are the perfect use case for BAS software. As more plants transition to implement IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) devices, they will need comprehensive BAS software to manage the many facets of food production, automation, energy, and quality management.  Here are some of the ways that food production facilities are benefitting from BAS.

Environmental monitoring 

To ensure crops are growing properly with optimum efficiency, the environment of your facility is of utmost importance for food production. The temperature, humidity levels, amount of light, and concentration of specific gases all factor into maintaining the growing crop or food quality. If the environment is not properly maintained, product quality is lost, and food safety becomes an issue. All of these factors can be managed automatically by BAS to ensure the environment maintains its integrity. BAS can monitor your HVAC to ensure proper temperature and airflow, plus control of humidity and gas concentrations where management of these parameters is required. Lighting can also be controlled to ensure that the appropriate level is maintained – something very important to indoor farming.

A mushroom farm, for example, grows its products in a minimal amount of light. In order for the mushrooms to grow properly, they must also monitor the air and the concentration of gases. Ventilation is vital to the production and can be monitored with sensors and managed with BAS. The same is true for indoor or vertical farming, where there is a need for controlled-environment agriculture. Using wireless sensors and dashboard technology, helps optimize and automate the control of the environment in the building. 

Beyond monitoring current conditions, having an automated system that can provide a record of historical conditions and failures can be of huge benefit in preventing control failures and to uncovering quality issues.

Removing human error

Sometimes there are processes in the facility that require human intervention i.e re-setting building controls after a cleaning operation or changing modes in between different processes.  Relying on operators to execute manual changes leaves a margin for error, particularly when operatives come off a long/early shift. By linking HVAC and process controls to BAS, the automation removes the human factor and lessens the risk.

Management of energy

For many building operators, the energy bill is the largest single expense. With BAS, energy management is easier, making your building more efficient as you fine tune the use of lights, HVAC, and other equipment to reduce costs, with the savings achieved flowing straight to your bottom line. BAS can also help facility managers get LEED certification or a Living Building Challenge (LBC) 3.1 certification, both stringent sets of requirements that can be easier to meet with data and automation on your side.

Real time and historical data

Using BAS means you have access to real-time data that gives you the ability to know – in an instant – what the temperature, humidity, or air quality is in your facility through easy dashboard technology. All of this is available from a mobile phone or tablet as well. 

Control of the internal climate gives you control over both the growth of crops as well as the prevention of crop damage through disease.  Good supervisory software has the ability to store media as well as data points.  For mushroom farming, as with other crops, photos can be taken and stored to monitor growth remotely. This gives farmers remote access to how their products are doing so that they can change ventilation rates and ultimately optimize growing conditions without having to disturb the environment by entering the facility.  To create a climate for growth, integrated control logic can effect temperature, humidity and airflow.

Improving the supply chain

BAS delivers more than automation, it delivers data. Data can help provide food manufacturers with end-to-end traceability into the supply chain so that profiles and predictive models can be built. Also, defects and issues can be detected earlier in the supply chain. Detecting problems early-on and pinpointing where in the supply chain they occurred can reduce the total number of problematic goods that entered the market and can also help identify the root cause of any issues. 

Maintenance

Having automatic control of equipment and access to its data can help recognize the need for maintenance actions so that untimely failures do not impact production. Real-time data and smart alarms help diagnose problems immediately. Applications like equipment summaries can help visualize a wide range of related data and identify abnormalities. There are various remote diagnosis tools but anything that enables remote access to a building’s automation and IoT systems in an easy, secure, open, and scalable way without the need to set-up a VPN is a must.

Harnessing data for future growth

Finally, building data provided through BAS software can help the managers plan for future projects or expansion. Food manufacturers rely on fine-tuned, repeatable processes in order to maintain quality, efficiency, and food safety. Through the use of sensors and alarms monitored by a BAS, a facility or plant manager could have better control of their environment and deeper insights into their valuable data.

BAS is helping create the perfect environment for food production and manufacturing – a climate for growth.