The food and drink industry has extensive and complex sensing needs across the whole chain of supply and provenance, from crop and livestock farming, through manufacture and sale, to post sale consumer use and storage. Security, Sustainability and Safety must be adhered to at every stage.
Researchers in Scotland have developed, and now successfully commercialised, livestock monitoring systems that provide dairy farmers with live data on the health, condition and oestrus state of their entire herd on a mobile platform; phone, tablet or laptop. Through data captured from a collar simply worn around the cow’s neck, a host of information specific to the individual cow as captured and transmitted. Specialist analysis elements, developed by the scientists, evaluate the raw data to extract a host of information which the farmer can use to optimise feeding, identify the need for veterinary intervention and target insemination precisely within the oestrus cycle.
Within arable farming, there are many areas where chemical, image based and hyperspectral sensing techniques are being developed and exploited to optimise chemical use, identify disease and help with sorting and processing.
In food processing and manufacturing there are many areas where monitoring and inspection are key to supporting throughput and quality management. Sensing technologies are already heavily utilised and could have further applications in identifying freshness, taint or leakage. On-line inspection of materials such as bottles, for conformance to shape is another example of an area where, specifically optical, sensing could have an impact.
Management of sell by and use by dates on perishable products can be dependent on many parameters such as the temperature history, storage atmosphere and chemical influences from other materials stored nearby; that’s why bananas have to be kept separate from other fruits. Sensor systems, through active dyes that change colour once a package has been opened, are one example of a very recent technological advance that is delivering value in the consumer space. Other examples include RFID tracking of inventory and the, now ubiquitous, shock tags used in transport of fragile items.