Skip to main content
Skip to main content

Food and drink FutureTech

Home > What we do > Sensing, imaging, IoT > Internet of Things (IoT) > IoT FutureTech Workshops > Food and drink FutureTech

IoT technologies for the food and drink sector

In 2019, CENSIS was commissioned by the Scottish Government to explore and support the use of the Internet of Things (IoT) in Scotland’s key economic sectors.

We held workshops across key industry sectors as part of our FutureTech programme, and as part of this programme, we explored opportunities around IoT around food and drink in Scotland.

Over the last 10 years, food exports from Scotland have more than doubled, it’s Scotland’s biggest employer, sales of Scottish brands in the UK have risen over 40% and the industry is worth a whopping £15 billion. Food and drink business of all shapes and sizes are now part of a Scottish food and drink movement and we are seeing more and more Scottish labelled produce on UK supermarket shelves and in restaurants across the world. (Scotland Food and Drink)

Although the sector is booming it has scope for greater growth, higher productivity and reducing its  environmental footprint. It also has to maintain very high food safety and quality standards end to end from grower to consumer,  and at the premium end make it difficult for counterfeit goods to impact on their markets.

The Internet of Things can help in all of these areas. Like many other industry sectors, IoT is yet to be applied to its full potential by the food and drinks sector where benefits can be passed to the consumer in the form of high quality affordable food which has low impact on the environment. However with an ever increasing array of reliable sensors coming onto the market coupled with ever improving connectivity, machine learning and data visualisation more and more opportunities are emerging for IoT implementations to drive down costs, improve quality and increase competitiveness.

If you haven’t heard of the term ‘Internet of Things’, in its simplest form, it is about connecting devices to the internet, and to each other. This includes everything from a FitBit or Nest thermostat in a domestic context, to industrial IoT used to enhance manufacturing or make improvements in areas such as asset management or maintenance.

Have a look at our ‘Getting started with IoT‘ brochure for more information and examples of IoT in use. This will take you through a process to help you to identify where you can get the biggest benefit and commercial return to your business from investing in IoT

The key to maximising benefit is understanding your business and identifying where you could gain an advantage if only you had better real time/quasi real time information. This could range from information on predictive maintenance of manufacturing lines through improved quality control to minimising waste.

The food and drink industry comprises a complex chain of suppliers from primary production at the farm or in the sea, and progresses through processing/manufacturing to packaging, distribution and retail. Arguably it is this industry more than any other that consumers expect and demand transparency about where our food comes from, and how it ends up in our shopping basket.

Use cases in food and drink

  • On the farm

    In smart farming, arable land productivity is underpinned by understanding soil health, in terms of structure, moisture, and nutrient requirements.

    IoT based sensor networks, especially if combined with other data from satellite and vehicle-mounted systems, can deliver daily soil location based status information from anywhere on an estate to inform the best cost effective interventions at the right time from sowing to harvest.

    For livestock, health and wellbeing is directly linked to feed conversion index and quality of produce from milk to meat, all of which can be tracked, monitored and quantified through a variety of wearable and remote sensing devices.

    As we move towards whole farm management systems, the role of IoT will become more established in acquiring information from processes that would otherwise be too resource-heavy to achieve in any other way.

  • In the factory

    Minimising downtime in the factory can reduce maintenance costs.

    • Monitoring the vibration, power consumption and temperature of production equipment can give early identification of problems before they occur.
    • Understanding the tell tale indications of wear and operational failure of systems prevents unplanned downtime but is challenging where systems don’t provide relevant alerts and alarms.

    A key benefit of IoT based sensing is the ability to retrofit devices onto existing equipment which when combined with data analytics can transform maintenance schedules, reducing costs of repair and periods of non-productivity

  • To increase safety and reduce waste

    Temperature monitoring is critical across the food sector to ensure food safety. Most foods have to be kept within a specified range of temperatures to preserve its quality and ensure consumer safety.

    IoT systems allow for real time monitoring across the whole manufacturing and distribution process through to the supermarket or restaurant fridge. Audit trails can be maintained if required.

    Traditional safety analysis requires manual collection and lab testing of food samples. In the future, automated devices with on board sensors will test samples in-line and provide real-time data from chemical and spectroscopic analysis.

    Once again, Industrial IoT devices will not only save time and energy in food quality and safety testing, they will also contribute to authenticity tracing, helping validated products get to market faster and fresher.

    Monitoring “use by” dates can reduce wastage of the final product whilst improved processing and temperature control can reduce waste through the manufacturing process and minimise use of utilities.

    A key benefit of IoT-based sensing is the ability to retrofit devices onto existing equipment which when combined with data analytics can transform maintenance schedules, reducing costs of repair and periods of non-productivity

  • For better management across the supply chain

    IoT enables companies to monitor the production stage, numbers, location and quality of products across the whole supply chain in real time.

    This type of information can be used in a number of ways reducing the need for maintaining high levels of stock, whilst offering fresher product to customers.

    Many companies are now linking real time sensor data from separately deployed IoT based networks into their enterprise resource planning systems to enhance their processes and reduce resource requirements.

  • Increased transparency

    Well-kept food traceability records and sensor data can increase transparency between businesses, producers and consumers.

    This allows plant managers to respond faster in emergencies and use evidence based data to improve processes and provide assurance to the public that robust mitigation measures are being applied following recalls.

    Blockchain can be applied to IoT data to trace and verify the origins of a product from the field the crops were grown in through to the distillery the whisky was made in giving confidence to the end customer that the product is the genuine article.

  • Environmental and regulatory compliance

    Improved environmental compliance and reduced administration helps with regulatory compliance

    The food industry is tightly regulated. IoT enables real time measurements to be made from anywhere along the production and manufacturing processes.

    This enables data to be logged and stored so reports can be generated on demand, alerts to be raised, or enables data to be sent to specified servers of regulatory bodies to meet any appropriate reporting requirements.

    This automated, data on demand approach can lower the cost of monitoring and increase effectiveness as it allows for real time interventions rather than retrospective changes to processes.

Food and drink

Improving production in food and drink was one of the health and social care subjects explored in our CENSIS FutureTech programme.

This is an area where Internet of Things (IoT) technologies could deliver huge benefits and enhance people’s lives.

Sector knowledge

Within the FutureTech programme, CENSIS met with people from different sectors to hear their ideas about the transformative potential of IoT.

IoT technology will transform business operations across Scotland and impact every sector of the economy.

5 subject areas

The Scottish Government-funded FutureTech workshops were held across Scotland throughout 2019 in the subject areas of

  • Food and drink
  • Health and social care
  • Smart towns and cities
  • Transport
  • Tourism

Take a look at organisations we have worked with

If you would like to find out more about our work with businesses of all sizes, public sector bodies and universities, we have highlighted some of the challenges we have faced together with our clients.