Facilities Optimize Cost-Saving Sustainability With MnTAP | Digital Innovation Production Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

On this "Take Five" episode, editor Aaron Hand tackles how COVID-19 accelerated food and beverage producers digital transformation journeys. Melissa Griffen covers how an intern program's sustainable solutions drove cost saving for Minnesota companies.


In this episode, we discuss how sustainability efforts continued despite the pandemic as intern program MnTAP teamed with Minnesota companies to provide individualized solutions to reduce company environmental footprints. Also covered is how the coronavirus created demands in both workplace safety and changing markets that pushed food and beverage producers further along in their digital journeys. 

Quick hits:

  • The pandemic has emphasized the need for resilient and sustainable practices in the global supply chain.
  • Solutions offered by MnTAP student interns not only have a positive impact on the environment but also deliver real cost savings to food processors.
  • Companies (such as Chobani and West Liberty Foods) that already had remote monitoring capabilities or advanced data analytics in their operations were able to pivot quickly as the pandemic demanded.
  • About 62% of manufacturers have forged ahead or even accelerated their smart manufacturing efforts because of the pandemic. So those that haven’t could be left behind.
  • Increased connectivity also means increased cyber attack vectors. Manufacturers need to further consider their cybersecurity programs.

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   Read the transcript below:

Melissa Griffen: Hello, this is Melissa Griffen, contributing editor at ProFood World Magazine. Even though the food industry has had to shift its focus from restaurants and food service customers to manufacturing for retail outlets during the pandemic, the industry has not taken its eye off of sustainability. A SmartBrief article from August 2020 states that even though the demand for essential items put strains on CPG supply chains, these challenges did not disrupt manufacturer sustainability efforts. Rather, it emphasized the need for sustainable and resilient practices in the global supply chain.

Food manufacturers in Minnesota have been staying ahead of the game by joining the 2020 Minnesota Technical Assistance Program, which is based out of the University of Minnesota and also known as MnTAP. Matt Domski, the program coordinator, states that MnTAP sends students to facilities for three months to study the needs of the facility and identify personalized solutions, which would further the company's sustainability and energy-saving goals. It also gives the students the opportunity to gain leadership skills and industrial experience that they otherwise wouldn't have entering the field post-graduation.

MnTAP has been around for 37 years now and has helped more than 350 companies. 21 interns were placed this last summer, and five of those went to food and beverage companies. According to an MnTAP report, the solutions offered by the students not only have positive impact on the environment but offer real cost savings to food processors.

For example, Madison Best offered a number of water savings solutions to Old Dutch Foods, a Minnesota snack food company. Her solutions would altogether save the company over 19 million gallons of water and nearly $190,000 annually, with suggestions such as installing a disc stack centrifuge to clean wastewater for reuse.

At August Schell Brewing Company, Mason Bolster’s suggestions would save the company $199,300. And it would reduce the use of phosphorous cleansers and wastewater loading and saved the company 750,000 gallons of water annually while increasing recycling of packaged products.

Aaron Hand: I'm Aaron Hand, executive editor at ProFood World. I'm here today to talk to you about digital innovation in the food and beverage industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In ProFood World's February issue, our cover story talks about the progress being made in digital innovation in the industry. Certainly it's been an ongoing trajectory, but the pandemic itself has given the push needed to really move forward with automation and Industrial Internet of Things technologies. Some examples that we talk about come from yogurt maker Chobani, and West Liberty Foods, which is a cooperative that processes meats. In both cases, we show that the companies that were already well on their way with the digital transformation were in a much better position to pivot quickly when the Coronavirus demanded changes in operations or changes in the marketplace.

In Chobani's case, they were working with inductive automation with their IoT platform. And when the pandemic hit, it gave them the ability to remotely manage and troubleshoot their production equipment. And with West Liberty Foods, they were kind of in a similar situation with the work they were doing with Leading2Lean software, where they were able to better manage those maintenance communications. But in their case, the bigger deal was their quick pivot they had to make from one of their largest customers, Subway, more to a retail outlets like Costco and Walmart, moving from 40 pound bulk boxes to now packaging 41 pound packages for consumers. So the Leading2Lean software gave them the visibility they needed to be flexible in that way. So certainly there were manufacturers along the way who have paused their smart manufacturing initiatives because of the pandemic, but according to a survey from Deloitte and the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, about 62% of manufacturers actually have forged ahead and even accelerated because of the pandemic.

So anytime I talk about increased connectivity, I'm hesitant to avoid the topic of cybersecurity because it is certainly important within that context. You will see in the story that we have a side conversation with Claroty where they talk a bit about the main thing being that the pace of digital transformation is faster than the pace of cybersecurity adoption. Clarity talks a bit about what's needed there to get those tools up to speed. So, you can check out our cover story in the February issue of ProFood World or read it online at this link. Thanks for watching. Have a great day.

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