Pandemic-Driven Changes in Food and Beverage Plant Design

Food and beverage producers don’t see COVID-19 as a one-time event. As they actively prepare for the next global pandemic, they’re looking at the changes they need to make in plant design. Find out about their new ideas in this Take Five video.


Quick hits:

  • 78% of food and beverage executives say they are actively preparing for a future global pandemic, according to a survey from AIB International.
  • Though manufacturing executives are looking to grow their workforces in the coming months, only 5% are confident in their ability to get the talent they need.
  • During the pandemic, food manufacturers took advantage of remote connections to test and commission equipment virtually. Remote maintenance and troubleshooting will likely continue.
  • Driven by demand from the pandemic, PMMI’s OpX Leadership Network released best practices and guidelines for executing virtual factory acceptance tests.

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   Read the transcript below:

Welcome to Take Five. I'm Aaron Hand, Executive Editor for ProFood World. Today, I'd like to talk about the food and beverage industry as we make our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, I want to talk about plant construction and design in a post-pandemic world.

Personally, I'm relishing the idea of getting together with friends and family without masks as more of us are fully vaccinated. There are certain things though that won't change after the pandemic. For example, I think a lot of us have realized what a time-saver it is to order our groceries online and then just run to the store and pick them up curbside. Likewise, food executives are realizing that not every meeting needs to be a face-to-face meeting. They're having more Zoom calls and realizing that they can actually save a lot of time and expense. They will still have some in-person meetings, but they'll do more of those video calls too.

So food manufacturing has seen unprecedented change during this time, difficulties keeping workers safe, huge swings in the supply chain, that it's going to change the face of manufacturing for years to come. Manufacturers will carry the lessons learned into new projects, whether green field or brown field, and with ideas about worker density, air flow, ventilation, the spacing in factories, automation and robotics, and a lot more. For ProFood World's June issue, I talked with several architecture and engineering firms about what they're seeing from their customers, what their customers in the food and beverage industry are asking for in their new plant designs. Overwhelmingly, the feeling is that the masks will go away eventually but the impact that the pandemic has had on the facilities likely will not. Nobody is seeing the COVID-19 pandemic as a one-time event, whether it's another coronavirus or it's some other type of virus, food and beverage manufacturers are realizing that they need to be prepared for the next global pandemic.

In fact, some statistics from AIB International show that 78% of food and beverage executives say they are actively preparing for the next global pandemic. 30% of those surveyed expect to see another one in the next four years, and then another 50% expect that within the next decade at least. So as food producers try to prepare for that next pandemic, one of the key themes that came up repeatedly in my reporting was about the flexibility needed for manufacturing systems. In a lot of ways, that flexibility is needed just to be able to react to the shifts in demand. That flexibility is going to come in large part through automation. The automation will include robotics, which a lot of the engineering firms are saying that they're seeing much more of from their customers just within the past several months. Collaborative robotics will in particular make those systems more flexible. It'll also help keep workers better spaced and it will help in particular with the difficulty that these manufacturers are having even finding the workers that they need.

Some other statistics from Sikich Industry Pulse, 56% of the manufacturing and distribution executives that they surveyed said that they have plans to increase their workforce within the next six months. But only 5% of those thought that they would have the ability to find the people that they need to actually fill those positions.

So, for the food industry as a whole, assets are much more connected now, which they became during the pandemic as people tried to figure out how they were going to commission equipment in the middle of a pandemic when they couldn't enter into a factory. And actually, because of the pandemic, PMMI's OpX Leadership Network created a guideline for virtual factory acceptance tests. So that FAT guideline is available for free download from opxleadershipnetwork.org. 

Thank you for joining us today.

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