Since the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a slew of challenges on its own, it might be easy to forget what hurdles the food and beverage industry was already trying to overcome before being hit by lockdowns, labor issues, and supply chain calamities. Margins were already tight, making uptime essential. And climate change was already creating difficulties in the supply chain.
For Leng-d’Or, a Spanish multinational food company, supply chain headaches were already an issue, making supplies of raw materials like corn and flour less reliable. Leng-d’Or makes food pellets that are sold to other companies to make snack foods. Though it is unlikely a company that many consumers are familiar with, its products show up in a lot of the more familiar brands we snack on.
Always looking to innovate, updating recipes and changing formulas, Leng-d’Or has its scientists in Europe traveling several times a year to the U.S. to collaborate on new products. The company’s headquarters are in Barcelona, Spain, and all of its researchers are in Barcelona as well. “But we have big facilities in the States, and one of the biggest snack facilities in the world in the state of New Jersey,” describes Enric Cuixeres, head of information technologies for Leng-d’Or. And then came strict lockdowns at the start of the pandemic. “Our first problem was that we couldn’t travel into the United States because they had closed the borders.”
This drastically changed how Leng-d’Or operated. “Our concern is that we’re continuously developing new products—every day, every month—and we are doing tests, almost two or three each week,” Cuixeres says. “We are trying to develop new products and flavors, testing new packaging.”
Keeping collaboration lines open
As luck would have it, Leng-d’Or had, just a few months before the lockdown, bought a RealWear augmented reality solution integrated with a suite of Webex capabilities from Cisco. Although they hadn’t really made use of the technology yet, at that point, they jumped in with both feet.
“When the States completely closed, we sent the RealWear tool to our facilities in the states, and we used this augmented reality technology also with our cameras,” Cuixeres explains. “It was a very good thing for us because, without this technology, maybe we could not develop new products in the States.” He further explains that it’s advantageous for Leng-d’Or to develop products in the U.S. for patent reasons, and also to distribute products more readily to North American customers.
With the use of Webex Expert on Demand for RealWear and Cisco Meraki for smart cameras and sensors, Leng-d’Or experts in Spain could lead real-time changes to their machines in New Jersey. They could also collaborate with their U.S. counterparts in real time through the Webex app, exchanging drawings and formulas.
“In addition to traditional video collaboration, we were facing the need to integrate live images as well as very specific views of our machines,” Cuixeres says. “To do this, we decided to integrate the video stream of the Meraki MV smart cameras and Webex Expert on Demand in RealWear in a private Cisco Webex room. Thanks to this action, we were able to have a complete global picture of the whole process in real time.”
Having eyes and ears on the front line (audio and video are fully integrated) gave Leng-d’Or scientists in Spain very specific images of what they needed. “We could have a front-row worker with a tool. And we could show and guide a colleague in another part of the world, inside a plant,” Cuixeres describes. “The expert could talk in real time with the worker, seeing the same things that they see. You could share content with the front-row worker. Or the front-row worker could take a snapshot and you could draw over the snapshot and help your colleague.”
The benefits came quickly. “During the first and second months of hard lockdown, we were learning how to use this kind of technology,” Cuixeres notes. Though they had the technology in hand before COVID hit, they hadn’t spent much time using it. During the first couple months, projects were delayed one or two weeks as the team got up to speed. “But with that little delay, we could continuously develop and work as usual.”
Leng-d’Or has integrated several different Cisco products together within its operations to make everything work efficiently. Along with a range of Webex applications and Meraki Vision Cameras integrated with RealWear 3D Glasses, the deployment included SecureX cloud technology. With end-to-end security spanning its network, cloud, email, and endpoints, it kept the company secure as its international supply chain went remote.
The security needed around the solution that Cisco put together for Leng-d’Or is particularly important when considering the need to secure the intellectual property being shared between Barcelona and New Jersey and then through a patent process. “The security is a must for us,” Cuixeres says. “We think that the trust between our customers and us as a company is one of the most important things. We are trying to create products every week. We are changing our industrial process, we are modifying our industrial machines.”
Leng-d’Or has to keep its guard up to protect that information. “The companies that are developing new things, usually the attackers, they are trying to phish us, they are trying to steal our information,” Cuixeres says. “So protecting our employees from the phishing attacks is very, very important to us.”
With Cisco SecureX, Leng-d’Or can detect a security breach in real time. “Leng-d’Or reduced the time to detect threats by 90% thanks to the single pane of glass provided by Cisco SecureX,” Cuixeres says. “During a one-week period, there were between two and five confirmed threats blocked.” During the same period, the system also blocked four to six malicious URLs from inbound email and two to four malicious URLs from the Cisco Umbrella virtual appliance or roaming client.
On beyond the lockdowns
Though Leng-d’Or could have easily lost contracts if it hadn’t been able to deliver for its customers, ultimately, the pellet maker’s customers didn’t even know it was using these kinds of technologies because development carried on seamlessly.
Despite the lift in travel bans, benefits of the technology continues for Leng-d’Or. Cuixeres points to a whiteboard feature that the company’s researchers continue to use every day. “Employees are always sharing the content, then sending the final results of brainstorming to the cloud,” he says.
And, like many executives and technicians who found, during lockdown, that they didn’t really need to travel as much as they had been previously, Leng-d’Or has taken advantage of its newfound capabilities to stay put a bit more. “During the lockdown, it was very good for us because we could do exactly the same job without traveling. But after the pandemic, we learned that we could apply a hybrid work model,” Cuixeres says. “We’re traveling 50 to 60% less than before the pandemic.”
The time and money savings for Leng-d’Or is significant. But it’s also a difference in quality of life. “For employees, they could stay with their families, with their kids,” Cuixeres says. “When you fly from Europe to the States, you usually stay more than a week.”