Digitalization Q&A with Tyson Foods’ Jonathan Riechert

Riechert, a member of the inaugural class of The Smart Industry 50 talks about the latest developments of Industry 4.0 as it pertains to the world of food processing.

As senior corporate engineer of innovation at Tyson Foods, Jonathan Riechert is among those leading the food and beverage industry into the digital transformation. As a member of Smart Industry’s inaugural class of The Smart Industry 50, he is recognized among peers as a true thought-leader. Here Jonathan shares his thoughts on the latest developments of Industry 4.0 as it pertains to the world of food processing.

How does digitalization address the unique challenges and opportunities in food and beverage?
Jonathan: I think the most unique thing about food and beverage is the track and trace requirements that are now coming to our field similar to what pharma has experienced for much longer. We are starting to see regulations drive this transformation, rather than the need for process or product improvements or cost savings. There is now a need to know where all the inputs come from in a supply chain, how, where, and when that product is processed and packaged, and to which customer it was sent. The digital transformation is allowing us to more easily meet the new regulations and provide additional benefits to the business by automatically tracking process and packaging data, which can then be correlated to data in our ERP systems.

Is adopting digitalization critical to compete in the modern business environment?
Jonathan: Critical? Not in every case, but it depends on the business. I believe that as the level of automation goes up, the more critical the adoption of digitalization becomes. Increased automation attempts to drive human involvement out of a process, but as we do that we start losing the ability to ask questions of the people involved in executing a process. Now, you have to ask questions of a machine or robot. How do we do that? We digitize the information so that we can present it in a way that allows us to understand what is happening inside a process.

What hurdles have provided the best learnings with this process?
Jonathan: Our biggest challenge has been making our plant-floor automation available for the digital transformation through equipment upgrades or connections to networks. The opportunities that are provided are seemingly endless. Our Continuous Improvement and Operations Departments have been seeing the data that can be collected, provided, and aggregated; they have been asking for more and more to continue driving improvements in their respective areas.

How would you define your maturity level with digitalization?
Jonathan: We are eight years into our digitalization efforts from the time we put in our first (rather limited) system and I’d say that a good analogy would be that we are like a pre-teen. We have gotten past some of the basics but are still learning every day, finding out new information, and exploring how we can use the new skills we are picking up. Much of that is we know how we can make things digital and get data while still trying to figure out how to best apply this knowledge to our business.

What are your greatest needs/plans for digitalization?
Jonathan: Our digitalization efforts will continue to grow as our operations look for further improvements and process understanding. I attempt to focus our resources on three questions:
1. What is the biggest pain point in the process?
2. What is the most important information needed to be seen?
3. What has the biggest impact?
Based on experience, the answers to those questions provide a great starting point and then can lead to more questions down the road, including questions you may not have thought of previously.

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