Editor’s Note: Ron Hadar is CEO of Vibe Imaging Analytics, an Israeli company providing machine vision sensors and cloud-based analytics solutions to the postharvest grain and seed markets. Here he discusses the necessity for post-harvest grain players to invest in technology.
The post-harvest grain market is under tremendous pressure from reduced margins and is expected to go through a major transition in the next few years. Consistent with a trend toward more digital and IoT solutions in food and agriculture, there is a vast amount of data that could be similarly gathered and used by post-harvest players to put them in a stronger position with a better understanding of the quality of their grains.
Transitions in the post-harvest grain market are driven by multiple factors. The FDA’s new food safety modernization act (FSMA) shifts the focus from responding to safety events to prevention, mandating inspection frequency, documentation, and access to records.
Industry 4.0, or the digitization of the manufacturing and industrial world including sensors, connectivity, data storage, and analytics drive execution, enable connectivity, data exchange and analysis in the industrial world.
New trading platforms, and even the internet and smartphones increase ease, accessibility, and transparency so farmers can get the best price from broader market players. And on-farm storage enabling farmers to maximize returns by selling their crop at the best possible time is an age-old tactic growing in popularity.
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These multidimensional transitions require that companies in the post-harvest grain supply chain adjust to the new market situation by overcoming internal resistance at every level to adopt new technologies.
One key issue is the “establishment” part of the business, which to this day operates a complex-by-design supply chain wherein waste and a lack of transparency are an embedded part of doing business and considered accepted practice, to the benefit of the larger players.
Operating in the digital era, where everything is connected, enabling access to information and knowledge for suppliers, farmers and customers will eliminate the advantage of any party that doesn’t adapt.
The best place to start is internal business operations: precise measuring and eliminating waste to increase efficiency and improve margins.
Adopting new technology and managing operations according to accurate, reliable data are a good place to start. Using additional software analytics with the collected data, companies will be able to further monitor, analyze, predict and call for action. They will be able to identify areas for improvement, run a more efficient business and minimize waste.
Implementing Standard Operating Procedures based on digital data and analysis in different areas of companies’ operations is key during the current market transition, such as the appraisal station, where the commercial value of the raw materials is set to ensure that the company pays the right price — ensuring adequate storage conditions inside the processing line and in the packing area.
In addition, ongoing analysis and comparison between the different stations will provide business status in real time with the ability to predict failures and negative trends ahead of time. Besides the fact that digital measurement provides accurate and repeatable results, the time factor plays an important role in production line capacity.
Digital inspection is fast, accurate and repeatable. For example, it takes 15 to 30 minutes to test one sample manually with 80% accuracy, compared to 30 seconds with 99.5% accuracy using digital equipment. On a production line with a capacity of 50 metric tons per hour, the difference between manual-visual inspection and digital inspection is about 15 minutes, corresponding to a 12.5 metric ton difference. Thus, every minute counts, in particular in cases where quality or performance issues need to be corrected.
Human visual inspection was a very common way to ensure quality during the 1980’s. In the last thirty years, many industries have replaced the human visual inspection with dedicated digital equipment, as the consensus that human error is about a 20% chance to miss a bad quality part or identify a good part as bad grows. Printed circuit boards, semiconductors and more recently pharmaceuticals are some examples.
In an industry where every point is critical to the bottom line, the old way of doing things must change.