Making big data small in food manufacturing


Confused about the impact of big data on food manufacturing? Tim Jones, Automation Manager at OAL believes many food manufacturers already have the data and our focus is better directed to the meaningful presentation of figures to deliver operational improvements. Originally featured as a guest article on

There’s a lot of excitement about the internet of things (IoT) and big data but realistically many larger food manufacturers already have access to lots of data. When I speak with my customers, often the idea of more data is seen as a distraction. There are bigger opportunities for operational improvements in presenting data in an informative and actionable way. For big data to be a success, data must be more informative, actionable and timely.

Informative big data

What use is all the data about a process if it’s not easily understood by engineers and operators? One of the big switches we’ve made on our control systems is how we present data. For instance, when you compare our traditional SCADA screens to our newly developed screens they look completely different. Designed with user experience at it’s core, the new visuals seek to present information that is much more relevant to the end user. For a bakery process, traffic light systems easily indicate if there are any issues relating to humidity, temperature etc. If they’re all green no worries at all. Likewise representing the flow of product as blocks as opposed to how the system operates clearly indicates bottlenecks and breaks in production.

OAL Big Data Bakery SCADA Screen

OAL Big Data Bakery SCADA Screen

Actionable big data

Data, no matter what its size, is useful to management, engineers and decision makers when it’s actionable. We’ve brought vegetable preparation lines into the 21st century by providing individual operators a screen with real time yield, production feedback and all their Standard Operating Procedure’s (SOP’s). Previously multiple operators would be reliant on a single beacon to track weight. Now actionable data can be presented on an individual basis to improve yield and performance. For both management and operators, it’s clear if an individual is giving away too much product and both parties have the information to hand to take action.

Timely big data

Reviewing yesterday’s production reports looking for insights leaves manufacturers in a reactive state. Manufacturing excellence requires proactive responses to data. Timely delivery of data removes distractions and allows operators and engineers to focus on the job at hand until required. Simple things like changing the colour of a screen from blue, when the downtime is planned, to red, when the downtime runs over are easily understandable.

OAL Factory Performance Changeover

OAL Factory Performance Changeover

Big data has the potential to be extremely powerful but only if it’s presented in a timely, informative, actionable manner to end users.

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