Complete control from field, through the factory and out to the consumer proves how important data can be, every step of the way
One of the most powerful things any company can possess is knowledge. But not just any knowledge. We’re talking about in-depth, under the skin, very-beginning-to-very-end knowledge.
In is a well-known fact that companies that truly understand their raw materials, their products, their processes and their customer really thrive. A lot of this is the result of years of experience, but in this day and age, Industry 4.0 is delivering so much new operational knowledge that it too is creating whole new ways of doing things.
One company that can truly say that it is blessed with beginning-to-end knowledge is ICAM. With the Agostoni family at the helm of the business since it was founded in 1946, the company rightly claims to be a worldwide ambassador for outstanding Italian quality in the art of chocolate making.
Its products are the fruit of a long-standing family tradition that has invested in the idea of monitoring the chocolate production chain every step of the way: from the raw material and the processing through to the creation and customisation of its definitive recipes.
Guarantee of quality
This beginning-to-end process allows ICAM to offer an indisputable guarantee of quality – with an emphasis on transparent production processes and complete traceability of the finished product – as the best way to respond to the growing food safety demands on the part of consumers. Thanks to this thorough approach, the company has succeeded in creating a continually updated platform of international certifications in order to help it guarantee its total quality model.
With huge amounts of tradition under its belt, the company is also heavily invested in the deployment of new cutting-edge techniques and technology and keeps a very close eye on global market trends in order to support and grow its global presence. According to Antonello Ercole, Industrial Director at ICAM: “Globally we have around 400 employees involved in the production of chocolate and derivatives, such as powder, butter, praline and creams. In total we produce 25,000 tonnes of products per year, more than 3,000 different bars, in more than 500 different recipes, an impressive figure when you consider that many other large companies have less than 10 recipes. “As well as being a world leader in organic chocolate products,” Ercole continues, “I also consider us to be a world leader in knowledge when it comes to the nature and science of chocolate. Our chairman is one of the world’s most eminent experts in cocoa beans and has travelled the world gaining this knowledge and insight. “ICAM hired me to oversee the production capabilities in its new, larger and more modern plant in Orsenigo,” Ercole explains. “The new plant, which started production in December 2010, was designed with global certifications in mind, i.e., all the processes were separated, and all cross-contamination risks were designed out. For the new plant, the decision was made to invest in the best possible machinery and equipment industry could provide. We wanted to make sure that everything was under control, fully traceable and managed by a comprehensive and accurate supervision system, which would reply heavily on operational data. Indeed, it was the early stipulation for this interconnectivity and data collection that set the foundation for us earning one of Northern Italy’s very first Industry 4.0 certifications.
Work with the very best
“We choose the best technology on the market!” Ercole enthuses. “Our processing machines come from a world leader in Switzerland, which now uses us to showcase its capabilities. Our secondary packaging solutions also come from a number one… Cama Group. They may only be 20 kms from us, but there is so much more to it.
“Cama was always going to be involved in our new project,” he continues, “thanks to the equipment and support we’ve had in the past, including the installation of our first Cama machine in 1995, which is still going strong thanks to new updates with more advanced technologies.
“For secondary packaging we need maximum flexibility,” Ecole explains. “This is why Cama is so good for us. Our production lines often work 24/7 and each day on each line we can change the product type up to six times – hence the reason for maximum flexibility in the packaging process. In addition to this flexibility, we also need traceability. We must have full connectivity, which Cama’s machines provide. We currently have two projects running with Cama,” he elaborates, “one is relatively simple, packaging cocoa powder into box, but another is for a US company that produces a special bar it calls PaleoVegan. This is a complicated line, comprising nine recipes. The flow-packed chocolate bars need to be packaged in pouches, then in cartons and in a wrap-around case. Cama’s machines sit between us and the customer, so we have to have trust that Cama will deliver what we want and what the customer needs Visitors to the Orsenigo plant will see a production line measuring 26 x 60 m with no one around! They are all in a control room. The first half of the process – beans to liquid chocolate – is totally automated. Just nine people oversee the production of 20,000 tonnes of chocolate!
“With this automated line we produce 500 different recipes and can trace every single process ingredient,” Ercole adds. “This automated line was originally built to produce 20,000 tonnes of chocolate; we are now nearer 30,000 and it is the automation that has helped us to improve and increase capacity. It is all controlled with a Siemens supervision system and a fully connected enterprise suite, which links everything from recipe management all the way up to finance. We can calculate costs in real time and continuously optimise production.” Capital expenditure justification is always a balance of price, flexibility and efficiency. “Our new plant was the subject of a major investment,” Ercole tells us. “We could have gone for lesser quality machines and systems, but thanks to this instance on the best possible technology, we had a payback period of less than 2 ½ years. In addition to this the plant is much more sustainable, which is another essential facet of our company ethos. “Three years ago, we produced a book called ‘Balance of Sustainability’, which explains to readers what ICAM can do, what it did, and what it wants to do in the future,” Ercole explains. “There are a few major points in our sustainability objectives. The first covers the cocoa bean crops, where we finance co-operatives and help them to save water and avoid the use of pesticides. The second is to do with packaging, where we are balancing local/national needs (recyclable vs. compostable) with the appropriate packaging solutions. Energy is another major consideration, which we addressed with the design of the new factory.
“We produce 87% of the energy need,” he explains, “primarily for heating at beginning and chilling at the end. Our energy-generation plant uses natural gas to generate 2.4 MW of electricity and 1.7 MW of steam (a ‘free’ by-product of motor cooling). Hot water – have a modern system to convert hot water to chilled water. The efficiency levels we enjoy means we have halved our energy costs, with the savings having an effect on both our carbon footprint and the emissions per kg of chocolate. We have also installed air processors to remove all aromatic smells and pollution. Poluton control in the Lombardy region is very strict, but I am glad to say that we meet all the targets with ease.”
Greater connectivity = greater insights
This beginning-to-end control is not always feasible for every company and maybe impossible for others, but the drive to gain greater knowledge in order to gain better insights, to make better decisions, to foster better performance is in reach of anybody. In an industrial sense, interconnectivity and data capability are the new driving forces on Industry 4.0. Combine these with modern automation and you really do have the potential to turn real-time knowledge and data into actions and improvements that can deliver instantaneous positive results.