Fortress enters next digital frontier

Fortress Technology enters cyberspace with a tool that looks set to transform production quality assurance for food manufacturers

Users log into the web-based browser from laptops, tablets and smart phones to monitor activity by individual lanes and generate HACCP compliant reports

Although widely embraced by consumers, deployment of digital technologies in industrial settings, particularly multisite food factories has been slower to materialise. Yet things are shifting with metal detector specialist Fortress Technology entering cyberspace with a tool that looks set to transform production quality assurance for food manufacturers, wherever they are located in the world.

“I think it’s fair to say that many food plants, even in westernised economies, still make do with manually monitoring machine performance, which can be extremely labour intensive and impact productivity,” said Phil Brown, MD of Fortress Technology Europe. Even those that have upgraded legacy systems continue to gather data on a machine-by-machine basis rather than integrating and analysing information side-by-side and building up a performance picture, suggested Brown.

For many IT departments, upgrading equipment and selecting the internet of things (IoT) technology that will add the greatest value can be a bit of a minefield and create a sense of burden. There’s a perception that moving towards Industry 4.0 will require extensive investment, a dedicated team of developers and slow or limited return on investment.

Brown explained: “Although many of our customers express a strong interest in innovation and harnessing the power of data capture, they have been reticent to take the leap of faith. There is an underlying belief that they will not be able to connect new applications with existing legacy inspection machines. To achieve end-to-end production visibility and enhanced due diligence, integration across an entire fleet of machines is critical to achieving connectivity.”

Watching Industry 4:0 unfurl, Brown stays mindful that factories of the future seek smart and simple solutions. “Very often our intelligent minds can take a simple issue and make it overcomplicated. We become paralysed by technology options, and as a result data integration projects can stretch on for months, years, or never reach a decision. In such a fast moving market like food, the impact on competitiveness could be immense,” he said.

With that in mind, when Fortress set about developing a solution that would enable production managers to monitor the performance of its entire fleet of food metal detectors through a single web-based gateway, the company’s software developers intentionally kept it simple.

Remote management software (RMS) allows food factories to manage operations from anywhere in the world from smart phones, tablets and laptops. Believed to be the first-of-its kind web-based inspection machine browser, RMS connects multiple Fortress metal detectors by utilising wireless machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. “Another benefit is it reduces the expense of sending a team member out a plant to collect data manually,” said Brown.

Rather than creating an app, which would have to be hosted, refined and updated on Android and IOS operating systems, RMS gives customers secure access to a web-based browser that connects to each metal detector installed with the software.

Once the software is installed, which can be performed by Fortress as part of a scheduled machine upgrade, authorised users simply log into the RMS browser from a laptop, tablet or mobile phone and can troubleshoot a performance issue without having to be physically in front of the metal detector. The fully traceable quality assurance information details what and when an event occurred on a specific unit.

To comply with hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) food safety management systems and principles, each event is automatically time stamped.

Smarter machine monitoring

This level of oversight is especially helpful to support flexible production. It means one operative or production manager can monitor all its company’s metal detectors, analysing comparative data for different inspection zones, side-by-side.

An unlimited number of Fortress metal detectors can be connected wirelessly using a powerful back-end SQL to monitor activity and generate reports in either PDF or Excel format.

Reports can be selected for a specific production line and/or time period. For record keeping, event and performance information is stored securely and remotely for a minimum of 10 years. There’s also the option to extend storage capability to 20+ years.

Aside from monitoring valuable local machine assets, having software that connects metal detectors wherever they are located in the world means that multinational organisations can stay in touch with operations in remote manufacturing hubs or politically volatile regions.

RMS is available as an option on all Fortress Stealth metal detectors. It is installed on the Interceptor range as standard. In keeping with Fortress’s ‘Never Obsolete’ commitment, existing Stealth metal detectors in the field can also be upgraded.

“With RMS, comparable performance data is now readily available and this provides production decision makers with a benchmark to drive efficiency improvements,” said Brown. “Taking this to the next level, predictive models may then be applied to anticipate equipment failure and enable predictive maintenance.”

He added: “The thing that makes data valuable is how it is analysed and applied to business decisions. From a QA perspective, the level of surveillance RMS provides offers food factories valuable peace of mind. And from an operational viewpoint, production efficiency is enhanced. Most importantly, implementation of the software is quick and doesn’t divert a company’s in-house IT resources away from other projects. It’s functional, it’s simple and it delivers global machine connectivity.”

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