Industrial automation, electrical control and instrumentation supplier, Referro Systems, is focusing on the automation gap felt in the food and beverage industry, by bringing its solutions and capabilities closer to small- and medium-sized customers.
The growing gap in the food and beverage industry
Adrian van Wyk, managing director at Referro Systems, says there is a notable gap in the implementation of automation and control in the food and beverage industry. As a result, small- and medium-sized businesses are left behind when it comes to benefiting from the capabilities and savings enabled by control technologies.
“There is a misconception in small- to medium-sized businesses that the cost of control technologies is high,” Van Wyk elaborates. “If we look at the South African food and beverage market, we can confidently state that there are varying levels of control technology implementation, with the vast majority implemented by multinational companies. The gap therefore exists within the smaller food and beverage businesses, which are critical to our country and Africa as a continent.”
There are various reasons why smaller businesses are not adopting newer control technologies. However, Van Wyk asserts that the perceived cost and scale factors are the main reasons. “Other than the cost hurdle, there is also a view that control technologies are available only to multinational companies with the budgets and volumes that warrant an investment in these technologies. This is 100% incorrect.”
Together with its suppliers, Referro offer fully connected, integrated, modular and scalable solutions to meet any business’s requirements. “There is a clear lack of information and know-how on the capabilities and benefits of control technologies amongst smaller to medium-sized businesses,” says Van Wyk, “We must educate these businesses through real insight and information.”
Referro solutions for food and beverage
“Referro Solutions supplies these control technologies to all businesses,” says Van Wyk. “For the food and beverage industry, we supply integrated, multi-discipline control systems such as Allen-Bradley Micro800, CompactLogix and ControlLogix.” For scalability, the company also offers fixed-speed, intelligent motor control solutions, machine solutions such as Allen-Bradley ArmorStart distributed motor controllers, intelligent soft-starters such as SMC Flex and SMC 50, and intelligent motor protection devices such as the E100/200/300.
For additional scalability and production flexibility, the PowerFlex range of AC and DC variable-speed drives boasts the performance and reliability necessary for standard and higher-performance applications. Referro also provides intelligent sensing and safety devices for plant-wide solutions and on-machine applications.
“We have various HMI solutions, from high-end stainless steel-based HMI products to standard operator interfaces where high IP ratings are important. For example, our customer may have washdown areas or require an HMI that can withstand high heat. In addition, we can deliver plant-wide control, automation and information solutions to complete the customer’s solution,” explains van Wyk.
All these solutions can be applied to a wide range of industries and applications over and above food and beverage, from discrete, process, safety and motion control, to HMI, scada and MIS/MES. Applications include conveyors, pick-and-place, refrigeration, filling and forming, bottling, capping, sorting, packaging, washing, and ripening, to name a few.
The benefits of these control technologies are seen in a truly connected and integrated business solution, with real-time control information from various platforms and devices throughout the manufacturing plant. “More so, data from control technologies are secure and contextualised, enabling the business to make decisions much more proactively and in real time. You also benefit from improved productivity which ultimately leads to overall optimal business performance.
“These benefits,” says Van Wyk, “are available to all food and beverage businesses, no matter the size. And as a result, we can service and address the customer’s requirements accordingly. At Referro, we don’t just supply the solutions but the actual products as well. We help our customers throughout the decision-making process. We guide and assist them in finding the best control solution for their requirements, whether they are a large multinational or a small business supplying the local food sector or export market. We also provide a training and post-sales service, including support and spare parts, as close to the customer’s operations as possible,” he adds.
Closing the gap
“The support from smaller businesses in the Northern Cape is testament to our medium- and long-term goals – we invested heavily in that region because it is one of the most important food export regions for South Africa. However, our customers outside the major metros have a problem. Travelling to and from the metros has its challenges in both time and expense. So, Referro has invested in resources and skills closer to those customers. We can now supply and support our existing customers and new customers in the outlying regions, and we aim to expand in the long term to cover more outlying regions in South Africa,” says Van Wyk.
“One can argue that the location of many small- to medium-sized businesses is why many of our customers have not been exposed to many of the available control technologies, their benefits and their varying applications, and this leads to the gap we see in the market. The information and knowledge are usually shared at conferences and seminars, predominantly held in the major metros. Referro aims to close that gap by spreading awareness and offering control technologies and solutions that are scalable, modular, and therefore applicable to the needs of any customer, without the exorbitant cost,” he says.
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