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Trust the twin: Digitalisation to improve transparency in the food value chain

Good food is essential for our health, and food systems are critical infrastructures for supplying healthy food. Consumers feel good if they know the food that they are eating is healthy, and it is produced according to agreed standards.

30 Sep 2019

We know that trust in the food sector is low, and is something we are exploring and tracking with the EIT Food TrustTracker project. If we want to build consumer trust in food, then one of the things we need to do is to increase the transparency of the food value chain.

Transparency benefits everyone

Transparency not only benefits the consumer, it also benefits those along the food value chain: it can improve efficiency and information flow, as well as reduce the impact of any food safety issues that could occur. So how do we increase transparency and trust in our food system?

Dr Rudolf Sollacher from EIT Food partner Siemens explains: “We can utilise technology to help make food systems become transparent, safe, efficient and sustainable. Technology such as specialised IT systems and platforms enable us to do this by improving the availability of information about food and its production across the whole value chain. Another benefit is that this can be used to share information about food to consumers in a suitable manner, for example by labelling food according to personal preferences.”

Rudolf is the Project Lead for a 2-year Digital Twin Management project, exploring the use of technology through the digitalisation of food supply chains, and involving partners Siemens, Strauss Group, Givaudan, Fraunhofer and Technical University Munich.

The picture shows members from all partners in the team including Strauss Group, Givaudan, Fraunhofer, Technical University Munich and Siemens. It was taken at a meeting at the new Research Centre of Givaudan in Kemptthal, Switzerland.

How does digitalisation improve transparency in food?

The Digital Twin Management project aims to make food production more transparent and more sustainable by giving an overview in the production and logistic processes.

When a food producer sells a physical product to a customer, they may also need to provide information about the product. The Digital Twin Management System does this by creating ‘digital twins’, which are the digital footprints of products, their production and their lifecycle. These digital twins make it possible to find out detailed information about the product as it works its way through the food value chain. The project has been focused around the development of software solutions for the management of these digital twins.

The team have been working on developing one of Siemens’ existing IT platforms, MindSphere, to enable it to collect and share information relevant for food production. This has involved development of the functionality of the platform, including tools to set up the digital twins, tools to configure and share specific data on products, and tools to analyse the data. These tools work like apps and can be added to the platform to enhance its functionality for users.

Rudolf explains the concept further: “Sharing data enables automated information exchange along the food value chain, and this can make food systems more transparent. Imagine what kind of information you can exchange – we talk about product information, but you can actually do much more! You can, for example, aggregate information on the water consumption or energy consumption of a product. This could give you an overview of how much water or energy the product ‘consumes’ as it is produced. You can use this with the analysis tools to help improve the efficiency and the sustainability of the whole food production.”

So how does this work in practice for food producers? Partners Givaudan and Strauss Group are piloting the platform. Givaudan sells the flavourings to be used in certain foods such as desserts to Strauss Group which they then use in the production of their products. For each of these flavours, Givaudan provides a certificate of analysis summarizing properties of the product determined in the lab. In the past this information has been exchanged by email or hard-copy paper, but now it will be provided directly on the digital platform, which improves accuracy and saves time. This also means that the information is immediately available to Strauss Group. A food producer like Strauss Group can also share information with consumers via a new initiative called the Digital Food Passport, which will be a consumer-focused website enabling consumers to get information about products by scanning barcodes and entering this information on the website.

What progress has been made?

The project is due to be completed by the end of 2019, and Rudolf shares how it has progressed:

“So far, we have set up a platform for Strauss Group and Givaudan. This has involved collecting product production data for analysis, as well as the development of tools for the configuration of digital twin data models and for the sharing of data between the business partners. The platform has been used to analyse available data and can be used to detect any issues in production. The early detection of such issues can save a lot of waste, and therefore a lot of money. We have also developed the first version of a Digital Food Passport, providing information on products to consumers.

“We are currently developing specialised tools for ‘Root Cause Analysis’ of food safety events or quality problems. This way of working helps to identify the causes of problems which arise and then identify an approach for responding to them and preventing them happening again in the future. Also, the Digital Food Passport is being extended for use by authorities which may be involved in food safety events such as Bundesamt für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit (Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety).”

As well as increasing transparency, this digitalisation of the food system will ultimately save money, promoting a more efficient, safer, food system.

For more information on the importance of food safety and transparency, read our blog article here.

About Dr Rudolf Sollacher: Rudolf is the Senior Research Scientist at Siemens and is the Project Lead for the Digital Twin Management project from EIT Food. He is a nominee for the
EIT Innovators Award 2019. To watch Rudolf explaining more about the Digital Twin Management project please watch his video.

About the author: Dr Lucy Wallace is a freelance writer with a background in research communications and an interest in novel engagement methods with diverse audiences.

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