“Today’s food value chains are facing tremendous challenges,” Bühler chief technical officer Ian Roberts said. “Digital solutions will allow us to improve food safety and integrity and reduce food losses and waste. The enable us to be more efficient in production.”
Roberts suggested that the integration of digital technologies would represent a “major step” towards meeting the group’s goal of lowering waste and energy consumption in the food chain by 30%.
Collaborating driving process innovation
The collaboration between Bühler and Microsoft comes at a time when the global food sector is facing increased environmental and economic pressures, Bühler said.
The United Nations predicts that by 2050 the worldwide population will rise to around nine billion people. For example, estimates suggest agricultural systems will be required to supply an additional 265 million tonnes of plant protein by 2050.
Producing enough food to meet the needs of the global population using sustainable methods and finite resources is a “major challenge” the food sector has only just started to address.
“For the agriculture industry to meet the global quality demands of the future, sustainability in all aspects of agricultural production is key,” said Caglayan Arkan, general manager of manufacturing and resources at Microsoft.
The approaches Microsoft and Bühler are taking to addressing this need dovetail, with “smart partnership” models that bring technological capabilities and supply chain know-how together seen as key.
“Microsoft’s mission is to help leaders like Bühler take advantage of its data using our Azure cloud and Azure IoT technologies to accurately forecast trends in agriculture, improve food safety and provide better services for customers,” Arkan explained.
“Collaborations like the one between Bühler and Microsoft will be essential to feeding our world and fueling a better future for our natural resources and food production. With artificial intelligence and the cloud, we have the technology to address some of the biggest challenges facing the industry.”
Sustainability, food safety and waste solutions
Bühler and Microsoft hope to help boost sustainability in industrial farming systems through automation serves that optimise water, chemical fuel and labour use. Through the Gamaya platform the companies also believe they can enable farmers to improve the quality and quality of produce while reducing environmental impacts.
Examples of analytics include the mapping and classification of weeds, early diagnosis of plant disease, pests and nutrient deficiencies as well as yield predictions. This is supported by a “unique combination” of technologies, such as hyperspectral and satellite imaging, data fusion and artificial intelligence, the companies revealed.
Bühler said it has also developed a sorting solution that can combat aflatoxin contamination in maize.
Maize is the world’s most common cereal crop. It is prone to contamination by aflatoxin, a naturally occurring carcinogenic toxin. It is estimated that 500m people per year are at risk of exposure to it – and consumption of aflatoxin is estimated to cause up to 150,000 causes of liver cancer per year. The economic impact on farmers, food processors and the global economy is “significant”, Bühler noted.
The company is presenting a new “revolutionary” maize sorting technology that it said represents a “major contribution” to answering this need.
Meanwhile, with an estimated 85m tonnes of cereal grains lost in storage and handling each year, an “intelligent” silo monitoring solution, PreMa, aims to ensure grain is storied under the right conditions.
Food safety and quality control are also issues that the companies hope to tackle through the development of two new technologies, TotalSense and Safefood.ai.
TotalSense is a mobile rice analuser that offers “quick and objective” quality control. The customer submits a photo of a sample and receives a quality report, Bühler said.
Safefood.ai aims to identify ‘at risk’ food and feed products by scanning “thousands” of official databases, news site and social media channels for events and “rumours” related to food safety. By collecting and analysing this data, the software aims to deliver “early earnings” for food safety risks.
“The digital revolution is a huge opportunity for the food manufacturing industry. It has the potential to bring beneficial changes along the entire value chain, improving safety, transparency and efficiency, and reducing energy consumption and waste. We are only scratching the surface of this potential.
"The partnership between Bühler and Microsoft will equip us with tools to address some of the key challenges the industry and the world faces,” Bühler’s Roberts concluded.