David Goforth, vice president of Field Sales for Ecolab’s Food and Beverage division in North America, shares his insights on two major forces affecting the food and beverage industry today — COVID-19 and digitalization — and how new digital tools, such as mixed reality technology, are helping keep F&B companies operating during the pandemic.
How is Ecolab using mixed reality to help keep companies operational during COVID-19?
Goforth: Ecolab leverages Microsoft’s mixed reality technology, enabling us to gain remote access to our customers’ facilities. Ecolab’s sales and technical representatives in the field can wear Microsoft HoloLens devices, which allows them to virtually connect to Ecolab’s scientists, engineers and cross-functional teams for support. This allows Ecolab to remotely diagnose and troubleshoot issues around contamination, our engineers to oversee chemistry usage, guide the installation of new equipment, monitor water quality, help train new employees, and ultimately, implement solutions. Response times are quicker and multiple experts can collaborate to diagnose and troubleshoot customer problems without having to travel to the site. Mixed reality enables us to ensure social distancing during COVID-19 and it gives Ecolab access to facilities that have closed or restricted access during the pandemic, helping to keep them operating when they have faced reduced operations or complete shutdowns.
What are some specific examples of problems you have solved using mixed reality?
Goforth: Currently we have pilot programs in use with our customers in six regions at dozens of facilities. Some specific examples include using mixed reality to identify and fix tank leaks, cross contamination and site surveys. We have recognized and eliminated equipment malfunctions and corrected wastewater flow rates. For one beverage producer, we instructed a new employee how to perform an acid wash and the trainer was completely remote. Very few people were needed to achieve these successful outcomes. The mixed reality program can also save hours or days in response time, it may eliminate travel expenses and it keeps our customers and associates safer. Ecolab is also working with customers in a wide range of industries. Our colleagues supporting the energy business recently installed a major piece of equipment using mixed reality at a major power plant, for example. We can build on their experience and apply lessons learned back to F&B customers.
How are other Ecolab digital tools changing the way customers operate, particularly in industrial settings?
Goforth: Ecolab’s water management business Nalco Water, has launched several digital tools built on the ECOLAB3D™ analytics platform, leveraging the data derived from Ecolab’s Internet of things (IOT), artificial intelligence, automation and analytics operations. Companies can monitor water, energy and financial performance without being on site or waiting for test results from labs. Water chemistry testing time for waterborne bacteria, for example, has dropped from two days to 15 minutes. Where some solutions to reduce corrosion in water systems may have taken six months, it has been reduced to hours or days. Water and energy savings are also helping companies meet corporate sustainability goals. One of our customers used 3D TRASAR™ Technology for CIP (Clean in Place) to annually save nearly 1,300 hours of cleaning time and conserve almost one million gallons of water, for example. Digital tools are boosting efficiency and avoiding downtime, which is always critical, but particularly so during COVID-19 when so many people are relying on a robust food supply.
In a post-pandemic world, will these changes last?
Goforth: Definitely. The pandemic has sped up the process for F&B companies to adopt digital tools, and they are certainly realizing their value. The time and money savings are undeniable. Now that companies are understanding the value of the data they have, and how IoT, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics and automation can dramatically improve their operations, they won’t go back. For many, it’s also a shift in business model. Companies that do not make use of these tools could place themselves at a competitive disadvantage. Digital tools are improving product quality and production volume. We’re entering a new era.
Vice President Field Sales and Service
Ecolab, Food & Beverage, North America