Observations and evaluations in all segments of the beverage arena reveal that the constant change syndrome (CCS) is alive and well, thus creating processing technology and methodology changes at a much faster rate than at any time in the past several years. It is a domino effect that presents a constant concern to producers because of the real-time importance of beverage processing.

Because processing is the first step in the supply chain, it is important to assess how various stages have evolved — from manual batch type operations to automated, computerized and in-line processing. When evaluating one’s supply chain, evidence that suggests the need for improvement also implicates that an evolution in the process could be needed. These could include new materials development, handling and regulation; machinery and equipment design, compatibility, and utilization; and other related integral technology advances.

Perhaps the most major evolution has been in the materials used for formulating the product. Before the SKU explosion, which has been occurring for at least the past 20 years, fewer products and related ingredients were used in the manual batch type scenario. However, with more diversity in the types of products, sweeteners and ingredients being used, the materials also have changed either by choice or by regulation. In many instances, new processing procedures and quality control requirements have been dictated by ever-changing rules and laws. Even when products are created using converted basic raw materials, new techniques and disposition of residuals have been developed to ensure safety compliance.

The demand for improved quality and safer products as well as cost implications have been driving factors in the materials evolution in many beverages; therefore, as new products enter the marketplace, raw materials (e.g., concentrates, extracts, and other forms) continue the technological evolution and are subjected to closer scrutiny than in the past.

The materials and ingredients used in formulating beverages also is not as discreet as before. The domino effect when material changes occur can impact the equipment being used to process the materials. For instance, the manual batch type operation uses specific types of equipment compatible with the required processing of the material, but evolution has shown that even in this scenario, equipment changes have been required to handle different materials either in quantity, form or method.

When transitioning from manual to what might be referred to as semi-automated processing, other factors should be considered. Because accurate measurement of materials was often questioned, better methods were developed on individual pieces of equipment to correct the measuring task (scaled tank supports, liquid flow meters, digital ingredient measuring).

From an engineering viewpoint, semi-automatic processing was confronted with the onset of new and different products, which in most instances required more precise measurement and apportionment. Therefore, more complex, all-inclusive equipment was designed to accommodate the material change as well as measurement accuracy.

At this stage of process evolution, the driving factors of cost and higher frequency material changes have challenged machinery intelligence. Although some beverages have been processed by a totally automated system, the majority of beverages are processed by manual and/or some form of automated system.

The processing evolution continues as beverage-makers develop SKUs with different materials, more complex characteristics and more demanding processing, which could require a new generation of processes, equipment and personnel with higher skill levels to operate under a new set of conditions.

From an operations perspective, the beverage processing evolution is critical because operating conditions will become more complex whether it be ingredients, products, machinery, equipment or regulations. The evolution could have no limits regarding what could occur and what it will cost.

At almost 20 years into the new century, most producers on a global basis have reached a point where they are utilizing a broad range of operating conditions that raise significant questions: what degree of processing automation can effectively be attained, how cost intensive will progress be, what issues can be expected in the future, and what environmental regulations will become real-time obstacles?

In beverage processing, all the factors mentioned are integral parts as the technology evolution continues. What results can be expected at any point in time? For example, will the processing evolution provide safer, higher quality products, less costly procedures, more complex systems, better consumer acceptance, and/or necessity of higher skilled personnel?

Keep in mind, each type of beverage is discreet and starts the supply chain when created. Even though processes have evolved from manual to computerized systems activated and controlled by intelligent machines, driving factors will emerge and impact these operations regardless of how many products or processes are used. Processing evolution is infinite. BI