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From Traditional to On-Demand: How IoT automation can help convert your legacy manufacturing busines

This is the story of how a 128-year-old company utilised machine learning and cloud technology to revolutionise an age-old product.

For The Hershey Company, popularly known simply as Hershey’s, nothing could be sweeter than well-adopted automation. In fact, being one of the world’s leading chocolate manufacturers meant that adopting the latest technologies and automating processes was a necessity to improving unit economics and maximising benefits.

When we think about terms such as AI, IoT, cloud computing or machine learning, we tend to generally only consider modern-day startups or software companies. This misconception that automation is limited to these organisations often leads to the downfall of many legacy enterprises. As we venture deeper into a world governed by automation, the incorporation of technological advancements has become imperative for every organisation looking to succeed and remain competitive in the on-demand economy. Here, we take a closer look at Hershey’s and how automation changed the way Twizzlers are made.

An Unsavoury Issue

The Hershey Company was facing a distasteful conundrum; the company responsible for some of the world’s favourite treats was having a difficult time maintaining a steady production of Twizzlers. As the red candy poured from a giant vat through an extruder, the amount of licorice produced would often leave the manufacturers perplexed due to the sheer inconsistency of the amount.

If the machine ran too cold, the amount of Twizzlers would not be enough; but if the machine ran too hot, which it often did, licorice at a rate of 100 extra grams per minute would be churned out. This meant Hershey’s had to regularly hand out free candy just to clear inventories. Now, I know that this sounds like a dream come true for us chocolate lovers, but the overproduction of tonnes of candy meant massive losses for the organisation. With manual monitoring proving highly insufficient, the next logical step for Hershey’s to take was automation.

Automation to the Rescue

“We were able to utilise the precooked algorithms inside of Azure to wire up all of the machine learning. We literally were able to build this without a data scientist.”

– George S. Lenhart III, Senior Manager of IS Disruptive Solutions and IoT, The Hershey Company

To solve the complication of an inconsistent production of Twizzlers, Hershey’s implemented IoT and cloud infrastructures to optimise the entire process. Multiple sensors were placed across the vat machine and extruder to detect and regulate any temperature changes that altered production. The goal was to accurately predict the weight of licorice that would be produced without actually having to stop the machine and manually weigh the product.

Microsoft Azure’s ML algorithms were utilised to provide the manufacturing machines with autonomous control over altering the machine’s temperature. This level of automation meant that the extruder would be adjusted roughly 240 times a day to maintain temperatures, all without the need for human interventions. The numbers behind this solution were staggering; every 1% adjustment to bring down the size of a Twizzler to the precise weight in a 14,000-gallon batch would result in a savings upward of $500,000.

The Bigger Picture: Entering the New-Age

The Twizzler success story symbolised an entrance into a new-age for The Hershey Company, a legacy business that had been producing chocolates without sophisticated automation for well over a century. The implementation of modern technological advancements and automation in the production of this single candy resulted in massive economic and environmental benefits.

Becoming a new-age venture means moving past old machines and methods and adopting what the world of today has to offer. As we enter an era of on-demand services, customer needs and expectations are continually changing. The next stage of automation revolves around this trend of real-time insights and prompt data-driven decisions.

With the global pandemic changing the way businesses operate, automation can massively help enterprises sustain and even thrive in the face of uncertainty. Hershey’s successfully navigated the pandemic by implementing automation across the supply chain, creating an agile environment that blossomed under pressure. Not only did Hershey’s maintain sales, it managed to make profits as chocolates became comfort food for people during the pandemic. By automating production and successfully mobilising their fleet, Hershey’s leaned into e-commerce and satisfied work-from-home trends.

Similar to the way Hershey’s embraced technological advancements, enterprises looking to modernise and optimise their processes can automate their way to success. With that being said, it is important to realise that automation is not limited to large enterprises. State-of-the-art tools and cloud platforms are readily available for any organisation looking to enter this new age. Automation is clearly the modern route to prosperity, turning age-old businesses into the enterprises of tomorrow.

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