Research in profile - these Fraunhofer researchers are looking for strategies to strengthen resilience in production
The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (Fraunhofer Society) works on concrete solutions to the current challenges of our time. One of these concerns the search for strategies to strengthen resili-ence in food production in order to guarantee the basic supply of products that are not harm-ful to consumers' health. The researchers' latest findings deal with the examples of "vertical farming" and "innovative vegetable oil mills".
On two OrbiPlant vertical farming systems, the researchers induced technical and plant-specific disturbances that can be detected by suitable sensor technology and real-time recording. (Photo: © Fraunhofer IME)
From risks to strategies for coping
The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, based in Germany, focuses on application-oriented research and key technologies relevant to the future. Founded in 1949, the organisation currently oper-ates 76 institutes and research facilities in Germany. More than 30,000 employees, most of them trained in the natural sciences or engineering, generate an annual research volume of 2.9 billion euros. Of this, 2.5 billion euros are attributable to the area of contract research.
At the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging (IVV), with locations in Freising and Dresden, work focuses on the development of solutions for the secure supply of high-quality food and for sustainable packaging systems. One of their projects is to identify the risks in the value chain and strategies to manage them. To this end, the Institute is in-volved in the ReSearchL project together with teams from the Fraunhofer Institutes for Mo-lecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME) and for Production Technology (IPT).
Resilience for vertical farming production systems
Background: Due to current crises and scarcity of resources, there is great pressure for action across all sectors to strengthen the resilience of food production. This is the result of surveys and discussions with trade associations and companies in the food industry, produced by the research team of the Fraunhofer initiative ReSearchL. In the context of production, companies or manufacturing systems that are able to constantly adapt to internal and external changes and disruptions in complex, rapidly changing production and value-added networks, among other things, and that can deliver safe and high-quality products even under changed framework conditions are primarily considered resilient.
To assess resilience in food production, the researchers examined two dimensions: the technical resilience of the production facilities used and the ecosystem resilience of the food grown. Both resilience dimensions were investigated using an example of basil production with the Fraunhofer IME's innovative OrbiPlant vertical farming platform technology.
Indoor food production systems such as these present specific challenges in terms of their technical resilience and also ecosystem resilience resulting from the protected production environment combined with high plant densities. The most relevant disturbance variables here are in the area of plant system technology and the plant target product. In the event of a malfunction, they can lead to a critical crop failure within a short time.
The researchers induced technical and plant-specific incidents on two OrbiPlant vertical farming systems, which could be clearly detected by sensor technology and real-time recording of the system data.
Sensor concepts for an innovative vegetable oil mill
To study the resilience of an ecosystem, the Fraunhofer IVV team used a new vegetable oil mill as a case study. The Central European vegetable oil market is dominated by large oil mills that almost exclusively process rapeseed or sunflower. This lack of raw material diversity, the low value of domestic feed meal and the resulting dependence on transport from Eastern Europe, Asia and South America make the system vulnerable to crop failures and plant diseases, among other things.
To qualify system resilience, powerful models were used to investigate which continuity and restart strategies can minimise the effects of disruption scenarios in oil production. For this purpose, the digital shadow of a new type of oil mill was created, including a sensor concept, and validated by investigating two selected incidents: the complete and partial failure of the energy supply. Finally, the researchers derived recommendations for action to make the processes in oil mills more resilient. This includes a comprehensive sensor concept and a number of other measures.
The latest findings from the ReSearchL project are summarised in the newly published white paper "Resiliente Wertschöpfungsketten für die Lebensmittelproduktion" (Resilient value chains for food production), which can be requested free of charge from the Fraunhofer IVV website.