The ultimate guide to industrial IoT for tea manufacturing

Industrial IoT

Over 5 billion cups of tea are consumed globally every day, making it a top beverage choice. The tea market is projected to globally generate a revenue of USD 127 Billion in 2024. The anticipated annual growth rate from the year 2024 to year 2028 is 5.88%. In this blog, we explore the challenges faced by traditional black tea production and the transformative impact of industrial IoT on these conventional methods.

Challenges in traditional tea processing practices

Annually, significant quantities of pre-made tea are sourced from various primary production regions to meet worldwide demand. In conventional tea production, tea tasters gauge fermentation by observing color, aroma, and taste. This manual and time-consuming process. However, these methods prove to be biased, time-consuming, and inefficient, resulting in jeopardizing tea quality.

Emergence of industrial IoT as a revolution for manufacturing and processing plants

The Internet of Things (IoT) stands out as a ground-breaking concept in the times of Industry 4.0, impacting every aspect of human activities. Its vast potential extends across agriculture, medicine, manufacturing, and more. Researchers are focusing on tea processing plants, suggesting innovative solutions powered by industrial IoT to monitor temperature and humidity during tea processing. Then there’s the essential role of IIoT in maximizing machine efficiency and minimizing energy consumption during production, eminently maximizing profitability

The black tea manufacturing process

The black tea processing involves stages of plucking, withering, cutting, tearing, curling, fermentation, and drying and sorting. All of these steps ascertain the standard of the final product. With the advent of Industrial IoT, the future of traditional tea manufacturing is ready to go through transformation. This technological advancement promises to streamline the process and enhance efficiency, as elaborated upon in detail later.

  • Plucking

The initial step in tea processing is hand-plucking leaves. Unopened buds or the top three leaves and a bud are selected, with bushes pruned for accessibility. After harvesting, sorting removes unwanted parts for uniformity. Labor shortages and rising production expenses pose a challenge in this process. IoT adoption such as automated harvesting and sorting systems, enhances efficiency in tea production, addressing labor constraints and productivity.

  • Withering

Modern withering occurs in large troughs spanning 25-30 meters, equipped with wire grids and ventilated by large fans, shortening the withering period to 8-12 hours when required. Industrial IoT assists monitoring of humidity content in leaves, and ensuring uniform withering of tea leaves.

  • Rolling

In the rolling stage, the orthodox method slices open green leaves with rollers, promoting oxidation. Alternatively, the CTC method tears whole leaves in thorn drums after rolling for 30 minutes, ensuring higher yields by focusing on torn portions while separating stems and leaf ribs.

  • Fermentation

Out of all these steps, fermentation is the most crucial step in determining and maintaining the quality of the final product. Therefore, Industrial IoT will play a fundamental role in ensuring the production of pristine tea offerings. IoT technology can monitor various parameters such as temperature, humidity, and oxygen levels, allowing for precise control over the fermentation process.

  • Drying

During the peak of fermentation, leaves travel on metal conveyor belts through tiered dryers. They’re dried in heated air at 80-90°C for about 20 minutes, causing cell fluid to adhere, resulting in dark brown to black tea. The leaves reach a final humidity of 5-6%. Tracking all of these changes in appearance and humidity levels of the processed tea leaves is done through IIoT.

Impact of industrial IoT on the conventional tea manufacturing process

Tea processing plants face operational bottlenecks, such as quality inconsistencies, unplanned downtimes, inability to monitor real-time performance, and excessive energy consumption. Let’s explore the influence of industrial IoT aids in tackling these challenges.

Enhancing tea farming through IIoT

Agricultural equipment enhanced through industrial IoT enables these machines to function via the Internet. This approach relies on comprehensive industrial IoT servers and wireless sensors, fostering interoperability among various production stages through regional IoT and WSN networks. This integrated framework connects agricultural machinery, environmental sensors, conveying equipment, farmer terminals, and higher-level department databases.

By leveraging big data analysis and real-time monitoring, productivity and quality increase through precise regulation of planting, fertilization, irrigation, and harvesting, optimizing land use and crop cultivation.

Industrial IoT enables proper withering of tea leaves

Industrial IoT ensures real-time monitoring of tea temperature and humidity for quality assurance. Withering serves to reduce leaf moisture and soften it. Tea leaves spread on wire mesh trays undergo hot air drying for 18 – 24 hours, resulting in limp, darker green leaves. This process, influenced by temperature and humidity, induces biochemical and physiological changes crucial for subsequent rolling and fermentation, ultimately determining tea quality. Certain industrial IoT sensors can also monitor temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels, vital for tea withering.

Industrial IoT aiding in fermentation

Fermentation, a critical and time-bound process, relies on a manual assessment by tea tasters who monitor color, aroma, and flavor changes as it progresses. Integrating industrial IoT in withering and fermentation enhances the quality of the final product and cuts energy costs. Precise temperature control processing of the leaves through industrial IoT enhances tea quality and reduces energy usage, thus enhancing profitability for tea manufacturers.

Furthermore, industrial IoT data convergence platforms, such as Omniconnect™ grant tea factory owners enhanced visibility and control over the tea making process. By breaking down data silos, ensuring a responsive production line, minimizing factory downtimes, and elevating tea leaf quality, it ensures smooth operation and enhanced tea quality. Learn more about its impact on digitizing the manual tea process.

The OmniConnect™ Impact

Octopus Digital’s cloud-native platform enhanced our client’s Overall Equipment

Efficiency (OEE) and operational excellence

15%

improvement in availability

15%

improvement in performance

10%

improvement in product quality

Enhancing machine performance through industrial IoT

Tea processing plants, like any other manufacturing facilities, face the challenge of managing the Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE). Industrial IoT, such as OEEfficienci, enable plants to enhance their OEE, all the while streamlining processes and making data-driven decisions. An example is of IIoT solutions such as alert systems that notify of machine OEE deviations, and hence, prompt quick root cause analysis and corrective actions. This ensures minimized downtime and optimized run times. Furthermore, such IIoT solutions assist in tracking KPIs, with the help of real-time dashboards. They further aid in pin-pointing line variations for optimum resource allocation. 

Digitizing manual tea processing with the power of IoT

The integration of industrial IoT is fundamentally transforming the landscape of tea manufacturing. From enhancing farming practices to optimizing each step of the processing journey, IoT technologies offer unprecedented opportunities for tea producers to ensure consistent quality, minimize downtime, and maximize profitability in this ever-growing market. By leveraging real-time monitoring, predictive maintenance, and data-driven decision-making, tea manufacturers stay ahead of the curve and meet the increasing demands of consumers worldwide. With the potential to revolutionize the industry, industrial IoT is poised to redefine the future of tea manufacturing, ensuring a seamless and efficient process from leaf to cup.

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