Fabulous Food Plants

Fabulous Food Plant: Synonymous with Quality

January 1, 2008
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Poultry supplier counts on biosecurity, automation and worker safety to produce quality meats.



Line 51 marination tumbler feed system prepares meat with customized flavors according to customers’ needs.

As the nation’s fourth-largest vertically integrated poultry processor, Wayne Farms LLC produces more than one billion pounds of products per year for restaurants, institutions and other non-retail markets. The business-to-business company employs approximately 10,000 people in 13 plants throughout the Southeast. To support growing customer needs, Wayne Farms began operations at its Decatur Further Processing West Site (also known as Decatur West), a new, state-of-the-art processing facility in Decatur, AL. The new plant is located adjacent to Decatur East, another modern further-processing (FP) facility.

The mission of Decatur West is “To be the team-based further processing facility by which all customers measure the industry.” And the Decatur West facility is arguably one of the industry’s technology prototypes, with food and worker safety, manufacturing innovation and biological security engineered into the design parameters.

 “This plant was designed and built based on the knowledge we gained in our other facilities,” says Jimmy Kemp, director of FP operations. “We were able to incorporate improved technology centered around food safety and production into all of our processes.” The facility is the company’s third in Decatur and brings the total facility count in Alabama to six.

Now in phase two of its evolution, the facility was designed by Vaughn, Coltrane, Pharr and Associates (VCP&A) under complete oversight by Wayne Farms’ corporate engineering department. Wayne Farms’ corporate staff chose Turner Universal as general contractor and worked with the firm throughout the building and implementation process.

The Yamato scale feed system on line 51 checks the weight of pieces prior to cooking.

Meeting business objectives

From the day Alabama Governor Bob Riley broke ground on the plant, the Decatur West facility has continually exceeded expectations. A phenomenal 13-month turnaround from groundbreaking to first production run set the tone for operational success.

The Decatur West facility was designed for incremental growth with infrastructure in place for rapid expansion as market opportunities are developed. This three-phase design supports the vision and growth strategy of Wayne Farms LLC to develop market share in customer segments needing value-added, fully cooked poultry products.

“This facility demonstrates our commitment to our customers,” says Stan Hayman, director of business development. “It was designed and built based on the key needs of the marketplace around food safety and process efficiencies.”

Capabilities for production and packaging expansion offer the versatility to meet customer demands as business partners are identified. State-of-the-art technology and production systems support food safety and security as well as manufacturing excellence. The facility contributes approximately 40 million pounds of fully cooked chicken products annually in current production with expansion capacities reaching a total of 120 million pounds per year.

LINK system HMI interface from FMC FoodTech provides easy-to-use controls access.

Focus on biosecurity

The 133,000-sq.-ft. plant is situated on 45 acres of land and was constructed using a modular design that allows maximum control of allergens and microbes. The facility was designed to run two fully cooked lines in its first phase, and is expandable to a total of six lines as demand increases. The current production lines produce fully roasted strips and diced meat, breaded and roasted fillets, tenders and wings.

The plant layout resembles an enclosed rectangle (quadrangle) with a large courtyard in the center between the production areas and the support services. The support services are off to one side to minimize alterations as the building is expanded in phases two and three. These services can be relocated to the roof at a later point in time when a new phase is added to the building. The design minimizes the chaos of further expansion and also allows for quick expansion based on the needs of the marketplace.

According to Hayman, customer demands have already driven further expansion. The company has begun phase two of the expansion and is installing the first of two production lines. This third line is projected to be operational in February.

The plant was constructed using state-of-the-art safety and security measures, including access badging and camera monitoring. Color-coding of walls, floors and walkways differentiates the cooked side from raw side of the plant. Physical separation between the raw and cooked sides includes separate break rooms for employees and separate entrances to keep personnel separated according to whether they work on the cooked side or raw side. Employees from the two sides can’t mingle until they leave the building at quitting time. Air balance, dedicated tools and equipment are specified for both the raw and RTE product preparation areas. Equipment is color-coded according to the raw or cooked areas of the plant.

 “Simplex supplied the badging system that allows us to control entry into production areas, thus preventing cross-contamination” Hayman explains. “It also allows us to monitor and track all individuals who have entered a specific area.” In addition, the individual tools, personal protection equipment (PPE) and product containers are all color-coded to prevent cross-contamination from one area to another.

The plant uses bio-secure ventilation, which provides a downwind and separated approach to cooked and raw side airflow. In each line, the ventilation system flows from cooked side to raw side, preventing harmful bacteria and less-than-pleasant odors from accumulating anywhere in the plant. Seasoning buckets, always a potential source of allergens, are separated in their own airtight rooms, and airflow is directed through a dedicated vent out to the raw side, preventing a mixture of allergens from contaminating final cooked product.

Air balance is managed through a control system provided by RDS Company, which is monitored from the facility’s engine room. This system ensures that airflow through the plant is maintained in a positive pressure from the RTE areas through to the RTC (ready-to-cook) areas of the plant. Wayne Farms uses Bessemer and ACUair units for its bio-secure system. All air make-up systems have 10-micron filters to ensure clean filtered air is introduced to the facility.

All storm water run off is captured in two retention ponds prior to leaving the site. Facility water is processed through a dissolved air flotation (DAF) system prior to discharge to the city sewer system. Sanitary sewer water is plumbed separately from the facility process water and is discharged directly to the city sewer system.

Prior to introduction to the facility, the water used for processing is filtered with a 50-micron system supplied by H. C. Warner, Inc. Domestic water for restrooms and administrative areas is piped separately from the city header and is maintained completely separate throughout the facility.

Employees check cooked meat at the inspection station after the fryer on line 52.

Automation speeds production

The plant’s production lines are almost completely automated, leaving little room for human error. A Rockwell PLC connects to equipment through an Ethernet backbone. State-of-the-art automated equipment, such as automated marinating systems from MP Equipment, allows the company to provide customized product solutions for its customers.

On the cooked side, product flow begins when raw chicken enters the line to be marinated. The marination process, which is determined by the formula of ingredients, uses a tumbling system that automatically adds marination based on the weight of raw material placed into the tumblers. Once marinated, the meat is put on the line and enters a precooking process, which raises the meat’s temperature. After the precooking stage, the meat may go through a couple of processes, such as highlighting or grill marking, on its way to the final cooking stage. After leaving the precooking process and highlighting or marking stage, the meat travels through hot air ovens (spiral ovens on the breaded line and linear ovens on the roasting line). After the final cooking stage, the meat enters a chiller before proceeding to a stripping or dicing machine. After these final processes, the meat passes through an IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) process before proceeding to packaging, which can be individual boxes, totes or bulk bins.

Product and process controls are top priority. The plant uses LINK Control (Human Machine Interface [HMI]) software from FMC FoodTech, utility control systems from RDS and Matrix real-time software to make sure the lines operate smoothly and provide real-time system monitoring.

LINK Control, with its operating, monitoring and data collection capabilities, provides workers with a simple, easy-to-use operator interface that will increase productivity, at the same time it ensures uniform product quality and food safety. The RDS utility HMI control system monitors all utilities including ammonia refrigeration, hydraulics, electrical, compressed air, high-pressure sanitation water and boilers.

According to Wayne Farms Director of Engineering Chander Narula, Matrix Engineering developed and installed the shop floor control program used for SPC (statistical process control). Based on the data inputs, the software monitors key process parameters and advises process changes to ensure quality levels are consistently met. SPC is used for temperature monitoring and shows upper and lower control limits. The SPC program shows conformance to HACCP and allows corrective action before a process is out of control and has to be shut down. For example, internal temperatures of meat are taken on a frequent and regular basis and are entered into the SPC system.

With level sensors mounted in ingredient vessels, the facility is equipped with a bulk liquid telemetry inventory system, allowing suppliers to monitor and refresh inventory levels of key production supplies before they run out.

Wayne Farms protects its finished product with its own IntelliShip system, which provides 24/7 on-product temperature monitoring. From the plant to the warehouse to the customer’s location, a customer can monitor, via smart padlocks and on-board temperature monitoring (required of all third-party carriers), the temperature and quality of the product.

IntelliShip is an internal, comprehensive program of standards (or best practices) for distributors’ warehouses and shippers, providing for the monitoring of temperature and climate where products are stored and shipped. The program specifies on-board tracking equipment, which correlates time and temperature data, and smart locks, which track the number of times a trailer door has been opened. The program’s best practices specifications for shipping frozen product were stringent enough that some common carriers couldn’t make the cut.

The plant’s specifications for shipping frozen product are extremely stringent.

No bones

Wayne Farms product and quality assurance programs such as “No Bones About It” provide a high-level of monitoring for foreign objects or bone fragments. The company consistently has extremely low levels of foreign objects and takes strides to constantly improve. Mettler Toledo Safeline metal detectors check for foreign objects, and bone fragments are monitored through an incoming acceptable quality level inspection program. The company also strictly enforces a no-glass-in-process areas policy.

Restaurants and food service companies are very picky about the food they serve their customers because one mistake can easily multiply the number of lost sales. Therefore, all of Wayne Farms’ products are hand-boned because machines have proven to be not as accurate. When machine de-boning was used in trials, the defect rate tended to be greater, and machine inspection tests rendered more foreign objects and cartilage. Check systems allow workers to monitor on-line while they’re handling the product. When defects are found, the system flashes the defects on a board so line workers can see in real time what is happening with products going down the line. This creates competition between the lines, making workers more productive.

This conceptual drawing of the facility shows a quadrangle with support services off to one side.

Safe, productive workforce

Rather than hiring new employees and starting them on a particular job, Wayne Farms built an operations team, led by Plant Operations Coach Heath Loyd. Instead of focusing solely on individual performance, the company is testing this innovative approach to people management to build team loyalty, depth of expertise and group objective orientation.

Loyd’s philosophy states that for the team to succeed, there must be a work environment and tools that encourage everyone to share their ideas and opinions. “We are not just bosses and employees,” he says, “we are all team members and leaders.” Success is measured by ACTION (Attitude, Communication, Teamwork, Involvement, Ownership and Numbers/performance), and all team members are required to communicate with each other, be dependable, be accountable, take pride and ownership in their work and be honest. The ACTION program was developed internally. “By adding value in everything we do,” Loyd says, “we become the partner of choice to our team members, customers and community.”

Also of importance to the facility is worker safety. The company’s WorkSafe program makes sure every worker is safe and every product is free of contaminants. Created by a cross-functional team of 12 people from management to operations, WorkSafe monitors behaviors that can lead to actions that cause accidents. The WorkSafe System is administered and managed through a collaborative effort between employees and management who meet on a weekly basis to review all observations and ensure corrective actions have been implemented.

Before entering the production area, every worker must enter a bio-safe room to apply protective gear including rubber plant boots, gloves, robes and hairnet, and finally, step into an antiseptic foot bath and thoroughly wash their hands. Color-coded smocks, hairnets and other PPEs are supplied from one of two separate smockrooms that are dedicated to either the RTC area or the RTE area in order to prevent cross-contamination.

Employees are encouraged to stop, look and listen for potential hazards and warn their individual safety team supervisor. Each shift has numerous safety teams, determined by area, and each team has a safety supervisor. Safety supervisors perform observation checks on a periodic basis. All data is entered into the WorkSafe system to keep track of safety trends and reduce lost-time instances.

The Decatur Further Processing West Facility uses state-of-the-art design, equipment, technology and processing techniques to produce quality products and meet customer and company objectives. From biologically secure modular construction and operations, to technologically driven production processes, to the operations team and coaching management program, Wayne Farms LLC Decatur West facility has made measurable strides in product quality and capacity during its first year of operation.

Cooking with innovation

Decatur West’s test kitchen provides a good place for Wayne Farms product and concept development staff to test new flavor combinations. Called Innovation Central, the program includes culinary expertise, food scientists, process technology experts and all the competencies required for developing new products and processes. Innovation Central is a custom design shop for collaborating with customers and formulating new products. This product development lab is not linked with quality or other areas of the plant, but simulates the production capabilities in all the facilities for pilot runs.

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