Food Safety / Sustainability / Automation / Innovation

Food Automation & Manufacturing Conference Report

June 1, 2011
KEYWORDS energy / KPI / OEE / plant safety
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Need-to-know manufacturing concepts and professional contacts kept food professionals engaged during the annual Food Engineering conference.

Networking is the name of the game, and when it can be done while socializing, all the better.


Manufacturing professionals are loath to leave their centers of operation. To lure them away for a few days, there has to be a better payoff than sunny skies and elegant surroundings.

Based on attendee feedback, there was plenty of steak to accompany the sizzle at Food Engineering’s 2011 Food Automation & Manufacturing Conference and Expo, an annual event that drew 250 to the Ritz-Carlton in Palm Beach, FL for three and a half days in early April, including 174 registrants to the conference portion of the program. More than 18 hours of presentations by experts in OEE monetization, plant safety, innovation management, energy management and a variety of other topics provided a briefcase full of takeaways for attendees to consider at their own facilities.

Fundamental change is occurring in how food is processed and raw materials are handled and accounted for as food safety requirements become more stringent, suggested Greg Flickinger, manufacturing director for Charlotte, NC-based Snyder’s-Lance Inc. The snack food manufacturer recognized this in the wake of the 2009 Peanut Corporation of America Salmonella contaminations: Although the company was not involved in the recall, the headquarters plant was besieged by state and federal inspectors, with more than 100 swab tests conducted to determine if contact surfaces were microbiologically clean. To succeed in this new environment, management concluded a high-performance work system had to replace traditional approaches, with quality checks pushed down to the operator level. “Quality and food safety is owned by operators,” said Flickinger. “QA no longer is the police force; it now is the support group.”

Adding structure and documentation to the new order is a protocol the firm calls CILT: clean, inspect, lubricate, tighten. Downtime as well as uptime tasks are detailed, helping to train workers in standardized procedures and build consistency. “Once you have a structured program, you can dive deeper,” he said, though CILT is not a panacea. “The tool doesn’t fix your problem; people do,” Flickinger emphasized. Performance improvement is reflected in a 17 percent reduction in cost per pound of finished goods, a 52 percent cut in consumer complaints and 16 successful third-party audits, including SQF Level 3 safety audits at three plants.

The pool area at the Ritz-Carlton sets an elegant tone for the welcome reception at this year’s Food Automation & Manufacturing Conference.

Ownership is challenging engineers and other manufacturing professionals to deliver those types of results without any capital outlays. Getting more out of the equipment on hand is the point of the overall equipment efficiency (OEE) metric. Peter Hock, senior director of continuous improvement at Omaha, NE-based ConAgra Foods, provided a detailed discussion of using OEE to focus on the fundamental drivers of yield loss. “All parts of OEE are not created equal,” he said. “Each OEE bucket has its own profile and penalties.” Hock recommended monetizing OEE losses, developing a “cost opportunity Pareto” and then involving financial managers to focus resources on projects with the greatest impact.

Total productive management drives root cause analysis of where the best improvements reside at ConAgra, though the continuous-improvement methodology is less important than the execution. The company is striving for 85 percent OEE, though that may be mathematically impossible: Sanitation cycles of 3½ hours on frozen food lines, for example, lop 10 points off OEE calculations at the outset. Regardless of the goal, a cross-functional team is essential.

“The change-management issue cannot be underplayed,” Hock concluded. “People have to see the benefit change will make. Where we’ve taken a command and control approach, we’ve generally fallen down.”

Reliable data provide a starting point for cost reductions and other initiatives in manufacturing, which is why Kraft Foods Inc. standardized on SAP in European and North American plants and expects to have the rest of its global production network using SAP by 2013, according to Diane Wolf, global vice president-safety, environmental & sustainability at the Northfield, IL firm. Consistent KPI metrics ensure a “common look and feel” to every plant’s measurement of the pillars of manufacturing excellence-quality, cost, delivery, safety, sustainability and morale. But consistent metrics require consensus, and that becomes a challenge as business units are bought and sold.

To illustrate, Wolf cited recent efforts to establish a single management system for safety and environmental (S&E). A goal of zero accidents is the easy part: Developing consistent definitions, policies, procedures and expectations requires engagement of employees and strategic partners. The acquisition of 67 Cadbury plants last year added two S&E systems to the three Kraft already had, resulting in enormous redundancy and inconsistency. A global team resolved the issue. “Everyone had to change a little, but in the end, we had a system everyone could accept,” she said. As a result, accident-reduction goals have been recalibrated to 50 percent, almost triple the improvement previously sought.

In conjunction with the conference, Expo 2011 provided an opportunity to learn more about innovative products and services.

Food safety and worker safety

A dozen subject-matter experts from the supplier community added their perspectives to some of the issues raised in the 17 presentations by food company professionals. Food and worker safety are never far from anyone’s thoughts, and two suppliers tackled those topics head on.

Citing a doubling of food and beverage recalls to 565 in 2008 from the 255 in 2005 and 240 in 2006, Siemens Industry Inc.’s Walt Staehle suggested “risk communication and control are the key elements of brand protection, not technology.” Nonetheless, technology can help reduce the time required for root cause analysis of a recall event, a key factor in containing the financial and public goodwill damage that results.

Public support for food safety regulations hovers around 89 percent, the manager of Siemens’ food & beverage services said, though the implementation outlook for the Food Safety Modernization Act is unclear. Although the legislation passed with industry support, political maneuvering has put implementation funding in doubt, according to David Dixon, senior director-strategic accounts for the Kansas City-based engineering firm Burns & McDonald. But business partners are demanding improvements in safety systems and sanitary designs, prompting many plants to invest in better HVAC systems and more robust cleaning protocols. Dixon notes a trend toward more wet washdown and high-ticket improvements to ceilings, walls, floors and blockage of penetration points to processing areas.

New dust collectors and other systems to minimize explosion threats from combustible dust is another big area of spending, he said, notably in Georgia, where tough new regulations were enacted in the wake of 2008’s explosion at Imperial Sugar’s Port Wentworth, GA. Most organic materials will explode if divided into particles less than 420 microns in diameter, pointed out Kevin Jeffries, who joined Imperial Sugar as corporate safety systems manager in the wake of the explosion that claimed 14 lives. While OSHA is still developing explosion-prevention standards, the state of Georgia adopted as law the standards promulgated by the National Fire Protection Association, according to Jeffries.

Total elapsed time in Imperial’s two-stage explosion was 325 milliseconds, with most of the destructive power unleashed in the secondary explosion. The plant, which was built in 1917, had operated without incident for 91 years until the tragedy. Explosion prevention is a continuous improvement challenge, Jeffries emphasized, and any plant where dust can be suspended in a confined space is vulnerable. He elaborated on six essentials of prevention:

• Identify the hazard
• Define scope of hazard in the process
• Identify controls to address hazards
• Find and screen resources
• Document everything
• Sustain performance.

Sustainable manufacturing practices and corporate social responsibility were the focus of the final day’s presentations. The 146 food plants operated by members of the Northwest Food Processors Association are committed to lowering their energy intensity 25 percent in 10 years and 50 percent in 20, explained Peter Truitt, vice president and cofounder of Truitt Brothers, a Salem, OR cannery with a second plant in Kentucky. Production volume is the equation’s denominator, and energy consumption is standardized by BTUs-91,600 BTUs for a gallon of propane, 3,412 BTUs for 1 kWh, etc.

More efficient equipment and better operations and maintenance practices are expected to produce almost half the reductions in energy intensity, with distributed generation process improvement and energy management accomplishing the rest. “As a shelf-stable company, retorts are us, and we’re ignoring the elephant in the room if we don’t” upgrade boilers and install better controls technology at some point, Truitt allowed. For the time being, the focus is on low-/no-cost projects and equipment upgrades that qualify for funding assistance. Eight hydraulic pumps were replaced for $32,084, saving 126,069 kWh/year, or $8,169, but ROI would have stretched almost four years if incentives weren’t available. “If it weren’t for the tax credits, a lot of these projects wouldn’t be possible,” he observed.

Nonetheless, sustainability outreach often results in less expensive processes and “are just good common sense,” he said. They also tend to unleash creative ideas. “Once people understand where you’re headed, they grab hold of things and run with them,” Truitt concluded. “I’m no longer the cop; we’ve got a bunch of deputies who are engaged and accountable to each other.”

Both Keystone Foods and Smithfield Foods Inc. are major suppliers to McDonald’s Corp., and both have been honored by the restaurant chain for their sustainability programs, a priority for all McDonald’s supply-chain partners. Social responsibility is a natural extension of those efforts, according to Keystone’s Ed Delate, vice president-global engineering and corporate social responsibility. Energy-reduction efforts alone have saved the company more than $10 million annually, and engaging both workers and suppliers is producing best practices that otherwise never would be considered.

Dennis Treacy, who became Smithfield’s first chief sustainability officer last year, suggested demonstrating social responsibility was important in being an employer of choice, engaging company critics and effecting improvements in both food and worker safety. Maintaining business-to-business relationships is also a prime motivation, he concedes. “The supply chain is becoming the government,” Treacy observes. “If Walmart or McDonald’s or someone else who buys our products insists on something, we’re going to do it.”

Heinz North America’s Dan Fonner was one of 17 food company professionals, along with subject-matter experts, to speak at the 2011 conference.

CPG meets HBS

Gaining approval for projects is one of engineers’ greatest challenges, and training in modern financial metrics at Harvard Business School might do more for the career of tomorrow’s food engineers and other consumer packaged goods production experts than coursework at Georgia Tech, based on a presentation by Dan Fonner, senior manager-global utilities at Heinz North America.

Fonner discussed a number of innovative projects that he has helped guide as part of Heinz’s objectives to reduce energy and water consumption 20 percent and increase renewable energy use 15 percent. “Back in 2005, it was [called] utility optimization; today, it’s sustainability,” he noted, “but it’s the same mix” of efficiency-driven initiatives.

Significant progress toward those goals has been achieved over five years, with electrical reductions of 36 million kWh and 4.9 billion gallons of water saved as a result of 101 projects, including T-5 fluorescent upgrades at all 20 Heinz-owned North American plants. More ambitious initiatives can be derailed, however, after years of discussion and the enthusiastic support of top management. A prime example is a 2009 water recycle and biogas-generation project at Heinz’s French fry facility in Ontario, OR. The plant has been heavily fined and mandated to clean up discharges into the Snake River. The project would have recycled 90 percent of water and saved 1 billion gallons annually, plus reclaim enough heat energy to warm 3,400 Oregon homes. “After a year and a half, [it was a] no go,” Fonner explained, because, despite positive cash flow of up to $1 million, no money down and no balance sheet impact, financial experts determined too much cash would be tied up.

Despite the discharge issues, the Ontario plant received the Energy Star designation last year.

Anatomy of a Plant of the Year

Calculated risk taking, best-of-breed concepts and a commitment to building the world’s most sustainable snack food manufacturing site helped shape the design and execution of Shearer’s Foods Inc.’s plant in Massillon, OH, winner of this year’s  Plant of the Year Award and the first LEED platinum food manufacturing project, according to Scott Weyandt, sustainability director at Brewster, OH-based Shearer’s.

Before accepting the award at the Food Automation & Manufacturing Conference, Weyandt highlighted some of the innovations and advanced automation systems in Massillon. Among them is a low-water corn cook process that reuses stored thermal energy and taps oven-exhaust energy to preheat cook water, helping to reduce process energy demand 15.9 percent. Even greater energy savings are realized from a first-of-its kind tortilla oven with a sealed cavity and 24 banks of concave infrared burners that produce both convective and radiative heat. When Shearer’s solicited proposals from vendors, “some presented same-old, same-old designs with ribbon burners,” Weyandt said. The advanced technology will reduce per unit energy requirements 47 percent.

Linear layouts with long, unobstructed views from receiving to shipping were the norm in plant design until recent years. The Massillon plant reflects a new approach featuring zoned areas for various parts of the process. “Everything is feeding to the center and exiting out one of the sides,” explained Weyandt. Besides providing greater hygienic control, the design more easily accommodates expansion, an important advantage in Massillon, where an addition this year more than doubled plant size to 110,000 sq. ft.

State-of-the-art automation and controls were incorporated for both operations and building systems. The proprietary Manufacturing Information Portal interfaces with ERP scheduling and provides OEE, downtime information, and capacity and production comparisons, while Infinity QS software ensures quality checks are made as scheduled and SPC information is presented to operators in an actionable way, Weyandt said. Despite the advanced systems, he pegged ROI at 2.98 years, “and some of the greatest savings didn’t cost a dime” extra.

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