Innovation / Columns

Editor's Note: A season of change in food and beverage manufacturing

Oftentimes, business slows down in the summer. There are very few trade shows and conferences to attend. New technology typically waits for cooler months to make its debut. Slow news days usually occur around summer holidays. 
As we were preparing this issue of Food Engineering, I felt the opposite was happening this summer. Change is in the air, and trends seem to be shifting.
Results from the 2012 Replacement Parts & Components Trends Survey (see pages 18-26) show an adjustment in how parts are purchased. Not surprisingly, more readers than ever before (approximately 60 percent) are purchasing parts using the internet. And the shift in those rating alternative parts on par with OEM parts more than doubled in the past four years. New reader needs include the creation of standardized parts numbers, databases that cross-reference comparable parts for commodity items and qualitative data on lifecycle cost of parts. Of course, machinery maintenance and spare parts management aren’t the only things on our readers’ minds this summer.
Workforce challenges aren’t new, but the methods of attracting and retaining the right employees is being transformed (see page 13-14). In my 20-plus years at Food Engineering, operator and supervisor skill level has been one of the top issues food and beverage processors face. Today, the challenges aren’t only finding staff with the problem-solving and computer literacy skills needed to run automated equipment, but both young plant floor workers and engineering staff who now demand a stimulating work environment. 
In the clamor for skilled employees, some workforce experts have suggested rotating staff between departments every few months, or going a step further, partnering with other companies to rotate employees between firms quarterly to keep them engaged. 
In an economy with greater than 8 percent unemployment, it’s hard for me to comprehend anyone demanding a stimulating work environment. But it is being demanded, and it’s a change the food industry may have to embrace to gain an edge in efficiency.   

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