Food Engineering
Food Automation & Manufacturing Conference report

FA&M Conference Report

Innovating risk assessment and world-class best practices

June 6, 2013
Ask the Experts panel at FA&M 2013

Leading edge solutions for automation, food safety and sustainability were the underlying themes of the 2013 Food Automation & Manufacturing Conference and Expo (FA&M), sponsored by Food Engineering, held April 14-17 in Naples, FL. The event, which drew more than 200 industry professionals, featured presentations that updated participants on ways to optimize their processes through efficiencies in automation, maintenance and strategic manufacturing partnerships.

The audience—which for the first time included a virtual community able to not only view but also post questions on three presentations via live streaming—also heard about cost and compliance issues related to the Food Safety Modernization Act and overall equipment effectiveness.

Two conference presentations focused on key strategies and best practices that target equipment and personnel in a plant and demonstrated how a new focus on risk assessment and operating best practices can transform a food and beverage business.

Best practices to improve the bottom line

Today’s business climate and global competition demand that companies attain maximum performance and multi-capability from their assets. Consequently, asset performance initiatives are vital to creating a competitive advantage, says Rob Miller, vice president of engineering at ConAgra Foods.


 A company needs to better understand, configure and utilize its equipment and personnel assets to be more capable, reliable and flexible to help manufacturing add to the bottom line and improve business as a whole, Miller said in his FA&M keynote address.

“Communication between technical organizations within a company is fragmented. Engineering, R&D or maintenance operations are all focused on their own specific goals. This type of culture can limit company growth and success,” says Miller. “Ask yourself how many times a project was screwed up due to miscommunication between different groups.”

 At the same time, many companies have an aging machinery asset base—producing products on lines designed two decades ago for a specific product. Miller says teams have repurposed the equipment and, in some cases, increased capacity as a result. “However, many of the new products don’t marry to that asset base well, so the asset base can have a negative impact. It can take a lot of money to modify or replace.”

ConAgra has identified three key strategies that will help overcome those challenges and bring additional profitability to the bottom line, areas it calls Asset Performance Vision, Seamless Technical Community and Standardize/Modular Design.

The goal of Asset Performance Vision is to declare the types of business profiles that exist in a manufacturing plant—manage for cash lines versus growth lines. This provides the starting point where a business can think about its investment and continuous improvement strategies, and how to efficiently and effectively convert its plants and equipment into sustainable sales and profits. “This allows you to look at your network of assets, see how it is designed, what your capabilities are and what you are doing. If you want to go into foodservice, but most of your equipment is in bulk packaging, you can figure out how to align machine strategies with the vision of where you want the business to go,” says Miller.

Another key component is looking at manufacturing practices to determine what “good” looks like. “When you see what sustainable, profitable manufacturing looks like, and all the components and configurations in place to achieve it, you can overlay that ideal with where your practices are today. You can put together a plan to build toward that plant of the future,” says Miller.

Miller suggests conducting a hypothetical “white sheet,” where you select all desired parameters of a line (your ideal mean time between failures and repairs, the number of operators per line or your aim of 85 OEE, for example), and then eliminate all the barriers (including capital investment) to engineering such a system in your calculation. “You will not be able to afford this system, but the exercise is not wasted work. You can extract information on the specific types of components needed to reach your goals. Although you may want 85 OEE, the white sheet may only reveal changes to your process that can get you to 75 OEE. You can use the white sheet as a building block toward process/production improvements.”

Creating a Seamless Technical Community (STC) between core competencies within the plant is the third component that can reap huge rewards. In a company culture where a Seamless Technical Community approach is applied, the groups involved in a project—R&D, engineering, maintenance and operations—don’t just pass an item from one to the other; they are truly engaged. “Operations and maintenance receive an item from engineering R&D; they are part of the design team. Suppliers need to be a part of [this process], as they are subject matter experts.”

ConAgra ran a complex pilot project where it applied STC, based on methodologies developed by Procter & Gamble around methods of process packaging and product development, vertical startup and product lifestyle. “The objectives of the project were clearly understood by all groups.

“What was impressive was that in conversations, one couldn’t tell the operations person from the maintenance person; they discussed the objectives of the project, not the objectives of operations or R&D. Maintenance could tell R&D and engineering about flaws they’d seen in the equipment or why they could not hit their mean time between failure number. R&D looked for feedback from the operators and maintenance as to what aspect of the product wasn’t working. This style of working together is powerful. It can reduce process or product reworking, eliminate miscommunication and significantly enhance the opportunity to hit higher OEEs,” says Miller.

Although ConAgra has systems for various types of processing—including canning, baking and flaking—equipment within those groups can be standardized and made modular, and the technology approaches designed to run them may be “ripped and reapplied” to other manufacturing areas.

Not your mother’s risk assessment program

MOM brands, a Minneapolis-based manufacturer of cereals, considers itself an industry leader in food safety, developing programs that raise its confidence in protecting  its processing equipment and products, says Scott Kluegel, corporate electrical engineering department manager at MOM Brands. However, a processing-related issue arose that led the company toward new developments in its machine safety and food safety programs.

Materials used in the production of its cereals are converted into dough at one stage in the process. That dough comes into its mill rolls where it is flattened into a sheet and then continues further into the process. “Sometimes the mill rolls become sticky, and the dough collects into baseball- or softball-sized balls. The line operator oftentimes would reach into the mill roll and grab the dough ball,” says Kluegel.

Kluegel says MOM’s previous solutions to these types of issues were more of a subjective process. “We understood from our solutions expert that continuous improvement prompts you to look at your practices, risks and hazards,” and then develop a way to evaluate equipment, identify hazards and estimate the associated risks, he says.

“The expert used a risk assessment methodology based on best practices, his own experience in the field and technical insight to determine the level of protection we needed for the mill rolls and then designed it into our process.

“Determining risk assessment is based on a calculation that identifies the risk related to the identified hazard to determine the risk reduction level,” says Kluegel. That risk level calculation is determined by several factors that are part of a standard risk assessment process.

Those factors include the potential severity of the risk to harm (how badly one could get hurt) and the probability of occurrence of harm, which is based on a determination of the frequency and duration of exposure, probability of harm and probability of avoiding the harm. Each potential issue is assigned a value. For example, the severity of risk could range from level 1, indicating a minor cut or bruise, up to level 4, which could mean a fatality. Values to indicate the frequency and duration of the risk may range from level 1 for less than once a year, through level 5 which indicates a frequency of once an hour.

Probability of occurrence is another factor to be considered. This may be based on the state of the machine, motivation of the operator, stress or awareness of the potential issue. “If the dough ball shows up near the end of shift for the operator, how likely is he or she to shut down the line as opposed to reaching in and grabbing the dough ball?” asks Kluegel. The risk assessment methodology led to the production of a risk reduction decision matrix  showing the levels of severity and the different types of probability.

MOM brands assembled a team—consisting of a system safety consultant from Rockwell Automation and MOM Brands company personnel—to adopt a standard risk assessment process that was specific to MOM Brands’ production environment and safety requirements.

The company developed an evolved risk assessment methodology that eliminates the guesswork regarding tasks to address machine safety.  It allows safety solutions to be done right the first time with components that are neither under- or over-engineered.

Following the risk assessment, MOM Brands produced three standard documents that look at its machine safety program and the sets they will follow regarding machine safety (LOTO procedures or identifying tasks that are routine, repetitive and integral). A second document lists the types of tasks to be performed on each particular type of equipment. This capability is strictly for maintenance tasks. A third standard document explains how to apply the results of a risk assessment analysis to pieces of equipment. Solutions can range from additional coding added to the machine control software, to new or novel types of machinery, software or components being developed and installed.

Risk assessment methodology helped MOM Brands update safety controls on its processes. Kluegel says the electrical standard for industrial machinery—as recently as 2005—required the safety system for machinery to be separate from and autonomous to the machine control system.

“We implemented a rely-based LED system that was independent of the machine control, but it was expensive to install due to wiring-intensive architectures. Maintenance technicians needed a scorecard to decipher a series of 12 light-based warnings to identify a problem. The relays were cumbersome to install, troubleshoot and maintain,” Kluegel adds.

 The company assembled another team to develop an integrated safety system solution. They turned to a PLC system that allowed both the safety system and standard machine controls to operate without conflict on a single platform. With the PLC, MOM Brands was able to better send fault information to a human-machine operator interface, create password-protected levels of security for access to the safety programs and allow remote I/O Ethernet connectivity for reduced wiring.

 MOM Brands also conducts better validation testing for machine safety. “We test for the faults before we implement a solution to ensure all parts interact correctly to perform the safety function, and unintended functions do not occur,” says Kluegel. “Does the machinery stop running when I open the door? What should happen to my safety I/O if I lose my network connection? The validation plans include cause and effect so the programmer knows how to develop the logic.”