Manufacturing News

Tech Flash Vol. 4 No. 8

June 26, 2008
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Stop using corn for ethanol!

Cellulosic biofuels possible alternative to corn

Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), Rep Tom Davis (R-VA), Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) and Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE) sent a bipartisan letter, cosigned with 58 House members, to the Administrator of the EPA calling for the promotion of advanced biofuels that do not contribute to food price inflation or create new environmental concerns.

“This year, the US will divert nearly one-third of our total corn production to make ethanol. It’s contributing directly to record corn prices-spiking even higher due to the tragic flooding in Iowa,” said Rep. Moran. “The unprecedented price of corn is having a ripple effect on food prices directly impacting consumers at the grocery store, not to mention the poor and starving in the third world. We call on the EPA to redouble its efforts to rapidly transition away from biofuels that draw down our food supply toward newer, more sustainable energy sources.”

The letter notes that at present, food price inflation in the US is rising at twice the overall rate of inflation, while global food prices have nearly doubled in the past three years. The bipartisan group is emphasizing the importance of finding sources for biofuels that “do not divert food and feed from domestic and international supplies.”

Under existing policies, 30-35% of all US corn will be diverted for ethanol production this year. According to Moran’s letter, the conversion of corn to ethanol will only displace 4% of America’s gasoline supplies this year.

One sustainable alternative to corn is switchgrass. According to a large farm study completed earlier this year by researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, switchgrass grown for biofuel production produced five times more energy than needed to grow, harvest and process it into cellulosic ethanol. But a change to switchgrass cannot be accomplished in a year or two.


Is dieting on the way out?

Dieting may be losing out to eating “better for you” foods in the battle to shrink the midsection, says a study entitled Eating Patterns in America from The NPD Group. The report notes that the percentage of adults on a diet has decreased by 10% since 1990, while the percentage of Americans pursuing healthier foods has increased.

“While dieting for both women and men remain huge markets, they are not growing markets,” says Harry Balzer, vice president of NPD. “The desire to lose weight really was a ‘90s trend. Today, consumers appear to be making healthier food choices.”

The study found that, at least once in a two week period, over 70% of Americans are consuming reduced fat foods, and over half of them are eating reduced calorie, whole grain or fortified foods. In addition to these, other “better for you” foods include diet, light, reduced cholesterol, reduced sodium, caffeine free, sugar free, fortified, organic and low-carb varieties. The average American, according to NPD’s National Eating Trends, has at least two “better for you” products a day.

Balzer says that Americans used to think of subtracting bad foods from their diets; today they think positively about adding healthy foods to their regimen.


Chemists help with healthier foods

Researchers are giving common foods a more nutritious makeover by removing unhealthy substances and adding or enhancing those that may help fight diseases such as cancer and heart disease, according to Chemical & Engineering News. Scientists are identifying an increasing number of disease-fighting substances in foods and are using them to enhance food crops.

The number of published papers exploring these disease-fighting properties of food components has quintupled since 2003, according to the report. Scientists have already developed carrots with super-high antioxidant levels. Other foods designed to target cancer, high cholesterol and other health conditions may soon be on the way.

Creating healthier foods that still taste good can be problematic, as changing certain food components can make flavor and texture unappetizing. The challenge is to boost nutrition levels without losing the qualities that consumers find appealing.


Kraft spins off Post Cereals

The board of directors of Kraft Foods Inc. intends to distribute all outstanding shares of Cable Holdco, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Kraft that will own certain assets and liabilities of the Post Cereals business. The spin-off transaction is in connection with the merger of Cable Holdco and Ralcorp Mailman LLC, which is a subsidiary of Ralcorp Holdings Inc. Kraft entered into a definitive agreement on November 15, 2007 to distribute and merge its Post Cereals business into Ralcorp.


Automation News



Real time SPC data provides an edge

Best-in-class manufacturers realize 24% more on-time deliveries, have a 30% higher level of OEE and get a 29% higher overall yield than laggard manufacturers, according to a new report from the Aberdeen Group. Sponsored by Hertzler Systems Inc., the report, Event Based Manufacturing Intelligence: Creating Closed Loop Performance Management, says manufacturers attempting to improve both operational and corporate performance should first examine the overall structure of their business process.

As a general theme, best-in-class manufacturers differentiate themselves from the competition by incorporating real-time data into their processes. Specifically, these best-in-class manufacturers are more than twice as likely than laggards to monitor exceptions on the plant floor in real time and use real-time data in production optimization processes and for production release and control.

Furthermore, the study points out that 55% of the best-in-class manufacturers use automated statistical process control (SPC) software to achieve production and business advantages.

According to study participant Marty Slagel, corporate quality, Hormel Foods, “We believe that you measure what is important and what is important gets improved. Variation is our enemy and by using statistical process control to reduce this variation we have seen multiple benefits. Namely, we remain in compliance with our nutritional statements and the USDA, we deliver a more consistent product to our customer, all while simultaneously reducing costs.”


High-tech flowmeters catch on

While the worldwide flowmeter market totaled $4.5 billion in 2007, the new, high-technology flowmeter markets, including ultrasonic and Coriolis, are showing the fastest growth, according to a study, Volume X: The World Market for Flowmeters, 2nd Edition, from Flow Research, Inc.

Markets for older types-such as positive displacement, turbine and variable area flowmeters-have been declining slowly. The study estimates a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in revenues for the total worldwide flowmeter market to be 4.9% through 2012. By 2012, the worldwide market is expected to exceed $5.7 billion.

The market is undergoing a shift from traditional types to high-tech, multi-variable devices at the rate of about one percent a year. Increased concerns with accuracy and reliability in measurement could accelerate these trends.

For more information, visit www.flowresearch.com.


FDT: On the road again

The FDT Group, a non-profit corporation consisting of more than 60 automation suppliers that provides an open and non-proprietary interface for the integration of field devices, had two successful road shows: one in Wilmington, DE and the other in Calgary, AB. Dale Arnold from DuPont presented “Introduction for Fieldbus Technology” during the Wilmington seminar, providing attendees with an understanding of fieldbus protocols and FDT (field device tool) technology.

Ron Gul, Shell Global Solutions International, shared with his Calgary audience the WIB (Working party on Instrument Behavior) Test Report findings on FDT/DTM (device type manager) or EDDL (electronic device description language) for asset management using FOUNDATION Fieldbus Technology. Both seminars included technical presentations and live demonstrations to help visitors understand how the technology works.

FDT Group will host technical seminars in Houston, TX (Sept. 25th) and Greenville, SC (Oct. 28). For more information, visit www.fdtgroup.org/events.


Demands abroad drive PLC market

Strong economic growth in Asia and Eastern Europe significantly boosted the programmable logic controller (PLC) market in 2007. While the economic expansion is expected to continue, future growth will be at a slower pace, says a study from ARC Advisory Group. The worldwide market for PLCs is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.5% over the next five years.

While PLC growth has been notable, the market is demanding the programmable automation controller (PAC), a multi-disciplined controller capable of providing real-time logic, motion and process control in addition to HMI and other logic functions on a single platform. Major automation suppliers have extended PLC functions beyond just logic, especially in the higher-end models.

The PLC-based PAC market growth is expected to be greater than the overall PLC market growth. This growth will be driven by the logical extension of PLC functionality to a multi-discipline platform. It is expected that most of the small and large PLCs of today, as well as some of the micro PLCs, will morph into PACs, and the pure PLCs will remain at the nano and some of the micro level.


Food Safety News



Jury is still out on bisphenol-A

As part of an ongoing effort, a subcommittee of the FDA’s Science Board will hold a public meeting on the safety of bisphenol-A (BPA) in plastics, review an Agency Task Force report on the topic and deliver its findings to the Board’s annual meeting this fall.

Frank M. Torti, MD, MPH, FDA’s principal deputy commissioner and chief scientist, asked Science Board Chairwoman Barbara J. McNeil, MD, PhD and head of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School, to establish a subcommittee to assess BPA, a plastic substance used in some baby bottles, food containers and water bottles.

BPA has been suspected of being hazardous to humans because it mimics estrogen and may induce hormonal responses. FDA has been reviewing emerging literature on BPA for years and CFSAN initiated a formal re-examination of the safety of BPA in early 2007.

In April 2008, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) of the National Institutes of Health published a draft brief indicating that some studies in animals suggest BPA may raise concerns for developmental effects in humans. In the brief, NTP stated that, based on animal studies, it had “some concern” for neural and behavioral effects in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures and also had “some concern” for exposure in these populations based on the effects in the prostate gland, mammary gland and an earlier age for puberty in females.


Color it hyperactive

A Washington-based consumer group is pressing federal regulators to ban some commonly used food dyes. In a formal petition to the US Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Science in the Public Interest asked that Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, and Yellow 6 be eliminated from the food supply, noting that several are currently being phased out in the UK. The consumer group says the substances are linked to hyperactivity and behavior problems in children.


Dairy's raw milk products may contain Listeria Monocytogenes

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has tested raw milk from Stump Acres’ Dairy in New Salem (York County) and recommended that all customers who recently bought milk products at the dairy discard them due to possible contamination from Listeria Monocytogenes.

Raw milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized can be sold in Pennsylvania, but requires permits and inspections.

In 2007, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture revoked Stump Acres’ permit after the Department of Health identified several individuals who became sick after consuming raw milk from the dairy. State inspectors found that the dairy began selling raw milk again without a permit.

Samples were taken from the farm on June 12, and preliminary tests showed the presence of Listeria Monocytogenes on June 20. Final test will be forthcoming.

So far no illnesses have been reported as a result of the potential contamination, but if people who consumed the raw milk become ill, they are instructed to consult their physician.


FSIS to help Spanish-speaking plant owners/operators

The US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is soliciting applications for cooperative agreements for a collaborative outreach program on food safety and defense to assist Spanish-speaking small and very small plant owners and operators.

FSIS will award between $50,000 and $100,000 to one or more cooperative agreements this fiscal year. The program will support operations that generally have fewer technical and financial resources than large facilities that may be exacerbated when English is not the predominant language spoken by plant owners and operators. The program is intended to increase the knowledge and compliance with FSIS regulations while providing specialized assistance to this market segment.

Applications must be received by Aug. 11, 2008 and may be submitted through www.grants.gov, or directly to FSIS by email at mildred.rivera-betancort@fsis.usda.gov. For more information, contact Mildred Rivera-Betancourt, FSIS, Training and Operations Branch by phone at 515-727-8987.

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