Food Engineering hosts first conference to address automation issues in food.

"Each one of us must e-connect, so we can leverage the capabilities of business-to-business communications in the food industry"-- Fred Sherriff, Vice-President/ Operations Systems, Kraft Foods

Ninety food engineers representing 37 food-manufacturing co mpanies and 22 engineering firms convened recently at Atlanta's Grand Hyatt Hotel for Food Automation 2000, sponsored by Food Engineering and the first conference ever dedicated to automation issues in food manufacturing.

Twenty additional supplier representatives demonstrated software systems and equipment at the concurrent Automation Expo, followed by a demonstration of the pilot MES/performance-analysis system jointly developed by Kraft Foods and Raytheon CSI for the Kraft Maxwell House Coffee plant at Jacksonville, Fla.

Conference attendees also toured the contract-manufacturing plant operated by Thermo-Pac Inc. (a unit of H.J. Heinz Co.) at Stone Mountain, Ga., and the fluid-milk products plant operated by Mayfield Dairy Farms (a unit of Dean Foods) at Braselton, Ga. Conference highlights follow.

"SPC and QI teams control the process by eliminating the causes of defects" -- Dr. Syed Hussain, Director of Technical Services, ConAgra Refrigerated Prepared Foods

B2B integrates plant

Fred Sherriff, vice-president/operations systems at Kraft Foods, keynoted the conference with his vision of "food plant automation beyond the millennium."

Kraft is close to totally integrating its 60 North American manufacturing and distribution locations into a single enterprise with common systems and work practices, said Sherriff. Next step: Integrating more than 70 contract manufacturers as well as key packaging suppliers, customers and distribution channels into an "extended enterprise." The supply chain is no longer a chain but a network of customers and partners. "The proposition I lay-out to you is this: Each one of us must e-connect, so we can leverage the capabilities of business-to-business (B2B) communications in the food industry," said Sherriff. "We must electronically connect our business practices."

Improved productivity is a continuing priority at Kraft, Sherriff continued. Kraft's target is to reduce costs by 4 percent per year, which means reducing conversion costs by $1.2 billion over the next three years.

The key to driving down costs: Performance-monitoring applications that integrate equipment with information repositories, thus empowering plant operators with the performance-improvement data and knowledge they need to drive continuous improvement. These applications feed a repository that stores the data in a standard format. "In our plants, we're working toward people having real-time knowledge of what they do, and the tools to do the diagnostics for improvement." The operator is connected to both the machine for line performance, and to the enterprise for monitoring compliance with the production schedule, manufacturing costs and delivery standards.

"This will not be an easy journey, but we're going to bring it all together," Sherriff declared. "We know what we have to do to complete the missing links."

He outlined Kraft's integration approach: At the machine or plant-floor level, Rockwell SQL (structured query language) captures real-time performance and automation knowledge from PLCs. At the operator/plant level, performance applications (measuring yield, downtime, weight control, SPC, etc.) capture raw transaction data from the PLCs and feed it to the MES repository, which is linked to the operator, to the enterprise and to external partners. (Kraft has to date catalogued 30 applications and posts 15 as "Big Board" real-time business-performance measures at headquarters.) Enterprise links connect the MES repository with external business groups for functions such as forecasting, customer orders, production planning, production scheduling and continuous replenishment. Kraft will rely on Web tools to build the first level of connectivity to business partners, said Sherriff, and XML-type languages for advanced applications.

Sherriff's vision: "Business-to-business integration for the first time, largely due to connecting machine and plant to the enterprise." Needed, he added: communications standards to connect with business partners.

Attendees queried speakers about their automation and integration experiences during Q&A sessions. (Photo: Curtis Compton, Atlanta)

Justifying automation

Investments in automation to improve product quality can be justified in terms of both internal and external benefits, said Dr. Syed Hussain, director of technical services for ConAgra Refrigerated Prepared Foods. Internal benefits include reduced failure costs and improved efficiency, output and profits. External benefits include improved customer satisfaction, market share, competitive position, ROI and profitability -- which in turn boost the company's market value.

Successful automation includes motivating, training and empowering people with software support, Hussain continued. ConAgra organized Statistical Process Control (SPC) and Quality Improvement (QI) teams to develop new SPC systems. These teams "control the process by eliminating the causes of defects." To start an SPC/QI automation project, Hussain recommended, select a small, self-contained and relatively trouble-free production module, which nevertheless needs internal improvement. Then select an automation partner offering strong consulting capabilities, technical service and training.

ConAgra empowers its QI teams with NW Analyst SPC software from Northwest Analytical Inc. Using SPC, QI teams measure variation, then eliminate its root causes. During one three-month period last year, for example, operators reduced tare-weight variation on a sliced-meat product to only 63 defec tive packages from more than 3,000 the previous quarter, reducing product "giveaway" for projected annual savings of $10,000.

"Turf wars" expensive "The goal of project management is maturity, where technology and management processes are efficiently integrated" -- Joy Williams, Plant Systems Manager, Vlasic Foods International (Photo: Curtis Compton, Atlanta)

"Turf wars" expensive

"Turf wars" between IT (Information Technology) and manufacturing when automating a plant "are expensive," said Joy Williams, plant systems manager at Vlasic Foods International. Territoriality, fear of ownership, fear of not owning and fear of sharing knowledge contribute to turf wars. "IT's historical comfort zone is not the plant floor," she observed, and manufacturing may perceive control technology as confining. "But limiting variation is a competitive advantage," she pointed out. The two departments must close ranks for a united front, recognize "that the most important battle is for customers," and manage the process of integrating technology.

Software and equipment vendors exhibited at the concurrent Automation Expo. (Photo: Curtis Compton, Atlanta)
She traced the continuing implementation of Bradley-Ward's PMIS++ control and data-acquisition system at Vlasic's Swanson Frozen Foods plant in Fayetteville, Ark., following plant expansion in 1996. Basic strategies: a multidisciplinary project-management team jointly headed by business and IT project managers, and reorganization of manufacturing into three production teams supported by engineering, IT, QA and vendors.

Integrated PMIS modules are phased in. One production team takes a module to prototype; configures and tests it; trains the operators; and runs the module in parallel with the existing system to prove it out. Then the module is "rolled-out" to the other two systems. "The goal of project management is maturity, where technology and management processes are efficiently integrated," Williams observed.

Conference attendees toured the contract-manufacturing plant operated by Thermo Pac Inc. at Stone Mountain, Ga.

Batch integration

Akitoshi (Tony) Sugiura, assistant general manager of engineering at Morinaga Milk Industry Co. (Tokyo), reviewed automation strategy at Morinaga, including integration of Sequencia OpenBatch recipe-management software with Morinaga's own Windows NT-based StageOne user-oriented process-control system, which requires no programming. OpenBatch complies with the ISA S88 international batch-control standard, which separates the equipment definition from the procedural definition, offering the flexibility to quickly create recipes.

Maintenance integration

Automated tools for maintenance support are available but underutilized, said Ron Hatfield, maintenance manager at the Pepsi Cola Bottling Group plant in Riverside, Calif. "There's a lot of information out there in the PLCs," Hatfield pointed out. "When you gather data, use it!"

Hatfield presented simple system architecture being implemented to control the bottling and secondary-packaging lines operated by self-directed work teams at Riverside. An Intellution FIX SCADA system running on Windows NT integrates Allen-Bradley and Siemens PLCs, Filtec bottle inspectors and Filtec case inspectors. In support of this system, real-time efficiency models such as TRAK-SYS can diagnose the cause of a problem right away.

Schedule as integrator

Production scheduling software could be the place to start integrating manufacturing with the supply chain, said William R. Friend, vice-president/supply chain management and information services at the J.R. Simplot Food Group. The key is to link forecasting to the schedule.

At Simplot, production models in the MES software layer tell a production-capability model what resources are needed to make a particular SKU. The production-capability model combines that information with inventory, sales forecast and plant-capacity information and sends the results to a master production schedule, which in turn determines the weekly line-load schedule for the plant. The models are continually updated to reflect variables such as seasonality and yields.

Plant architecture integrates Wonderware Factory Suite at the PLC level, Wonderware Protean at the MES level for line-loading and Chesapeake (Aspen Technology) MIMI to generate the production-capability model and master production schedule (MPS). SAS Focus Forecast, a forecast editor, adds historical sales data to develop the most probable future scenario, which is modified monthly by sales and fed into the production capability model.

But forecasts are always wrong, Friend pointed out. So he started broadcasting forecasts versus actual sales to the Simplot executive committee, and the gap between forecasts and sales started to close. Result: For Simplot's fiscal 2000 first quarter, the gross error in forecast was reduced by a factor of 10.

Supply-chain integration

Timothy Chambers, director of business process consulting at Basic American Foods, presented the architecture designed to integrate manufacturing with its complex supply chain. Basic American, the nation's largest potato dehydrator, operates eight plants producing 350 SKUs distributed through its own distribution center and five public warehouses to foodservice chains and two major retail/industrial customers. Production-line utilization frequently exceeds 90 percent with multistage processes producing dried, granulated, extruded and agglomerated products to forecast and stock. At each stage a product may be sold, further processed or transferred to another plant. Supply-chain considerations include raw-material contracts; production location and consolidation; plant capacity allocation; distribution evaluation; inventory requirements; product specifications; managed formulas (e.g., sugar and color); and by-product sales.

Optimizing the supply chain requires modeling both opportunities and constraints, and solution time must match the business cycle, Chambers pointed out. BAF's architecture integrates SCT's FYGIR Advanced Planning module for modeling and optimizing the plan; SCT's FYGIR Advanced Scheduling module for refining schedules; and SCT's Adage, an ERP program with central repository for executing the plan. PlannerWeb, a tool developed in-house, coordinates data and publishes results to the organization. Models are not the real world, Chambers cautioned, but can identify optimal solutions without costly experimentation.