Full immersion into issues affecting production dominated this year's program.

In the conference keynote address, Walt Staehle, former director of manufacturing systems for Kraft Foods, detailed how shifting markets are impacting production demands in food processing.
Plant operators and engineers who came to Tampa Bay, April 10-13, expecting a few lightweight presentations sandwiched between rounds of golf and poolside socializing leftFood Engineering'sFood Automation & Manufacturing Conference disappointed.

On the other hand, those seeking lively discussions of critical issues in food and beverage processing with leading practitioners and a chance to network with peers and solution providers got exactly what they wanted. More than 25 hours of programming over three days left precious little down time. The 220 conference participants interacted with 22 presenters on topics such as ERP and MES implementation, designing a plant for food safety, executing a tracking & tracing system, deriving operational benefits from RFID, data collection for controls management-and that was just the conference's first half. As a chaser, there were more than 50 exhibitors at a conference Expo that drew an intimate crowd of 300.

Helping frame the discussion was Walt Staehle, recently retired director of manufacturing systems at Kraft Foods Inc. Now a senior manager of MES solutions with Siemens, Staehle implemented a manufacturing execution system (MES) from Rockwell Automation while at Kraft, developing comparable key performance indicators (KPI) for the corporation's 50-plus plants. Plant teams originally resisted, viewing KPI as the first step toward factory "rationalization," the keynote speaker allowed. However, MES gives plant managers information to improve asset management and drive out costs, assuming they train their staffs to seize the opportunity. "We need finite capacity scheduling, but we also need an integrated view to answer three supply chain questions: capable to promise, profitable to commit, available to ship," he said.

Both technical and human barriers have thwarted the flow of plant-floor data to corporate. "We've been talking about MES for years; only recently have suppliers offered product to fit the space," said Staehle. Applying those programs requires a rethinking of information as a tool for change at all levels of the organization, rather than a source of power to be wielded by those who have it. Plant managers must take ownership of plant information, validate the accuracy, then disseminate it. "The challenge is to create an environment where it is collected, grouped and aggregated into KPIs that mean something to the people who can use it to act in the time-frame appropriate," he said. It won't keep inefficient plants open, but it will give responsive managers and operators a framework for boosting facility performance.

The welcome reception was the first of several networking opportunities at the 2005 Food Automation & Manufacturing Conference and Expo, developed by Food Engineering.
Embracing technology and its potential to drive positive change was at the heart of an RFID implementation at Jack Link's Beef Jerky. Despite its small-town roots (Minong, WI, population 521), Jack Link's operates a global production network and serves a supply chain that includes warehouse stores run by the US Department of Defense and Wal-Mart, both of which are pushing suppliers to use RFID tags on shipping cases. "Anybody can be a slap-and-ship supplier to Wal-Mart," said Karl Paepke, operations vice president, but this approach to RFID doesn't give a manufacturer any return on investment. "We had to use RFID to drive internal benefits," he said. The solution: an integrated ERP/plant-floor system that provides manufacturing visibility and tracking & tracing assistance. Antennae on the ceiling of the Minong plant read metal RFID tags affixed to 600-lb. totes as they are weighed, automating a data collection task. Validation of processing and sanitation cycles also is accomplished. As the technology evolves, Paepke foresees the use of tags that can transmit time and temperature data for automated HACCP data collection.

Be prepared

Two of the sessions dealt with food security, both from a regulatory and plant-operations perspective. Many food professionals remain out of compliance with the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002. Less than half of US processing facilities are registered, more than a year after this first step was required. A sobering look at the consequences of inadequate security planning and what food professionals should be doing was provided by Professor Ann Draughon, codirector of the Food Safety Center of Excellence at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Tabletop exhibits by more than 50 suppliers provided a smorgasbord of contacts to services and products for food and beverage processors.
Because of FBI concerns about copycat attacks, most food tampering incidents are not publicly disclosed, though they occur with some regularity. Draughon cited a Michigan case in January 2003 in which 100 people were poisoned with a pesticide mixed into ground beef by a disgruntled supermarket employee. She shared highlights of a confidential trace back scenario on the consequences of Mexican green onions contaminated with Anthrax spores. More than 7,000 supermarkets and restaurants in the Southeast alone would have sold the produce long before public health and regulatory agencies were even aware of the contamination.

"Being able to trace back rapidly is absolutely critical," she concluded. Effective planning requires two-way communication, information sharing and response drills. "Practice exercises can be fun or very tedious," Draughon allowed. "It depends on how well they're organized and implemented." Improvisation results in chaos and would destroy a food company because an overwhelming majority of the public holds manufacturers ultimately responsible for food security.

The duties of Dayle Reynolds, quality control/safety manager at Omaha, NB-based Roberts Dairy, were expanded to include plant security a few years ago. Supplier affidavits on security plans are on file; employee background checks extending to the previous three employers have been conducted; and policies to restrict access to the dairy's five plants have been put in place. "Create the illusion of security," she advised. "There are hard targets, and there are soft targets. Look like a hard target." With limited time and capital to invest in security, food processors' objective should be deterrence, not the creation of airtight defense.

Engineers ask, experts answer

Chief engineers for some of the largest food manufacturers in North America offered their thoughts on outsourcing, personnel skill demands, pitfalls of new construction and a variety of other topics posed in an ask-the-experts roundtable. A first for the conference program, the panel proved to be one of the best-received sessions.

Project management is risk management, reflected panel moderator Jim Getchell, retired vice president engineering for General Mills Inc., and miscalculating those risks was at the core of panelists' most disappointing projects.

More than 150 years of plant engineering experience was embodied in Susan Sinclair, Hershey Co.; Lloyd Borowski, McCain Foods; Carlos del Sol, Campbell Soup; and Don Adams, Keystone Foods, panelists in an ask-the-experts session moderated by Jim Getchell, retired engineering vice president at General Mills Inc.
Failure to fully engage the operations team is a common problem. Engineering orchestrates; operations conducts, and unless the two areas work in unison, ownership transfer of a project is awkward. "My first new plant was on time and under budget, but we didn't involve enough of the people who owned it," recalled Don Adams, director of engineering for Keystone Foods LLC. Consequently, startup stretched over seven months.

Similarly, Hershey Co. engineers didn't appreciate the technological skills required of operators to produce a new product. "We underestimated the complexity, and it caught us by surprise," confessed Susan Sinclair, vice president operations/engineering. "We didn't have our most valuable resources committed to the project, and we put it in a facility that was totally unprepared for that technology."

What-if questions can be posed in the planning stage. Once the project begins, stick to the plan, advised Lloyd Borowski, vice president of global engineering & manufacturing at McCain Foods Ltd. "Once you decide what you're going to build, don't sway from it, and make sure the guys who are going to run it know what they're getting." Borowski learned that lesson early when a project went 55 percent over budget and required a humbling trip to the board of directors.

Carlos del Sol, Campbell Soup Co.'s vice president of engineering, topped that with the tale of a plant consolidation project that resulted in two board appearances. As a result, Campbell's formalized a detailed management process for estimating, cost tracking, scheduling and resource management. "We became a much better organization as a whole," he said.

Peers salute Plant of the Year

Seating was at a premium, and it wasn't because of the luncheon entrée: chicken breast, a logical choice for a salute to Bell & Evans, the Fredericksburg, PA, poultry processor and winner ofFood Engineering's2005 Plant of the Year designation.

Scott Sechler, CEO of Bell & Evans, addresses attendees at the Plant of the Year luncheon honoring his firm’s recently completed poultry processing project.
The plant's technical achievements are highlighted in Food Engineering's April edition. Scott Sechler, CEO, provided insight into the project's philosophical considerations. "I've traveled the world for 20 years, looking for the best ideas in manufacturing," said Sechler, and the best equipment and processes are seldom the most economical. To illustrate, he cited the new facility's $160,000 freight elevator: "We ran a little over budget," Sechler joked, "but we got a durable elevator."

The synergies between product quality, worker and product safety, automation, environmental concerns and life balance were themes he explored. "You can't produce quality food with people who are sore and tired," he noted, and equipment that makes jobs less stressful or automates manual tasks means fewer injury claims and higher yields. Automated sortation equipment and more colorful and comfortable workstations are expected to boost the plant's cutting room yields by 30 percent.

"Durability is something I preached throughout our project," said Sechler. "We've had enough three-day weekends at the chicken plant, repairing equipment that was ‘good enough.'"