Each year when we produce the Annual Replacement Parts directory issue of Food Engineering, the trends we uncover in purchasing habits are pretty standard fare. For example, it is no surprise that the number of food and beverage manufacturers using the Internet to order parts has nearly doubled in the five years we have been conducting the survey.  (See feature article beginning on page 12.)

One trend that took me by surprise is the growing role of the purchasing department in parts and components buying decisions. Back in 2003, purchasing staff was involved in recommending or evaluating suppliers, brands or models 18 percent of the time. Today, the role of the purchasing department in these decisions has nearly doubled to 32 percent.   

The good news is that maintenance and engineering staffs still control 90 percent of part and component needs determination. However, the growing role of purchasing is a clear indicator of food and beverage manufacturers’ relentless need to manage costs.

According to a recent report from the Small Business Research Board (SBRB), the food industry must make certain that strong cost controls and employee training programs are part of their operating recipe.

While the role of purchasing is evolving as a method to contain costs and improve plant efficiency, training is a major area where things are moving too slowly.  The SBRB report hit the nail on the head. For decades, plant worker training issues have continued to plague the industry.

As we all know, plant automation will continue to be one of the best ways to squeeze costs out of food operations. While improved machinery, software and a little help from the purchasing department will go a long way to improve efficiency, a renewed commitment to basic employee training could make a world of difference.