Source: Baker Tilly Virchow Krause.

Manufacturers reveal cautious optimism

A new survey of executives from small, medium and large manufacturing companies shows cautious optimism about the future of the US economy, according to a study from Baker Tilly Virchow Krause. Interviews with 300 manufacturing company executives took place between June 2 and June 22, 2009.

Nearly six in 10 senior manufacturing executives (57%) have a positive outlook for the US economy over the next six months, but more than half (51%)  have a slightly more pessimistic outlook for the manufacturing sector. Over the next six months, 70% of manufacturers expect to keep staffing levels the same.

About half (49%) of the executives expect their company’s performance to decline with 12% (disproportionably small businesses) reporting their company is in danger of failing. Customer demand is cited as the top growth challenge, followed by access to loans and credit, over the next 12 months.

The majority of manufacturing executives expect to reduce costs across the board over the next year, such as operational (80%), supplier (65%) and labor (51%) costs.

Despite the pressure to reduce costs, executives are continuing to invest in their companies. The most common investments are in quality improvement systems (51%). Among executives with plans for M&A (mergers and acquisitions) activity, 85% report no changes in their plans, 12% plan to increase and 3% plant to decrease M&A activities.

Among those companies that sell outside the US, 80% of the manufacturing executives said most of their new customers over the next three years are expected to come from domestic markets. However, more than a fourth of the large manufacturers expect most of their new customers will come from outside the US during the same time. China (44%) and Mexico (40%) were cited most often by companies with foreign sales as key growth markets.

Sodexo will focus on healthy snacks, reducing fats, trans fats and carbs for food served to school children. Source: Sodexo Inc.

One step closer to healthy school snacks

Sodexo signed an agreement with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s School Beverage and Competitive Food Guidelines to produce healthier snacks for kids. The agreement focuses on products sold to school children outside of the USDA school meal program on an a la carte basis-inclusive of products in the cafeteria, school store, snack carts and vending machines in more than 470 US school districts served by Sodexo.

As a result of the agreement, Sodexo will only offer age-appropriate portion sizes that limit total calories. The company also only will supply snacks that have no more than 35% of their calories from fat and 10% of calories from saturated fat. The approved snacks will contain no more than 35% sugar by weight and have no more than 230 milligrams of sodium, nor contain trans fats.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, seeks to significantly reduce childhood obesity in the US by 2015.

The science-based Competitive Food and School Beverage Guidelines, established in 2006 by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, were created to improve the nutritional quality of school snack foods and beverages, allowing more nutritious and less caloric options during the school day.

The ASQ Learning Institute provides users with quality concepts, technologies and tools. Source: ASQ.

Institute brings quality education

The American Society for Quality (ASQ) launched the ASQ Learning Institute to help quality professionals obtain the education and training needed to stay competitive in a struggling economy. The Institute provides users with the quality concepts, technologies and tools to improve themselves and their organizations. The system offers training materials that cover a broad range of industries including food safety and manufacturing-and topics ranging from basic quality and quality management, to lean and Six Sigma, auditing, statistics and more.

The Institute houses all of ASQ’s learning offerings in one location and offers several features:

• ASQ Learning Institute calendar: Provides a clear view of all professional development opportunities over an 18-month period.

• Course catalog: A list of all available ASQ training including instructor-led, online and document-based.

For more about the ASQ Learning Institute, visit

Automation News

Dairy Crest integrated its plant control system with its Oracle ERP with the help of system integrator, FMA Process Engineering. Source: FMA Process Engineering.

Dairy integrates plant intelligence with ERP

Dairy Crest’s Severnside dairy in Gloucestershire, UK, suffered from important information in disparate locations, which made it difficult for corporate headquarters to gain knowledge about daily operations. Although an Oracle ERP was in place, integration was needed to provide a connection between the plant control system and the ERP system. Dairy Crest asked its system integrator, FMA Process Engineering, to tie the systems together.

Working in cooperation with the Severnside team, as well as Dairy Crest’s corporate Oracle integration team, FMA scheduled all work to take place during a series of planned outages to minimize impact on production.

Involving the complete integration of the plant control system with Dairy Crest’s Oracle ERP system, the project has enabled key plant operating data to be automatically provided to the ERP system. The existing FMA-installed plant IT system already had been producing Web-based reports for operations from automatic production data capture.

The integrated IT solution developed by the integrator ensures the regular uploading of dairy production records, plant utilization, ingredients usage, quality information, genealogy data and other production information. Key business-critical elements of this data are now integrated into the Oracle system.

Plant data automatically is recorded in real time to provide a precise, historic record with key data, also now being provided automatically to Dairy Crest’s group-wide Oracle ERP system.

The key benefits of the integration project provide Dairy Crest Severnside with:

  • Total traceability from raw goods intake to final product packaging;
  • Comprehensive losses tracking, in relation to geography, departments, processes and procedures;
  • Rapid batch tracking of all processes and events;
  • Fully automated reporting and forward/backward genealogy;
  • Transparent auditing and more easily followed audit trails;
  • Greater transparency of all production processes.

Integrating production data into the corporate ERP empowers Dairy Crest management with the information necessary to better operate the business in real time, something that simply would not have been achievable with a paper-based system.

“When Severnside was originally commissioned,” comments FMA Managing Director Terry Clough, “there were no Dairy Crest corporate plans for such high levels of automatic data transfer. Through our integration activities, the dairy now benefits from a [capable] information system, one that is sufficiently powerful and versatile to enable operational decisions to be implemented and acted upon in real time.”

For more information, contact FMA Process Engineering.

Rockwell Automation integrates process control and safety

For processors who need to integrate process control and safety applications, Rockwell Automation added new capabilities, including integration of ICS Triplex’s Trusted SIL 3 triple modular redundant (TMR) technology and the scalable AADvance process safety systems. These capabilities help users avoid unplanned incidents and hazards that pose risk to personnel, assets and the environment.

The integration allows process control and process safety systems to communicate directly with each other and share important data, such as diagnostics information, system status, alarms, events and other critical information. This helps improve productivity, minimize troubleshooting time and provides faster recovery from interruptions without compromising safety or security.

The integration is for volatile applications that require separation between process safety and process control, but where manufacturers also want to leverage the benefits of a single network, architecture and information platform.

Food Safety News

CIFOR's Guidelines for Foodborne Disease Outbreak Response.

Collaborative guidelines for foodborne disease outbreak response published

The Council to Improve Foodborne Outbreak Response (CIFOR) released its Guidelines for Foodborne Disease Outbreak Response. The guidelines are targeted to local, state and federal agencies and provide model practices used in foodborne disease outbreaks, including planning, detection, investigation, control and prevention. Local and state agencies vary in their approach to, experience with and capacity to respond to foodborne disease outbreaks.

The guidelines are intended to give all agencies a common foundation from which to work and provide examples of the key activities that should occur during the response to outbreaks of foodborne disease. The guidelines were developed by experts in epidemiology, environmental health, laboratory science and communications.

The guidelines are not intended to replace current procedure manuals for responding to outbreaks. Instead, they are designed as a reference document for comparison with existing procedures; to fill in gaps and update site-specific procedures; to provide models for new procedures where they do not exist; and to provide training to program staff. The document is available in electronic and hard-copy formats for state and local health departments. CIFOR has included a foreword by Dr. Michael Osterholm of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and Michael Taylor, senior advisor to the FDA Commissioner, two well-respected food safety experts.

CIFOR is a multidisciplinary partnership organized to increase collaboration among food safety officials at all levels of government and in all areas of the country with the ultimate goal of reducing the burden of foodborne illness in the US.

Visit CIFOR’s Web site or download the document.

Governors urged to block sale of untreated Gulf Coast oysters

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has called upon the nation’s governors to ban the sale of untreated oysters from the Gulf Coast since they often are contaminated with the deadly Vibrio vulnificus bacteria. For people with conditions that compromise the immune system, Vibrio vulnificus kills half the people it infects-approximately 15 deaths a year for many years.

In 2003, California banned the sale of untreated Gulf Coast oysters harvested in summer months and saw the number of Vibrio-related deaths plummet from about six per year to zero in the five years since, according to CSPI. Retailers such as Legal Sea Foods and Costco only sell Gulf Coast oysters that have been processed with cold pasteurization, hydrostatic pressure or another technology that can kill Vibrio vulnificus without affecting taste. Those and similar processes cost only pennies per oyster.

“Letting untreated Gulf Coast oysters reach consumers this summer will needlessly sentence several of them to death,” said CSPI Staff Attorney Sarah Klein. “Unfortunately the Food and Drug Administration has abdicated its responsibility to ensure shellfish safety and instead lets the industry police itself with minimal oversight. That’s proven to be a deadly mistake.”

According to CSPI, for the past eight years the FDA has relied on the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference to monitor food safety in shellfish. The group includes representatives of FDA and other government agencies, and representatives of the shellfish industry. It does not require that processors kill Vibrio vulnificus during the dangerous summer months. Under the ISSC framework, more than 125 people have died from contaminated oysters and another 125 people suffered serious illnesses, claims CSPI. Despite the failure of the ISSC to control Vibrio, FDA is poised to grant a three-year extension while the industry tries other techniques-such as changing refrigeration temperatures-rather than making effective changes, according to CSPI.

Iowa State University's Discovery Lab tests antimicrobials against pathogens. Source: ISU.

Lab provides growth measurement of micro-organisms

A new lab at Iowa State University that enables quick identification of antimicrobial and prebiotic compounds is available to researchers working on preventing food spoilage, improving food quality, controlling foodborne pathogens, or enhancing growth of probiotic bacteria.

The Discovery Lab allows researchers to test various plant, microbial or animal sources to determine whether they have antimicrobial or prebiotic properties. It operates within the university’s Center for Crops Utilization Research for on- and off-campus clients.

The lab runs two Bioscreen C Growth Curve units to perform automated growth curve determinations of aerobic or anaerobic microbes under a variety of conditions. Organisms that can be evaluated include a wide variety of foodborne pathogens and bacteria as well as selected yeasts and molds. The units are capable of incubating and evaluating up to 200 different microbial cultures and their growth parameters in a single experiment. Data can be generated in a few days compared to several months using conventional techniques.

Researchers at Iowa State use the bioscreen units to test antimicrobials against pathogens such as Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella. He said food companies could benefit from this lab, especially in instances where suitable natural antimicrobials are needed to meet growing consumer expectations.

Other equipment in the Discovery Lab includes analytical and preparative high-pressure liquid chromatographs, a UV-visible spectrophotometer, an organic spray dryer and laminar-flow hoods. The lab can provide both analytical and preparative services to clients on a fee basis for on- and off-campus users.

For more information about the Discovery Lab, visit the lab’s Web site.