"Wait until it breaks" not a good maintenance strategy

While many food and beverage processors may adopt a “wait until it breaks” maintenance philosophy, creating a successful maintenance strategy helps prevent unplanned downtime, keeps production running and saves money. That strategy depends upon both operations and corporate doing their share and communicating with employees.

The following tips were provided by maintenance professionals and consultants who participated in Food Engineering’s maintenance feature article that appears in the December 2009 issue.

Ways operations can improve maintenance reliability

  • Ensure maintenance, production and plant managers agree and commit to the proactive maintenance program.
  • Become vested in your maintenance program by fully engaging the maintenance group and understanding the importance of that partnership, along with the rewards it can bring.
  • Make maintenance activities part of the line operators’ work, but equip them with structured guidance on which activities to perform in the situations they’re likely to confront.
  • Provide operators with a sense of empowerment in improving the operation of their machines. Have them make the “rounds” to perform basic sight, sound, and touch observations on their equipment.
  • If budgetary and cultural obstacles exist, start small, perhaps with manual methods for proof of concept and improvement opportunity quantification. Do this to develop the business case for moving ahead.
  • Establish objectives for maintenance reliability. A guide path for each key performance area should be developed and tracked on a daily basis, but reported weekly, monthly or quarterly.
  • Develop a consistent maintenance work order system and ensure that employees are trained on specific equipment. Hold your engineering department responsible for keeping plant and equipment in good repair by preventing failures.

Ways corporate can improve maintenance reliability

  • Look at maintenance as an opportunity - not a large cost item on your balance sheet. View maintenance costs as a piece of the overall productivity of your plant.
  • Among the countless tools available to support reliability, the best tool is the attitude of your employees. If they have the desire and belief to improve reliability, they will select the right tools.
  • Equip facilities that make the same product families with the tools needed to understand what downtime/remediation patterns “follow” products. Ensure that each facility can learn from the experiences of others.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of delivering work instructions to the line operator via his/her HMI or OEE user interfaces. That IT infrastructure can be used for distribution as well as collection of data.
  • When seeking to improve maintenance reliability, communicate the requirements for success to the plants and be ready to support them with adequate funding.
  • Use a uniform asset management and maintenance management system at each facility.
  • Have a consistent training plan for facility engineering department heads.
  • Standardize vendors, parts and equipment as much as possible from plant to plant.

Energy savings, a brilliant idea

US Foodservice Lubbock (Lubbock, TX) swapped out its old lighting with high-efficiency light bulbs and is saving 3,450 kWh from its daily electrical use. The savings is equivalent to powering 111 average American homes per day.

During the past two years, the division added roofing insulation, installed new refrigeration compressors and upgraded coolers and freezers. Collectively, these changes saved the company between 10,000 and 30,000 kWh per month. But it was the lighting project that really made the difference, says John Frankhouser, VP of operations at the Lubbock division.

In Lubbock, the company replaced 334 high-bay fixtures in both its 142,000 sq.-ft. warehouse and 11,000 sq.-ft. truck shop with high-efficiency T7 bulbs. Occupancy sensors, which turn lights off during periods of inactivity, were installed. These additions, combined with the prior improvements, cut the division’s average daily use by 3,450 kWh, or 26%.

General Mills adds collaboration tool

The new General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network (G-WIN) innovation portal has added an online collaboration tool designed to match the company’s spectrum of technical challenges with scientists, researchers, engineers, inventors and entrepreneurs.

Visitors can view and respond to nearly 50 of the company’s technical challenges. The portal also allows visitors to register with G-WIN and receive ongoing updates about specific projects that match their unique abilities and expertise.

The technology enables General Mills to enhance and accelerate innovation efforts already taking place inside the company by matching outside technical expertise and resources with a broader array of businesses and brands.

Automation News

EtherCAT plugs into the US

The first North American EtherCAT Plug Fest, hosted by Austin, TX-based National Instruments, featured more than 20 experts from 11 EtherCAT Technology Group (ETG) member companies.

The event’s main goal, which was to check the interoperability of EtherCAT implementations, was accomplished. Four new master implementations were tested with slave devices from eight different vendors. The devices were checked with the official EtherCAT conformance test tool.

With Plug Fests held in North America, Asia and Europe, the ETG is improving worldwide support and interoperability of EtherCAT devices.

EtherCAT networks provide real-time performance and topology flexibility, while helping engineers control fieldbus cost levels. The technology features include high-precision device synchronization, cable redundancy options, and a functional safety protocol (SIL3). EtherCAT is recognized as an international standard by the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission), ISO (International Standards Organization) and SEMI, Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International.

Real-time fieldbus moving faster in Europe

With features such as high functionality, reduced cabling, simple networking and easy maintenance, fieldbus devices have significant growth opportunities in the process automation market in Europe, says a study entitled European Fieldbus Market from Frost & Sullivan. The need of advanced diagnostic control and the demand for real-time data from field devices have underlined the requirement for these devices in the process automation environment. The predictive maintenance capability of fieldbus devices acts as a centralized control, enhancing the efficiency and operational capability of process control units.

According to the study, the fieldbus market in Europe is expected to earn revenues of $760.27 million by 2015, up from $448.00 million in 2008. The need for real-time data and increased plant availability offered by fieldbus devices are expected to drive the future market. These technologies include highway-addressable remote transducer (HART) fieldbus, Fieldbus Foundation H1, Profibus, Modbus, and others.

Reductions in heavy cabling results in substantial savings in capital expenditure and reduces the total man hours spent on maintenance. In addition, plant availability is increased by boosting add-on devices through lowered commissioning efforts. Thus, fieldbus devices provide the advantage of online information tracking, which helps in improving overall plant efficiency, according to the study.

“The prognostic capability of fieldbus devices enables easy diagnosis of controllers or equipment and predicts if the device requires the attention of the operator,” says Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Khadambari Shanbagaraman. “The flexibility of offering services from one central point by connecting additional devices to the bus provides compatibility and extends access to remote systems in the field, eases the work load of the maintenance person, and is an efficient fault detector with reduced debugging time.”

For more information on the study, visit Frost & Sullivan.

Source: Fanuc Robotics.

Putting a robot to work

Due to an increasing workload, Eriez purchased a sophisticated robotic welder designed to improve efficiency, maintain accuracy and more quickly and economically meet increasing production volumes. The robot was developed through a partnership with Lincoln Electric and Fanuc Robotics. The new robot adds to the workforce, but doesn’t diminish Eriez’s number of employees, says Tim Shuttleworth, president and CEO.

To help determine if the technology was right, Eriez's engineering team obtained a robotic welder test unit with the support of a local Erie, PA, vendor to evaluate it. The company used it to help with a very large vibratory feeder order.

“A component in the feeder drive lends itself to be done automatically,” explains John Miles, director of operations. The unit quickly proved its value. “It can complete 14 in one hour, whereas only four of the same components can be completed manually in that same time,” he said.

After analyzing the unit for three weeks, the engineering team determined that an even larger and more advanced unit would be best for the manufacturer’s needs. Further testing on the vibratory feeder trays at the robot vendor proved that the unit Eriez planned to purchase would be capable of completing 90 percent of the company’s vibratory trays.

Robotic welders offer a variety of advantages. Welds are more consistent and meticulous when performed by robots. Productivity and speed are improved, and cost savings can be significant.

Food Safety News

FDA changes direction on Vibrio vulnificus in Gulf Coast oysters

Several weeks ago, the Food and Drug Administration announced its intent to change, by summer 2011, its policy regarding the post-harvest processing of raw Gulf Coast oysters harvested in warmer months. The intent of the change, which would affect about 25% of the total annual harvest, would be to substantially reduce the number of Americans who suffer severe and painful illness and death from the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria. The policy change was modeled on a successful California initiative implemented in 2003.

Since making its initial announcement, the FDA has received feedback from Gulf Coast oyster harvesters, state officials, and elected representatives from across the region about the feasibility of implementing the post-harvest changes by the summer of 2011. Their concerns are legitimate, the FDA says.

According to the FDA, both the process and timing for large and small oyster harvesters to gain access to processing facilities or equivalent controls require further examination. The administration is proceeding with an independent feasibility study to assess how the post-harvest process can be quickly, safely and economically implemented in the Gulf Coast region.

But according to David Plunkett, senior staff attorney for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the public loses in this FDA decision. “Public health lost out to the politics of special interests with FDA’s announcement that it may delay a requirement for processing Gulf Coast oysters to destroy the deadly bacteria Vibrio vulnificus, pending the findings of a feasibility study,” says Plunkett. “A group of Gulf Coast Senators and Representatives weighed in on the side of a small but vocal industry in their states and won. Unfortunately this political victory for the Gulf Coast oyster industry is a health tragedy for their customers, and the action condemns scores of consumers to serious illness and death from this potent pathogen,” adds Plunkett.

According to the CSPI, The Gulf Oyster Protection Act by Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), and a similar bill by Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), are in response to FDA’s original ruling that it would no longer tolerate the interstate sale of Gulf Coast oysters inflected with the bacteria. Boyd’s proposed bill states that “No federal funds may be used to establish or implement under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act or other authority any requirement for the control of Vibrio vulnificus applicable to the post-harvest processing of oysters that is in addition to Federal requirements applicable to such processing as of the date of the enactment of this Act.”

Traceability interoperability key subject at new forum

The Traceability Institute will hold its first executive summit to initiate consensus in achieving multi-system interoperability with the goal of accomplishing a more sustainable and safer US food supply chain.

The summit, “Traceability Interoperability Summit 2010,” will take place January 21-22 2010, in Denver. The day-and-a-half conference will consist of presentations and roundtable discussions, dialog and interaction among government agencies, vendors, partners, component manufacturers, systems integrators and industry leaders from the produce, animal agriculture and fresh food industries. Technology vendors involved in produce traceability, animal identification, cold chain and all other food supply chain market segments are expected to attend.

“This important event provides an objective and neutral platform for food industry leaders and solutions vendors in the traceability arena, as well as those exploring the traceability space, to come together to discuss how we as an industry reach interoperability,” said Miodrag Mitic, managing partner, Traceability Institute.