Keystone Foods LLC emerged from a small beef-boning operation in the late 1960s by developing the cryogenically frozen hamburger patty. The innovation gave birth to the first high-speed forming machines from Formax and, more significantly, reshaped the distribution chain for McDonald’s Corp. Instead of relying on multiple grinders to serve restaurants in a single metropolitan area, the chain’s outlets could buy frozen patties from a central location serving multiple metros and the many hamlets in between. Centralized production also meant greater process control and accountability for food safety.
While wrestling with social responsibility and sustainability, Keystone executives also were coming to grips with expansion into what Keystone terms national industrial accounts-essentially, copacking of finished goods or ingredients for other food companies and foodservice clients. A decision was made: build a modern, high-capacity facility dedicated to national industrial accounts and showcasing Keystone’s capabilities and values. The result was a poultry further processing plant in Gadsden, AL, where the first of three production lines was commissioned in August.
Three plants in oneKeystone is an innovation leader and the Gadsden project reflects it. The 200,000-sq.-ft. facility came with a $118 million price tag and a tightly controlled square-foot cost. Bells and whistles were deferred, but where capital delivered quality and safety improvements, investments were made. The most notable example is the line separation and distinct electric, air-handling and water systems for each of the lines. In effect, Gadsden is three separate plants, bundled together on a single site.
From a common staging area, raw poultry is sent to one of the three lines, never to meet again. The prep room is tightly controlled by a recipe management system, after which product is conveyed into a separate hall housing cooking, freezing and packaging operations. A two-sided viewing corridor straddles the wall between the raw and fully cooked production areas, giving visitors a commanding view of the process without introducing contamination risk. Stainless steel clads insulated panels on the walls and ceiling, and sloped stainless-steel curbs to make processing areas washdown-ready, while chillers, ovens and freezers are CIP-equipped.
“We weren’t trying to guild the building; we simply made it a clean design,” explains Ed Delate, vice president of global engineering and corporate social responsibility. The design for HVAC systems and the separation of process rooms and lines added cost, but it served a higher objective. Improved safety and efficient maintenance will provide the payback. “Simple is better, and the simpler the design, the easier it is to clean,” Delate points out.
Line isolation also “helps with our allergen-control program,” observes Dane Bernard, vice president of food safety & quality at West Conshohocken, PA-based Keystone. “There’s always the possibility of splash-over” in a conventional layout; at Gadsden, isolation creates a Vegas effect: what happens on line 2, stays on line 2. Similarly, a microbiological event would only impact a third of the facility, allowing production to continue in the rest of the plant.
Each of the plant’s 10 ammonia compressors is equipped with a variable speed drive, providing a high level of air-balance control. “If you’re really serious about producing a safe product, it’s critical that, not only are air flows going in the right direction, but the right pressures are being maintained in different zones,” says Mike Santarone, COO at Jacksonville, FL-based Stellar, the project’s A/E firm. The upfront VFD investment will produce long-term energy savings, and the ability to “dial down and make sure you can fine-tune the air balance in every room” is an immediate benefit, he adds.
Once palletized, finished goods are conveyed through a connecting corridor to Southern Cold Storage’s adjoining 70,000-sq.-ft. freezer. A long-time Keystone partner, Southern built the dedicated cold-storage facility to reduce transportation needs and damage rates.
Strict separation of workers between raw and cooked areas has become standard procedure in ready-to-eat plants. Keystone followed the protocol, with separate security entrances, break rooms and personnel amenities. Color-coded uniforms are complemented with color-coded flooring. A red dye was added to a hardener topping on concrete on the raw side, a grey dye in cooked areas. Separate maintenance crews serve raw and cooked, with a common parts room in the middle.
Safety is a prioritySeveral months before the project began, Keystone executives appointed Food Safety Director Ken Kenyon to serve as a liaison between engineering and food safety staffs to ensure that principles of sanitary design and food safety were incorporated into every detail of construction and machine design. A food scientist by training, Kenyon instituted an internal food-safety audit program when he joined Keystone a decade earlier. The new assignment “embedded him in the engineering culture” and leveraged his expertise in construction and equipment design, explains Bernard.
“Food safety was the one driver in every meeting,” confirms Stellar’s Santarone. “Whether the topic was drains, floor tiles or any other feature, the question, ‘What are the safety implications in doing this?’ was posed, and we had to verify our response.” Angle-iron supports and sloped surfaces are a manifestation of attention to detail. Hollow tubes are banned from all designs.
“We have a good relationship with Ken,” says Keystone’s Corporate Engineering Director Tim Easterling. A food safety expert’s input into “the selection process and how materials were installed” was valuable, “and the involvement really accelerates when you get to the equipment level,” says Easterling.
The company’s sanitary design requirements go into considerably more detail than general principles promulgated by groups such as the American Meat Institute, and Keystone is willing to pay the necessary premium for machine builders to meet them. For example, multiple changes were specified for newly designed patty-forming machines, “some of them very simple,” Kenyon says.
Energy efficiency and water conservation were priorities, but safety trumped them if there was a conflict. High-efficiency fluorescent lighting is used in many areas of the plant, but temperature ratings and washdown requirements dictated metal halide in certain processing areas.
Cameras monitor the site’s perimeter, but the bulk of the plant’s 89 cameras serve a biosecurity and quality assurance function. A camera is trained at every point where product is exposed or subject to human handling. Deployment carries over to the adjacent cold-storage facility, where cameras monitor pallet conditions as they are loaded on trailers, documenting their condition as they enter the cold chain.
A microscope, not a camera, is needed to identify the greatest danger in fully cooked protein production. The details of design and execution were meticulously addressed during construction and startup. “Listeria control is about doing 10,000 things right every day,” summarizes Bernard, “and then having a sanitary design that doesn’t undo your details.”
Enhanced automation controlBalancing changeover flexibility and high throughput is the copacker’s imperative. The former can be an argument for manual processes. Keystone’s managers opted instead to automate as many processes as possible and to support the facility with the most streamlined controls architecture in their global network of 54 facilities, including 18 processing sites.
A Siemens Simatic IT system was installed at another plant, but it had never been layered on top of both a SCADA system and machine-level controls, an architecture that posed challenges in both integration and equipment-supplier capability. In some cases, machine builders had to acquire the controls expertise to access the plant’s virtual private network to remotely diagnose and maintain their equipment as necessary. More than 500 workers familiar with manual equipment at Keystone’s old Gadsden facility had to be trained to use HMIs and interpret the InfinityQS SPC data they deliver. “There was a fair amount of difference in process capability between the old plant and the new,” reports Plant Manager Mike Jackson, but the transition went smoothly.
More than 100 different customer recipes are being produced in Gadsden, about five times the variety at a typical Keystone facility. Some poultry is formed into sheets and later diced for soup and other products. In other cases, meat is formed or processed as whole muscle with a marinade of the client’s choosing. Managing those recipes and ensuring correct metering of all ingredients justified the more streamlined controls, according to Randy Cline, senior director-reliability and manufacturing systems. If load-cell readings don’t confirm the correct amount of a particular ingredient has been added, the process cannot proceed. Overall, about 1,400 process parameters are monitored, Cline estimates.
Residual benefits extend to maintenance and quality assurance. If a line stops, maintenance technicians immediately look to an HMI to identify the problem area, Cline says. Traceability is more robust, and “it won’t be long before we’ve reduced our paper records” with more-retrievable electronic records, Reynolds predicts. From the time raw materials and ingredients are scanned into the system until finished goods are conveyed to cold storage, the facility is building an electronic genealogy with the goal of full traceability.
Raw product arriving from non-Keystone plants is screened in one of three X-ray machines to detect any bone or other foreign material. A rarity three years ago, dozens of X-ray units are deployed in US poultry plants today, according to Einar Einarsson, president of Marel Food Systems Inc., Lenexa, KS. Improvements in the technology are part of the reason, but a bigger factor is worker shortages that are driving manufacturers to automate as many processes as possible, including quality inspections, Einarsson suggests.
Ergonomics and worker safety were a focus in equipment and workstation design. Alternatives to ammonia refrigeration were used in some areas over concerns for worker safety, and proper air exchange is closely monitored for the same reason. Carbon dioxide is used in batch blending and patty forming to chill the meat, and sensors are in place to prevent over-exposure to personnel.
Environmental high roadCorporate social responsibility (CSR) became an issue in food production in recent years, though it resides primarily in the domain of publicly traded companies. While Keystone moved from family ownership to an investment partnership in recent years, it remains firmly planted in the closely held column. In a survey of about 100 food and beverage companies, O’Brian & Gere (OBG) engineering found only 25% were implementing a sustainability or CSR programs, and only a handful were reporting greenhouse gas emissions to organizations such as the Global Reporting Initiative. Among them is Keystone.
Based in Blue Bell, PA, OBG performed dozens of engineering projects for Keystone before it was commissioned to support the development of a corporate sustainability program in 2007. According to Lee Davis, president & COO at OBG, “What made it successful was the top-down support at the highest levels (of Keystone), the connection to their business plan and now the bottom-up support it has.”
The effectiveness of grassroots involvement is cited in “Global Best of Green 2009,” a report by McDonald’s Global Environmental Council. “Within a relatively short time frame, local teams have identified projects and established improvement goals” throughout Keystone’s network, the McDonald’s report notes, significantly compressing the timeline compared to centrally directed efforts. “By driving projects such as waste reduction and recycling, water reuse and electricity reduction, the local facility KeySTAR™ sustainability teams are successfully reducing costs while improving the environment.”
Environmental engineering is OBG’s strong suit. The firm designed, built and now operates the wastewater pretreatment facility at the Gadsden site. The facility was designed to allow about 500,000 gallon of water to flow through each day, and the plant is performing well. Not only is the end result better than at the former Gadsden facility, the process is more robust. Integrated controls, timers and energy-efficient motors and lighting ensure that run times are optimized, chemical use is minimized and operational performance is top notch. OBG is seeking re-use applications for the grease it removes from the stream before treatment.
“Ed Delate has tremendous passion for sustainable manufacturing and is committed to driving this effort,” summarizes Davis. “Keystone wants to be leaders in their supply chain network, and they have a well thought-out program to get there.”
Meticulous planning is a hallmark of the company’s approach, be it sustainability, food safety or new construction. The groundwork for Gadsden was being laid long before the first shovelful of dirt was turned. The result is a modern food manufacturing plant with beauty that’s more than skin deep.
For more information:
Brett Friesen, Friesen’s Inc., 218-844-4437
Einar Einarsson, Marel Inc., 913-888-9110, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lee Davis, O’Brien & Gere, 215-628-9107
Mike Santarone, Stellar, 904-899-9336, email@example.com
CSR with teethWhile skeptics may dismiss corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs as image-conscious efforts, CSR continues to shape manufacturing practices at leading companies, despite economic conditions. It’s an initiative embraced at Keystone Foods LLC, and a big part of the push comes from engineering.
Five members of the corporate engineering staff are part of the Corporate Social Responsibility Team that steers KeySTAR™, the corporate sustainability program that articulates social goals and expectations and why they are integral to the organization’s business strategy. (STAR is an acronym for Socially responsible growth, Total commitment, Achieving balance and Respect for the environment and future generations.) Key performance indicators for energy and water use, greenhouse gas emissions, employee health and safety, philanthropy and other areas are established under KeySTAR™. Managers’ financial incentives are tied to improvements in the KPI scorecard.
Company policy historically has eschewed public disclosures, but Ed Delate, vice president of global engineering and corporate social responsibility and a member of the company’s Leadership Team, believes today’s business climate demands greater transparency. He is pushing for publication of the KeySTAR™ corporate social responsibility report.
Keystone believes it has a solid record in social and environmental responsibility, and management wants to take a leadership position by engaging its suppliers, the marketplace, the community and its own staff. As part of the effort, the company organized a cross-industry roundtable of major corporations to meet quarterly to discuss best practices in the workplace, marketplace, community and environment.
The KeySTAR™ program was launched in December 2007. Major shifts are occurring in workforce demographics, consumer concerns over food safety and nutrition, global climate change and “emerging socio-economic concerns in the global communities in which Keystone operates,” the company believes. A reasoned response to those changes is essential to the firm’s future growth and financial success, the report notes.