Specialized skills are needed to keep machines running, processing areas clean and foreign invaders at bay, but food companies differ on whether these specialists are staff members or vendors’ employees.

Lubricants and other maintenance supplies are moving from commodities to quantifiable tools in meeting manufacturing objectives, thereby fostering a more collaborative approach with vendors. Source: Klüber Lubrication.

Stricter inspections and audit standards are putting plants’ housekeeping and sanitation practices under the microscope, forcing manufacturers to either upgrade their in-house efforts or find third-party support for their programs. Source: Orkin.


Where are core competencies and core responsibilities in operating a food or beverage manufacturing facility, and the distinction between them helps explain why some support services are outsourced and others remain firmly in-house operations.

Maintenance and sanitation routines illustrate the difference. While both are essential and the focus of continuous improvement efforts, plant managers are demonstrating a growing appetite for outside assistance in keeping production machinery humming. While still a niche service, the difficulties in developing and retaining a skilled in-house maintenance team are expanding the scope of outsourcing.

Sanitation, on the other hand, is at the foundation of an effective food-safety program. Although outsourcing began in the 1960s in the meat segment and is found in many other categories today, the industry focus on food safety has caused many companies to regard sanitation as a core responsibility.  “If anything, the trend is to bring sanitation back in house,” believes Dale Ducommun, manager of the Malt-O-Meal plant in Asheboro, NC.

Pest control, sanitation and maintenance are prerequisite programs in any facility’s HACCP plan, and deficiencies in program documentation and corrective actions taken can spell trouble when third-party audits are conducted, particularly with the more stringent requirements of audit standards under the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).

Operators are shouldering more equipment maintenance tasks, such as intermediate cleaning, lubrication, machine inspection and preliminary troubleshooting. Their expanded duties reflect both cost-cutting needs and labor shortages. “With the economic conditions and the downsizing of workforces, a lot of the personnel with the advanced skills needed in maintenance are no longer there,” points out Terry Fisher, key account manager in the services division of SKF Inc., Canandaigua, NY. Given the shortage of skilled maintenance technicians, many food and beverage companies view outsourcing “as a more reliable way” to keep equipment in good working order, he says.

The diversity of operating platforms and processing technologies in food and beverage require maintenance personnel who are jacks of all trades. As the complexity of the equipment increases, suppliers who provided consultative services are becoming more involved in diagnostic work, though not necessarily in the execution. “Other companies are better at being the local wrench-turning organization,” says Fisher. “We’re focusing on being the knowledge-outsource organization.”

Retirement is removing graybeards from facilities’ maintenance staffs. Training the next generation is a pressing need in many organizations. To help meet it, SKF is expanding the scope of its training services, from on-line courses on basic skills to in-plant training for more skilled technicians. In the case of condition monitoring, maintenance personnel are trained to use the diagnostic tools, with data transmitted over a secure line to SKF’s service center for analysis and a recommended action plan.

A broader scope of maintenance support has evolved at Rockwell Automation, which is embedding more technicians in response to manufacturer requests. “About 20 percent of my workforce shows up at their sites each day,” according to Blake Moret, vice president and general manager of the Milwaukee automation firm’s customer maintenance support unit. What began as issue-specific consultation has gradually expanded into MRO asset management and remote monitoring of all automation systems, including non-Rockwell controls and field devices. It goes considerably beyond the on-site parts management work performed for Pepsi Bottling Group and other manufacturers seven years ago (see “The business case for better maintenance,” Food Engineering, March 2008).

The most ambitious program is InSite Managed Services, a broad range of both maintenance and operations support delivered via a virtual private network connecting the plant with a service center staffed 24/7 with technical experts who monitor servers, databases and automation devices. A Rockwell Automation Insite pilot program is underway with Allpax Products, a Covington, LA retort manufacturer that standardizes on Allen-Bradley controls. Allpax provides remote diagnostics of its own equipment, but the service is limited to its own components. With the addition of more sensors to track the production characteristics of each batch, the potential points of failure have increased dramatically, explains Jonny Watkins, Allpax’s director of software engineering. Monitoring those devices and overseeing knowledge management require a large staff and extensive expertise. More than 200 Rockwell technicians support InSite, notes Moret.

Sophisticated electronics can take plant personnel out of their comfort zone, necessitating closer relationships with suppliers. Source: Rockwell Automation.

Show us your papers

Verification of the legal status of workers is essential, whether they work for a food manufacturer or a service company. While the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids that began several years ago and often involved meat and poultry plants focused on the arrest and deportation of illegal workers, ICE shifted aim to the employers and supervisors who hire those workers by conducting “carefully planned criminal investigations,” according to guidelines issued in April 2009 by the Department of Homeland Security. In August 2009, a Bellingham, WA engine rebuilder was charged with knowingly hiring 28 illegal immigrants arrested in a February raid. Also in August, a Texas bakery supply firm that hired 27 unauthorized workers and provided housing for them was fined $250,000 by a federal judge in Houston and forfeited $1.3 million.

The fake Social Security numbers and other counterfeit documents provided by the engine rebuilder’s workers might have sufficed as plausible deniability for employers several years ago. However, an October 2003 raid at 60 Wal-Mart stores in 21 states signaled a change. Dubbed Operation Rollback, the raids resulted in the arrests of 245 illegal workers from 18 countries, including Mongolia, Brazil, the Czech Republic and Mexico. Although janitorial contractors hired the workers, an affidavit filed by immigration investigators to secure the raids’ search warrants cited testimony and taped conversations showing two Wal-Mart executives allegedly knew illegal workers were cleaning the stores. In March 2005, the retailer agreed to pay $11 million to settle the case, while insisting management neither knew nor encouraged the hiring practice.

Virtually all the major firms providing plant sanitation services have programs in place to check the legal status of their crew members. Ronell Managed Services, Roselle, NJ, has participated in E-Verify since the mid ‘90s, President Ron Globerman says, adding, “Immigration and documentation verification is not easy.” He speculates some food companies that have outsourced in recent years did so to relieve themselves of the challenge, though David Adair doubts worker verification is much of a motivator. “If they get raided, the plant’s name is going to be in the news,” observes Adair, senior consultant with Superior Contract Cleaners Inc., West Berlin, NJ.

Executives at contract sanitation firms are uncertain if increased emphasis on documented procedures and inspections is driving more manufacturers to outsource, though anecdotal evidence suggests auditors look favorably on the credibility of service firms’ records. “You can’t pencil-whip the program anymore,” says Adair. He recalls two recent third-party food-safety audits at which Superior was invited to meet with the auditor, along with the plant’s quality assurance chief and others. “When it became our turn, we presented our reports, detailing what needed to be done and what happened,” he says. “Our part took about 10 minutes.”

Whether third-party auditors place more credibility in a service company’s records “is somewhat dependent on the auditor and the plant itself,” suggests Joe Stout, former corporate director of sanitation for Kraft Foods who recently founded the consultancy Commercial Food Sanitation. Regardless of who does the cleaning, Stout says a company employee should handle direct supervision of the program’s development and execution. Raising the professionalism of those supervisors also is important, and he plans to introduce a certified sanitarian program next year through the Food Sanitation Institute.

Worker training and retention also are important, emphasizes Tom Murray, president of Cincinnati’s DCS Sanitation Services. His firm is expanding its use of on-line training and testing to augment on-site instruction in cleaning techniques, documentation and verification.

Many sanitation firms are tied to suppliers of chemical cleaners; the largest, Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI), was owned by Chemidyne Corp. until the chemicals business was sold to Ecolab in 1997. PSSI subsequently established Packer’s Chemical Inc. and built a facility in 2008 in Kieler, WI, adjacent to Kaiser Contract Cleaning Specialists. In June, PSSI acquired Kaiser and its Canadian subsidiary, bringing the two largest contract cleaners under one roof.

PSSI was created to clean meat plants, and USDA-inspected facilities still account for the bulk of plants that outsource. Bakeries, seafood processors and produce companies are migrating to outsourcing, service firms contend, and large confectioners such as M&M Mars have outsourced sanitation after insisting for years it would always be done in house.

“To consistently deliver food safety and quality, my preference always was to do it in house,” says Stout. “It makes sanitation part of the manufacturing network, which is all about continuous improvement and the drive for excellence. The crew isn’t just the people who clean up after production.”

Documentation requirements for sanitation procedures are more rigorous under audits certified by the Global Food Safety Initiative. Some believe this will prompt food plants to outsource their sanitation programs. Source: Orkin.

Meet the beetles

Contract cleaners report increased competition from janitorial services that traditionally focused on washrooms and offices, not processing areas. For pest control companies, competition is coming from the client side. Pressed to cut overhead, manufacturers are assuming a larger role in pest control programs.

Plant sanitarians and other support staffers are taking over pest management at some plants or setting traps and taking inventory every other week. “That’s just a great big mess,” moans James Sargent, director of technical support at Menomonee Falls, WI-based Copesan Services Inc. Auditors expect a targeted response to the insects or rodents captured in traps, and a staff microbiologist is unlikely to know how best to control a specific pest, points out Sargent, an entomologist.

Up to a fifth of a plant’s AIB International audit score is based on an evaluation of the pest control program, adds Patrick Copps, Orkin technical services manager and entomologist. Growing use of BRC, SQF and other GFSI-sanctioned audit standards is putting the onus on manufacturers to not only have pest management programs but to document what was done to respond to specific invaders. Problems vary from location to location and season to season, requiring a site-specific program that is continuously undergoing change.   

Specialization is occurring in most occupations, and that requires personnel with specialized skills. Recruiting, training and retaining those specialists are diversions from a manufacturer’s core business, which is part of the appeal of outsourcing. For now, food companies continue to wrestle with the relative cost, control and effectiveness of alternatives to in-house maintenance, sanitation and pest control.

For more information:
Joseph Stout, Commercial Food Sanitation LLC, joestout@cf-san.com
James E. Sargent, Copesan, 262-783-6261, sarge@copesan.com
Tom Murray, DCS Sanitation Services, 800-837-8737
Kimberly J. Eldridge, Klüber Lubrication North America, 603-647-4104, kimberly.eldridge@us.kluber.com
Patrick Copps, Orkin, 949-548-2214, pcopps@rollins.com
Blake Moret, Rockwell Automation, 414-382-2000
Terry Fisher, SKF Inc., 800-523-1745, terrance.a.fisher@skf.com
David Adair, Superior Contract Cleaners Inc., 770-531-1819

Lean manufacturing alters maintenance dialogue

Payback analysis and KPI discussions are supplanting pricing as decision-making tools for maintenance supplies, and Kimberly J. Eldridge credits food manufacturing’s embrace of continuous improvement for driving the change.

“The basics of asset protection haven’t changed, but as food companies take a more disciplined approach with Six Sigma and lean principles, we’re speaking the same language,” the North American market manager for Londonderry, NH-based Klüber Lubrication says. “Customers are putting hard numbers to increased uptime and machine efficiency instead of taking touchy-feely approaches, like converting to H-1 lubricants because it sounds good.”

Also fading are the days of the hand test: If a component can be touched without burning the hand, the operating temperature is acceptable. In high-sliding applications such as worm gears, each 10°C increase in the lubricant’s operating temperature above 60°C (180°F) results in a 50 percent decrease in performance life. Gear box temperatures are reduced when polyalphaolefin or polyglycol oil is used, but those synthetics come at a big premium over mineral oil. Using a synthetic in spur and bevel gears, which have low-sliding percentages, may not make economic sense, whereas deferred maintenance and efficiency improvements of up to 30 percent in worm gears does. As maintenance professionals take a more collaborative approach with their suppliers, site audits and condition monitoring are resulting in a more holistic approach to lubrication needs.

“People don’t typically think of maintenance in terms of overall operations, but today’s focus on OEE is changing that,” reflects Eldridge. “To consider thermal stability, coefficient of friction, premature wear and other factors can be overwhelming, which is why people are forming partnerships with suppliers who can develop programs based on hard numbers.”