Automation Can Help Food Processors Improve Throughput
There is never a “one-size-fits-all” solution when a food or beverage processor seeks to improve throughput. In some cases, equipment in a line is fully capable, but overall line performance isn’t up to expectations. There are numerous periods of downtime and low OEE scores, and bottlenecks occur between machines. In other cases, most of the equipment on the line is 20 or more years old, and while it could be updated with new controllers, the hardware is too far gone to replace, provided you can even find the parts. So, maybe it’s time to scrap the line altogether and start over.
The path you choose will take much due diligence and may require the help of an outside consultant or system integrator to make the determination whether to fix or replace it completely. If you’re lucky, you may simply have a communication problem between pieces of equipment—the all-too-familiar “islands of automation”—or shop floor and ERP systems. In this article, we take a look at some real-world examples from fix or integrate to start over completely.
Bush’s Baked Beans started as a family business in 1908, and Bush Brothers and Company’s products finally became “table ready” in 1952. With leaps and bounds in growth, the Tennessee-based canning company had kept records on paper, but with more than 55 million pounds of beans produced yearly from several plants, keeping track of everything—especially downtime—was tedious.
At first, the company tried its hand at creating its own tracking software solution, recognizing there were advantages to getting away from paper in tracking production, such as logging downtime. But it didn’t fully meet all the needs of the company.
“Like any homegrown solution, it was too cumbersome,” says Tony Peterson, Bush Brothers operation manager. “Our IT people assured us that there were vendors out there who did nothing but develop such solutions. So, we went to the main suppliers of manufacturing operations management software.”
The company searched for a solution that would help plant staff make better decisions, leading to improved performance. Also, the tracking tool had to mesh with Bush’s company culture, as well as being flexible.
“We wanted to be able to take the program out of the box and configure it to fit our needs,” says Peterson.
The company eventually chose Parsec Automation, a partner member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). Bush found that some of the other software suppliers had a rigid attitude about their software: that it worked in a particular way, and that was that.
“That was not the case with Parsec’s TrakSYS,” says Peterson. “Our operators had a lot of input into developing what the final solution looked like. Actually, we are still moving forward today, getting a little deeper and making our operations even more efficient. You could almost describe it as a living program.”
The goal of implementing TrakSYS was to improve the productivity of the manufacturing systems. Using real-time information related to equipment downtime, TrakSYS found the root causes, frequencies, and conditions that led to downtime. Bush Brothers tasked the software with a plant-wide implementation to streamline communication from the plant floor to upper management.
Was it successful? In 2014, without any changes to the manufacturing equipment in its Augusta, GA operation, Bush Brothers produced 2.2 million additional cases of beans. During the same period, the processor was able to eliminate 27 shifts using TrakSYS for real-time operations management. In 2014, the plant realized an annual savings of $395,000, a planned vs. actual production of better than 97.9 percent and greater than 85 percent production efficiency with better than 96.2 percent final product quality, yielding an on-time order fulfillment greater than 99.7 percent. ROI was under a year.
Bush Brothers have seen several benefits with the new system. The software provides a significant improvement in communication, resulting in a clear understanding of issues and their root causes. The system automatically populates existing electronic forms, eliminating three years of stored paper data. It replaced manual, paper-based sensory data collection with electronic forms, complete with data validation and extensive genealogy, with audit trails for regulatory and food safety compliance. Integration with an existing plant historian made it possible to have a common web portal for viewing information and reports related to process variables. In addition, the software uses electronic and interactive journal entries, eliminating manual logbooks, and Bush Brothers have used the new system to qualify new equipment performance against specifications.