Explore this issueAugust/September 2014
Capital savings is a major driver of a food processor’s decision to purchase used equipment. The savings can be even greater if a processor can reuse idle assets from another plant. An equally strong driver is a fast-track project schedule because the reuse of immediately available equipment can shave off many months.
However, processors must select equipment that complies with their safety and quality criteria or select equipment that can be cost-effectively retrofitted as well as cost-effectively integrated with the other equipment on the processing line. To do so, consider the following questions.
How High is the Bar? Many food processors are raising the bar on their safety and quality criteria for equipment, including Category 3 safety circuits and guarding on rotating fillers. Components such as these were not in the equipment specifications even a few years ago. Many are adopting the Safe Quality Food (SQF) 2000-Level 3 standards developed by the SQF Institute, and more stringent criteria for methods of construction to facilitate ease of cleaning, including well designed clean-in-place (CIP) systems. For this reason, it is important that the equipment selected be capable—through retrofitting if necessary—of meeting the safety standards set by the industry going forward.
How Old is the Equipment? Age and type are the primary factors in food processors’ selection of used equipment. For simple equipment, such as tanks and blending vessels, used equipment that is 10 to 15 years old usually meets current quality criteria, provided that the materials of construction meet the project needs and provided that there is no evidence of corrosion due to poor sanitation or attack on the welds by high-acid or high-sodium ingredients. Used cookers/retorts and fillers are often acceptable since, other than guarding, there have not been significant changes in technology in the last 20 years.
On the other hand, used computer-based equipment is often not a good candidate because it rapidly becomes obsolete—often within less than five years—as newer models are introduced with increased speed, capability, and functionality. Examples include personal computers, programmable logic controllers, and human-machine interfaces.
Does the Source Have a Track Record? To ensure quality with productivity, many companies have purchase agreements with preferred vendors, including used equipment dealers. Although they may be reluctant to add new vendors to their accounting system, it is critically important to assess the source in light of all project success criteria. The benefits to a fast-track project of obtaining good used equipment usually outweigh the effort needed to add a new vendor to the accounting database.
More Buying Questions.
- Does the used equipment already meet current quality design specifications, or can it be upgraded to current standards easily and cost-effectively?
- If it passes the quality hurdle, can the used equipment perform at the expected production throughput speed?
- Does the used equipment have a remaining life expectancy that meets the goals of the project?
Criteria for Success. Before a food processor can write specifications for the purchase of any equipment, the owner must define the criteria for safety, quality, productivity, and project schedule. This should be a team effort that includes quality operations and engineering managers, as well as subject matter experts for particular processes, such as packaging.
Each success criterion should have measurable attributes that can be used to assess used equipment. The criteria and attributes guide the owner when writing the request for a proposal. Top industry leaders use a Best Value Options Analysis to compare available equipment for safety, quality, reliability, and maintainability. Some companies have made their best practice guidelines available for purchase, such as vertical startup methodologies used by global manufacturing companies.