Since the 1940s, when food manufacturing was significantly slowed in favor of war production, technological innovations have tremendously increased the speed, efficiency, quality, and production of food. New technologies continue to hit the industry on a regular basis. But what happens if a wave of new technology has not quite hit your production line? Aging equipment in food manufacturing is often commonplace, as production managers and operators too often embrace the “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” line of thinking. Charged with increasing output and amplifying regulation but with no budget to adjust either, many food manufacturing plants struggle to keep up with demand, even as their equipment ages.
Strategy for Automation Technology
Among the list of things that keep most manufacturers up at night is the need to make upgrades a priority; that concern ranks at the same level as shipping, safety, macroeconomics, and competition, according to a 2018 article in Businessing Magazine. The fact is that keeping a strategic lens on upgrades and proactively asserting the necessity to make changes before a catastrophic failure within a food plant threatens to shut down operations is the wiser bet to make as a manufacturing leader; we’ve seen it in action more than once or twice. Let’s face it, technology moves at warp speed, so the need to upgrade is ever present in order to keep up with the pace of business today.
A Case Study in Automated Control Systems
Industrial control systems integrator Huffman Engineering partnered with a large food manufacturing plant to help design and automate control of their corn milling process, upgrading the control system along the way. The biggest plan for this project included a mechanism to increase mill throughput by way of two pieces of groundbreaking equipment, including a vertical degerminator. But they didn’t stop there: This particular food manufacturer had an eye to the future and knew enough to plan ahead. Preparing the control system for additional equipment allowed for future expansion without the additional cost of re-programming the control system down the road. This way, when budget dollars were freed up and allowed for these next steps, the re-engineered system would decrease downtime and provide a smooth transition to strong production.
This is how they did it.
A control system upgrade for the equipment provided controls and system integration for new and repurposed equipment as part of the upgrade. This large food processing plant installed two new pieces of equipment in the corn mill to increase capacity and efficiency in the corn milling operation.
Engineers with extensive expertise can be innovative in creating solutions that allow new equipment to sit alongside existing transfer equipment (only slightly modified) to facilitate the increased throughput in an operation (in this case, corn milling). Throughout this particular project, the electrical installation of equipment was integrated to both the programmable logic controller (PLC) and human machine interface (HMI) to talk to the automated start and stop sequences and load-on and load-off conditions. Critical alarms for the new and modified equipment were included in the end of the production process. These technical integrations allowed operators in the manufacturing plant to visually sound alarms when processing wasn’t going as smoothly as intended, calling their attention to systems that might need to be fixed.
As with many food processing customers, key performance indicators ultimately tie back to greater efficiency, less downtime, trust, and innovative sharing of ideas along the way. No upgrade comes without a few bumps along the way, but valuable lessons learned can now be passed on to other teams to make sure the transfer of knowledge can help additional projects to run more smoothly.