Wednesday, 18 October 2017

 

Technological advances over the last few decades have had a significant impact on the manufacturing industry. For many food manufacturers industrial automation has enabled them to optimize their production. 

By Chris Jones, group product manager – controls at tna

There are others, however, who have struggled to integrate new technology into their lines, or are unable to take full advantage of the benefits control systems can offer. But with prices for raw materials, labor and energy rising, as well as new regulatory pressure, maximizing efficiency remains a key priority for the industry.

Targeting the inefficiency problem

Inefficiencies in the food processing industry are vast and can occur at every stage of the production cycle. They span food safety, material breakage, energy wastage or may even be caused by badly tuned production lines. Often remaining undetected, or ignored, these inefficiencies always come at a price and can have a visible impact on the profitability and competiveness of a business. While technology might not be able solve all inefficiencies within a production process, it does play a vital role in detecting them. Control systems, such as programmable logic controllers (PLC) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems can be easily integrated into existing production lines helping to expose its most inefficient parts. They can also be used to identify where technology could improve workflow. Once analyzed, data from these systems helps plant operators target specific areas in which inefficiencies are most prevalent.

Securing food safety through traceability

Food safety is paramount to all manufacturers and maintaining high quality standards is essential when trying to retain customer loyalty. Product quality issues can apply to both raw materials and the finished product, and are often caused by badly specified, outdated or poorly configured control systems. Besides incurring considerable costs, potential customer complaints can be a real threat to business reputation. With regulators, such as the FDA, pushing for more “preventive” mechanisms to ensure product quality and safety, this type of inefficiency is one that requires urgent attention at many manufacturing facilities. By improving traceability throughout the entire production chain, operators will regain control over product quality and food safety. To achieve this, it is important that detailed and reliable data from as many parts of the production process as possible is collected and thoroughly evaluated. Barcode scanning and in-line monitoring systems ensure products are always within specification and adhere to all food safety regulations. Using an effective tracking system to monitor any goods that arrive, controlling existing stock and keeping up to date on products’ shelf life, will help reduce raw material wastage, make inventories more accurate and maintain product quality at all times.

Often caused by inaccurate control equipment or badly tuned processes, material waste is a real problem for any plant manager and can affect the entire production cycle. If unnoticed, just one fault could cause damage to a large number of goods, resulting in unnecessary downtime and excessive wastage. With a detailed user requirement specification (URS), control system providers can help identify the required key performance indicators (KPIs) that a particular manufacturing process requires. 

There are a wide variety of inefficiencies in the food manufacturing industry, each covering different aspects of the production process. While some are merely expensive, others may pose a real threat to a business. Collecting detailed and reliable data from as many parts of the production process as possible is key to controlling product flows and for safe and effective production. Control systems can be a real asset to any plant as they will identify areas that require attention and help regulate work flow so all products are within specification. A well-planned, accurate setup with regular maintenance is important in order to achieve optimum process efficiency. In any case, involving control system experts, such as tna, from the start can speed up this process. Not only can they help plant managers chose a suitable system for their needs, they can also ensure it is correctly installed and maintained on a regular basis to guarantee continued production efficiency.

You can read more on this topic in our print magazine Potato Processing International (Jan/Feb 2017)!

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