Inefficiencies in food processing can eat up time and money

Online Editor
Inefficiencies in your operation aren’t always big problems like a machine break-down or product contamination

Inefficiencies in your operation aren’t always big problems like a machine break-down or product contamination. Though these are certainly concerns, many sources of lost time, energy and resources—and, ultimately, lost money—are a series of small things. These small inefficiencies add up and take their toll on production time. Consider these 9 inefficiencies in food processing. How many are affecting your production line, and how much time is this costing you? Solving these seemingly small problems one by one can improve your productivity enormously in the long run.

1. Inaccurate measurements

Using an inaccurate weighing device is a common cause of ingredient over-use, and an inefficiency in food processing that is often overlooked. While it’s important to meet minimum amounts of any ingredient, many weighing and batching systems overfill, ultimately wasting the ingredient. Using a volumetric meter instead of a mass flow meter can create inaccuracies, as well as failing to calibrate the load cell, or damage to the load cell. If the measurement device is extremely inaccurate or inconsistent, in can cause product defects, creating more waste.

Maintaining accurate measurements is equally important for small amounts of relatively expensive ingredients and larger amounts of inexpensive ingredients. For example, overusing an ingredient by .5% might be within the tolerance, and might not seem like much for a small amount of a microingredient. However, this culminates in a .5% overuse annually, which can be substantial.

2. Energy-Wasting Equipment

Overhead costs like energy use is an easily overlooked inefficiency in food processing. As equipment ages, these costs often sneak upward without notice. A number of factors can cause equipment to waste energy. Many of these occur as the equipment ages, such as compressed air leaks from aging seals. Some can be prevented with a good maintenance schedule, such as replacing seals, and keeping proper belt tensioning and lubrication to keep from over-working motors.

Other times, this actually occurs at the equipment design stage, such as excessive horsepower on inefficient motors. When working with your equipment manufacturer, remember that more power is not necessarily a good thing; if your equipment doesn’t need the extra horsepower to run, it’s ultimately a waste.

3. Energy-Wasting Facilities

Just like equipment, facilities also age and become less energy efficient. Or, as new building materials and designs emerge, their energy rating can fall behind the norm. Inefficient heating and cooling systems, lighting, insulation, even worn-out seals on doors and windows can all create energy waste.

While a single leaky seal on a door isn’t cause for concern, it can become a problem when every door is letting cool air escape, while light fixtures are creating extra heat, and the ventilation system isn’t running properly. Besides wasting energy, this can cause both employees and machines to get overheated, reducing productivity. Over time, small issues stack up and compound. Comparing energy use over time and reassessing or making improvements can help to save thousands.

4. Ingredient Spoilage

Ingredient storage systems can have a noticeable impact on waste. First-in, first-out (FIFO) ingredient storage systems help to prevent ingredients from spoiling. However, maintaining these systems requires employee participation, training, and proper set-up. If FIFO is difficult for employees to maintain—for example, if workers must repeatedly move pallets or bulk bags, or check use dates on every shipment—the system will either introduce losses to productivity due to time, or ingredient loss due to spoilage. Taking the time to arrange an easy, manageable FIFO system, and emphasizing its importance to employees, can help to prevent this inefficiency in food processing from eating into productivity.

5. Machine Down-Time

Preventative maintenance might seem like a regular inefficiency chipping away at productivity time, however, scheduled maintenance can actually help to prevent a more costly issues; unscheduled maintenance and machine down-time. Checking lubricant levels, seals, drive tension, electrical wires, electrical sockets, load cell calibration and other preventative maintenance items regularly can help to prevent breakdowns. Scheduled maintenance means downtime is planned; the necessary tools and parts are prepared, employees aren’t unexpectedly idle, and productivity schedules aren’t lagging.

6. Excessive jogging

Excessive jogging can also cost valuable production time. Jogs occur when the automation system stops the feeder before the target weight is achieved. The system will then start and stop the feeder for a short duration in order to fill to the target weight. Besides creating inefficiencies in production, excessive jogging can also be hard on drive components and switchgear, because the feeder is constantly starting and stopping.

Free-fall compensation helps prevent this from happening. Two-speed operation of the feeder can also help to prevent excessive jogging.

7. Overweight Alarms

Overweight alarms occur when the batching system meters too much product into the scale. They can occur because the feeder size is not well matched to the required minimum output. They can also occur because the system stopped too early, and then had to jog to put the remainder of product into the bin. The final jog to reach the target weight can put the weight over.

Each time an overweight alarm occurs, the system halts and sends an audible and visual alarm to the operator. The operator then has the option of accepting the overweight or aborting the batch. Each alarm consumes valuable production time. The best way to prevent overweight alarms is with two-speed operation of the feeder.

Overweights can also occur because the user has an unrealistic expectation of what the system can actually weigh. Don’t set the tolerances for the system to be one scale increment if the feeders and controls are not capable of stopping the system within one increment.

8. Batch Routing

Batch destination confirmation is another inefficiency in food processing that can cost production time. When a new formula is produced prior to the discharge of the batch mixer, the operator is asked to specify the correct downstream destination for the formula. If the operator is busy doing something else, this alarm may go unnoticed for some time and cost production time.

Auto-routing is a simple automation upgrade that can solve this problem, and most automation suppliers provide it. This allows the operator to designate the bin when the formulate goes into production, thereby easily eliminating this inefficiency in production.

9. No-Flow Alarms

No-flow alarms are one of the most common and costly inefficiencies in food processing. This alarm occurs with an auto-batching system. No-flow alarms can occur when someone forgets to fill a bin, when a bin bridges or when a feeder plugs. A standard operating procedure for bin inventory and refilling bins can prevent these alarms. It may be necessary to add some type of bin agitation to the system to prevent the ingredient from hanging up in the bin or feeder.

One small inefficiency in food processing can quickly become many inefficiencies if they’re allowed to add up. Solving these small problems takes regular assessments and housekeeping, but this time is well-spent when it prevents wasted ingredients, surging energy costs, maintenance problems, and lagging productivity. Assess your operation carefully to see where you can solve these problems, and make small improvements to save time and money.

Terry Stemler is president of APEC