The favorite medium for automation in the food industry is the programmable logic controller (PLC), favored by 62 percent of respondents. Personal computers are far back at 27 percent. And customized software beats off-the-shelf software by better than two to one.
Plant security also is a critical concern, with 93 percent saying they would take additional security steps in 2004. The most popular solution was physically securing the facility (88 percent), with 72 percent saying they would beef up employee identification programs and 65 percent installing some surveillance equipment.
Write-in answers to the security question included employee background checks and digital record-keeping.
"When we [recently] significantly increased out warehouse size, we realized the need for more security," said McConville of Nestle Purina. "So now there's surveillance all around the grounds. The only entrance that didn't have a live guard--the entrance from the employee parking lot--now has a turnstile that you need an employee pass card to get through."
Questions on energy elicited only a lukewarm response from most of our respondents. But it was a burning issue for the 18 percent who were affected by the mid-August blackout around the eastern Great Lakes. Far and away, the biggest solution among those who were affected will be cogeneration on site.
"We are looking at power generation packages for critical areas," wrote a manufacturing exec at a large beverage plant in Tarrytown, N.Y. "We are considering purchasing our own generator to reduce loss and spoilage in case of long term outages," said a man at a New Jersey plant. Another New Jersey plant is considering "modified procedures relative to retort procedures during power outages."
At the very least, several respondents said the blackout forced them to develop an emergency plan in case a long-term and widespread power outage hits again. Some plants are looking at alternate suppliers. A Mount Vernon, N.Y., beverage plant is working with an energy consultant.
Even facilities not in the blackout areas were affected. "We were affected not by the power outage but by over-voltage due to all the other plants being down," said reported a Memphis, Tenn., plant. A beverage facility in Suffolk, Va., "was indirectly affected by central servers losing power in the blacked-out area. Now, more effective back-up power sources are being installed for computer systems."
There's a lot or work to be done in food plants in 2004. Plants will require more work on food safety, new work on physical security and constant work to improve processes. Rather than being driven solely by ominous forces, as in the past two years, it's nice to see increasing production returning as a force to be reckoned with.