Tyson Plants Reflect 'Most Admired' Reputation

Tyson's heritage remains in evidence despite super-sized growth.

By Mike Pehanich, Plant Operations Editor

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Two 800-lb. kettles cook the raw product at 150°F. Cooked corn is kept in a warm-water solution in holding tanks for eight hours. Dough for the chips is spread thin on the chip line sheeter. A roller die presses out round chip forms from the sheet. Remaining dough rolls back and re-enters the corn sheet.

On the baked line, a climbing conveyor carries pressed chip forms into the Heat & Control oven chamber. After baking, chips are cooled for two minutes to bring product to appropriate packaging temperature – below 70ºF.

Pre-fried chips are baked first, passing through an equillibrator to allow chips to cool prior to entering the fry phase. A climb-and-drop conveyor has a two-fold function of compressing line length and enhancing the cooling process.

Chips are fried and collected in a bin to allow excess oil to run off before passing onto a vibrating conveyor that keeps product separated during transport. Chips pass through a rotating seasoning tunnel. They are elevated via an A.C. Horn Verta-veyor to the Matrix Snack Pro filling system.

At Tyson's Fayetteville, Ark., plant, employees remove tortillas from ovens and package them in bags.

Asked what area of plant operations poses the biggest challenges, management's reply is unanimous.

"Metal detectors." Why? "The iron content in flour used in tortilla and taco processing occasionally gives false positive readings because of the extremely low detection standards," says plant manager Froud. The plant is considering conversion to X-ray detection systems.

Eleven flour tortilla lines supply Mexican Original's flagship product.

Flour is mixed with bulk water in the Peerless blender. Dough balls are puched out from a rounder and dropped into a proofing conveyor belt. They are then heat-pressed and par-baked for 30 seconds. Finished tortillas are then conveyed through a cooling chamber for approximately five minutes.

Automation at end-of-the-line functions has introduced automatic stacking and delivery to several lines with ongoing upgrades under way.

Predictive maintenance is sign and substance of a metamorphosis in maintenance thinking.

"We used to have our maintenance guys waiting for a fire," says Irvin. "Now they keep that fire from breaking out."

Maintenance mechanics are assigned preventive and predictive maintenance tasks each day to sustain quality line operations. To remain at the head of their game, all are required to participate in a minimum of three hours of maintenance training each week, studying hydraulics, pneumatics and a variety of mechanical disciplines, along with computer literacy, mechanical aptitude and electrical aptitude.

All training courses are run out of the master computer, while hands-on training is performed on training boards and supervised by training manager Ron Stagg. Currently, 71 Fayetteville team members participate in the training. Instruction can be read or delivered in narrative/written format.

The plant also has a sterling safety record.

"Our complex won the best of the best recognition for its safety record in terms of lost-time accidents, DART rate, recordable injuries and workers compensation last year," says Irvin.


Processing, warehousing and distributing the value-added food products of a $26 billion food company takes a lot of energy, in every sense of the word. But it's the cost of energy fuels that has processors everywhere counting their BTUs.

Tyson's first corporate energy target is price.

"We buy fuel on the commodities market and lock in a good position," explains Richard Irvin, complex manager for several Tyson prepared foods plants. The largest energy purchase is natural gas.

Next comes looking at usage numbers, comparing those numbers both to prior energy consumption at a given facility and to plant-to-plant usage.

"We meet weekly at our plants," says Irvin. "I meet with plant managers, plant controllers, maintenance managers, QA managers and others. We cover all key areas from quality to safety to production efficiency. The plants put out a scorecard. This Operating Performance System meeting is the best meeting we have all week."

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