Plant Upgrades on a Budget - With Quick Paybacks

Whether your budget is slowly rebounding or your big projects are still on hold, lots of upgrades can be accomplished quickly to offer both rapid returns and long-term gains.

By Bob Sperber, Plant Operations Editor

Share Print Related RSS
Managers at food and beverage manufacturing companies are optimistic that more of their capital projects will get the go-ahead this year. Thirty-nine percent of them plan on spending at least 5 percent more this year on capital spending, as we reported last month in our 2010 Manufacturing Trends Survey. (For the final word, see our annual Capital Spending Report in April.)

However, even the most optimistic managers know it takes time to take plans off the shelf, dust them off, get them approved and implement them. In this environment, it's likely maintenance departments are working overtime to stretch the service life of aging equipment, and plant mangers are working harder to justify and implement upgrades that go beyond replacement of critical, at-risk processes.

If you are facing such challenges, take heart. There are still ways to go beyond merely defensive measures to proactively improve your operations. Your vendors, who are just as eager to succeed as you are, also are working hard to help you justify investments and gain a rapid return on investment (ROI).

In order to achieve that, plant personnel, contractors and all parties involved in a project must be able to measure and track current conditions, document benchmark improvements, trend the data and project ROI. Two axioms apply here:
  • What can be measured can be improved.
  • GIGO, or Garbage In, Garbage Out.
If you wish to improve your plant and need to justify the investment, you need good, accurate tools to deliver good, accurate data. And you need to actually use the resulting data to quantify and justify the benefits. These truisms apply universally but for practicality's sake, we will narrow the focus to a few solutions common to many plants: process instrumentation, motors and weighing/inspection.

Instrumentation's supply chain link
In addition to traditional instrumentation and controls on retorts, pasteurization systems, aseptic processes and the like, food processors have steadily applied new technology to monitor and conserve energy and water, notes Ola Wesstrom, senior industry manager for food and beverage with Endress+Hauser, (www.us.endress.com), Greenwood, Ind.

"People need to be able to make baseline measurements of where they are, so they can measure their usage and calculate what they're saving when they cut-back on WAGES – you know – water, air, gas, electricity and steam," he says. These typically include instrumentation to monitor the steam and compressed air, which he calls "the Big Two," followed by applications to monitor heating and cooling, which are typically associated with steam, water or coolants.

Despite the food industry's lower adoption rates for automation in general, new flowmeter installations are coming on strong, from vortex flowmeters in steam monitoring to Coriolis mass flowmeters for inline quality measurements.

Similarly, many processors who currently rely on timing-based clean-in-place (CIP) cycles can realize significant benefits immediately upon upgrading to real-time, concentration-based CIP monitoring and controls.
E+H says this can enhance food safety and produce significant cost savings such as:
  • Reduced down time for cleaning.
  • Reduced water and detergent use.
  • Reduced detergent heating cost.
  • Less wastewater to treat.
Wesstrom also sees strong spending on product loss-reduction initiatives as plants continue "looking for any way they can reduce or eliminate waste to increase production yield. That's been a ongoing effort, but I saw companies step-up those efforts in 2009, and I expect that to continue."

Swapping a traditional volumetric flowmeter for a Coriolis mass flowmeter, for example, can boost inline measurement uncertainty from 0.2 percent to 0.05 percent accuracy. While the Coriolis meters typically cost more than twice as much, they offer rapid payback where product giveaway is high, and then some. Coriolis meters can measure several process variables such as brix, viscosity or density – simultaneously -- for a step-change in inline quality assurance.

Combining projects with environmental and waste-reduction benefits, E+H helped one poultry producer reduce its wastewater solids and avoid a $25,000 surcharge from the local municipality. When the plant's dosing of coagulants resulted in waste and frequent releases of high BOD/solid waste, the company installed three electromagnetic flowmeters and three turbidity sensors to control dosing. The system paid for itself simply by eliminating the $25,000 surcharge. Additionally, the plant uses 20 percent less CIP chemicals despite increased plant throughput.

E+H and many leading instrumentation and control providers ease installation, integration and future upgrades by offering software, interfaces, EtherNet/IP connectivity and conformance with standards that open instruments (and their transmitters) to a tsunami of digital data for better asset diagnostics and monitoring. Examples of protocols include the hybrid analog/digital HART protocol as well as all-digital standards such as Profibus, Foundation fieldbus and Modbus.

"If people would just look at some of the information available to them through these protocols, they could improve their maintenance using actual performance parameters instead of scheduled maintenance," Wesstrom says. "They could certainly extend their calibration intervals."

Up the automation hierarchy, it appears the proliferation of standards and the deluge of data available at the instrument/transmitter level have made human-machine interface software less important. "That data being generated in the process doesn't end at the operator screen," says Jerry Spindler, senior OEM business development manager for E+H. "In some cases, the information goes all the way up to the enterprise system."

Consider, for example, how bulk inventories of sugar, flour or grains – any ingredients in tanks and silos – can be automated to become a source of supply chain savings. As commodity prices rise, accurate and timely inventory status readings can lead to cost-saving advance planning and purchasing. Vendors offer systems expressly designed to interface with enterprise resource planning systems, with installation costs steadily declining as technologies such as Ethernet and wireless connectivity take root.

Real-time process information is critical to meeting plant and business performance goals when the company needs to create key performance indicators. These indicators feed plant performance initiatives such as Overall Equipment Effectiveness and Lean manufacturing, which in turn are critical to goal-setting, reporting and decision-making at the corporate level.
 
Motoring a payback at Frito-Lay

Baldor Electric
Bush Brothers & Co. chose Baldor motors, gearboxes and bearings based on total life-cycle costs.
Companies still putting off long-term projects have revised their payback requirements. Food plants that before the recession were happy to accept a two-year payback on a new motor are now saying, "If it doesn't pay for itself in 12 months, we won't buy it, unless there's a critical breakdown," comments John Malinowski, senior product manager for AC motors at Baldor Electric Co. (www.baldor.com), Fort Smith, Ark.

Still, food is one of the motor-maker's stronger industries as plants pay increasing attention to food safety. Stainless steel motors are better than painted models for resisting food contamination and eliminating flaking of paint during high-pressure wash-down. Plus, new motors bring new levels of efficiency to hasten payback.

As part of an ongoing plant upgrade at its Frito-Lay plant in Kirkwood, N.Y., PepsiCo replaced 17 old, inefficient motors with new Baldor stainless steel models meeting the NEMA Premium standard (as defined in NEMA MG1, table 12-12).

The project cost roughly $10,000 and saved more than 60,000 kW, to provide simple payback in less than 18 months, Frito-Lay reported. The prime reason was a bump in efficiency from 85 percent to 92 percent.

Beyond payback, upgraded equipment including motors must offer a reliable service life. During a 2004 plant overhaul in Chestnut Hill, Tenn., Bush Brothers & Co. chose Baldor motors, gearboxes and bearings "based on what we felt was a good TCO strategy," Michael Rife, maintenance manager and buyer, says. TCO, or Total Cost of Ownership calculations across an asset's service life are the opposite of "trying to save a buck up front," Rife explains.

Weigh and inspect
 
Thermo Fisher Scientific's Process Instrument Division (www.thermofisher.com), Waltham, Mass., offers inline food analyzers, vision technology and a broad range of checkweighers. The benefits vary as do the justifications.

The company's Guided Microwave in-line food analyzers are intriguing for the benefits that come with real-time, inline measurement. Companies are seeing "dramatic savings by measuring fat levels in ground meat or moisture levels in snack foods before frying," says Rick Cash, marketing technology manager. He notes one sausage manufacturer is now using these analyzers to optimize the cooking process for increased plant throughput. (He could not disclose customer names.)

The company also offers checkweighers suited to a broad range of requirements, and budgets:
  • High-speed checkweighers offer high accuracy at speeds up to 600 cans or jars per minute. "This makes it easier for our customers to justify a capital expense -- faster production throughput and real savings in material give-away," Cash says. As part of a plant upgrade, one "major soup manufacturer" is now using these units for measuring fill in open cans prior to broth addition.
  • Cost-conscious plants have been able to refurbish the frames of prior-generation units and install only the controller unit of new-generation checkweighers for a "significant discount over the cost of a new system," he adds.
  • For critical food safety requirements on challenging products such as cheese and ice cream, units offer the sensitivity for lower limits of detection of solid, foreign objects such as stainless steel, stone and glass. A major cheese manufacturer cited new, more stringent requirements as a justification.
  • More customers are also using X-ray detectors, which have become more affordable over time and fill needs other detection technologies cannot.
Full-service partnerships

Whether buying instrumentation, motors, detection systems or, really, anything that upgrades a plant's technology, decision-makers have come to expect high levels of service. This is especially true for those who have been getting by with reduced in-house staff, budgets or overall technical resources. Consider how, to help Frito-Lay optimize resources on its motor upgrades, Baldor:
  • Custom-designed equipment to meet PepsiCo's needs.
  • Facilitated a larger teaming effort to upgrade similar equipment throughout PepsiCo's organization.
  • Educated PepsiCo divisions and suppliers on proper motor management.
  • Provided training and technical support to PepsiCo associates and its suppliers on motor efficiency and systematic management of motor inventories.
Beyond vendor relationships, companies should leave no stone unturned to get the greatest benefits from their investments. Additional sources of collaboration include government programs (see More on the Web, to the right); utility providers and public service commissions that set energy rates; and of course, architectural, engineering and construction firms involved in larger capital projects.

Nothing can open the company coffers more readily than a track record of smart investments and returns. Barring that, it's imperative to measure any and all plant processes, benchmark current conditions and document improvements down to the cost per package. Start small to establish an ROI methodology that will impress management.
Share Print Reprints Permissions

What are your comments?

You cannot post comments until you have logged in. Login Here.

Comments

No one has commented on this page yet.

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments