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

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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. (, 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 (, 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.)
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