Q: Are there any organizations in the food industry that have forums for mechanics to get together and discuss food plant challenges?
A: This is a great idea and one that would advance segments of the food industry. I would like to substitute the word technician for mechanic as there are many technical folks (instrumentation technicians, electrical technicians and operating engineers) that may not be mechanics, but their jobs are crucial to the company’s success.
I know of no organization that offers this forum, short of discipline-specific unions and professional associations (e.g., IBEW, Operating Engineers). The reasons are many.
Within the food industry, there are very different types of products and processes. They range from liquids to colloids, pastes, breads, meats and vegetables. There also is a myriad of packaging required. Additional sub-groups exist within these major groups. For example, under liquids may be soda, probiotics, beer, wine, bottled water and juices, each with unique manufacturing requirements.
Looking at this from another vantage point, there are some technicians whose competency lie in the areas of process, electrical, utilities, controls, packaging, lubrication and others. Their primary learning concerns are within the areas they are responsible for.
Beverages, meats and dairy are examples of specific food channels. Each has its own associations. The International Dairy Foods Association, American Beverage Association and the American Meat Institute are examples. You may want to contact the anchor association in your specific area to see if there are forums that are offered.
Another alternative may be having "Lunch and Learn" sessions. These are conducted by vendors as a service. They are brief and informative and technicians love them.
As a last resort, maybe to try to develop your own forums with local companies that have technicians with similar competencies producing noncompeting products. This would be a lot of work in the short run, but could have a great impact long term.
You can also visit Food Processing's LinkedIn Group and add a discussion to the forum as well.
This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Food Processing Magazine.