Food Manufacturers Using Asset Management Software to Mine Big Data

Through a combination of software programs, diagnostic tools and skilled workers, food manufacturers are getting better performance from their key production assets.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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manufacturing plant AMSCrowd-sourced genealogy is a growing social activity that links family trees across multiple generations and lost connections. Using powerful logarithms to sift through related databases, services like Geni.com will determine if Barack Obama is your cousin, 14 times removed.

In a sense, the asset management software being deployed today by food and beverage companies also is striving to use big data to map the family tree of machines and other equipment in the plant. No longer is it enough to generate work orders and alerts for the next scheduled maintenance update. Everything from uptime performance to lifecycle cost assessment is being jammed into one, comprehensive record.

Even when the records exist in electronic form, they typically reside in multiple databases. Absent a Geni-like logarithm, pooling those records for easy access is a challenge that frustrates engineers and makes systems integrators rich. Fortunately, the situation is changing.

In what client relations manager J. Wright claims is a first, Somax Inc. Alpharetta, Ga., is rolling out a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) platform with a sanitation component fully integrated with maintenance records for individual assets. By tying the master sanitation schedule to maintenance and repair records, manufacturers will have a centralized record of not only scheduled cleaning and maintenance but also when procedures were executed and by whom, explains Wright. A score of Somax clients are ready to launch the more robust CMMS this month, he says.

Somax was the CMMS vendor for Sara Lee’s 41 bakeries when the organization was acquired in 2011 by Bimbo Bakeries USA. The new owners liked the system well enough to implement it at its other 34 plants.

While preparing for implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, Sara Lee managers determined that separate systems for maintenance and sanitation could pose a problem if they have to produce both mechanical and hygiene records for mixers and dough dividers. They challenged Somax to come up with an integrated solution and, after a six-month pilot in eight plants, the system is ready for full rollout, reports Wright.

In a similar vein, Lopez Foods Inc. in Oklahoma City, Okla., saw a gap between its enterprise asset management (EAM) system from Infor and the shop-floor data it had extracted from PLCs on mechanical failures. In a presentation at February’s ARC Industry Forum in Orlando, Fla., Aaron Beasecker, vice president-information technology at the McDonald’s supplier, said root-cause analyses of breakdowns were stymied because the system made it difficult to analyze the reasons for machine failure. Equipment critical to maintaining uptime had never been identified, and there was no linkage between assets in the EAM and the machines on the floor.

After tying line items in the EAM to actual production lines and the machinery on them in three plants, Lopez’s EAM vendor, Infor Inc., created category and reason code fields for each machine stop. When an asset stops, the time and duration are automatically recorded, and a technician categorizes the interruption’s cause as mechanical, foreign objects or some other type, then records the reason and any supporting notations. By analyzing the record, managers have reduced mechanical downtime 20 percent and have identified “training opportunities” with technicians who exceed the normal time in getting assets running again.

Pre-emptive failure predictions

From a corporate perspective, people are assets, too, and measuring performance and cost for maintenance personnel is just as important as monitoring overall equipment effectiveness of a mixer or extruder. A stand-alone CMMS will help with OEE, but to optimize the performance of both machine and man, an enterprise asset management system integrated with the organization’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is required, insists Kevin Price, EAM head at Infor, New York.

An effective EAM can reduce maintenance staffing by up to 50 percent, Price asserts, because unscheduled downtime and unnecessary PM procedures are replaced by the condition monitoring tools of predictive maintenance.

“Firefighters are replaced by more advanced, skilled labor,” he says. However, reductions in labor, material costs and downtime require an EAM that functions as an operational asset. The maintenance modules in accounting-oriented ERP systems are fixed-asset tools, says Price.

QAM flowchart

Instead of treating all plant-floor assets as high priorities for preventive maintenance, organizations should focus resources on the truly critical ones and let some run to failure. Source: IFS North America Inc.

Condition monitoring is essential if organizations are to move to reliability-centered maintenance, agrees Jerry Browning, senior business consultant with IFS North America Inc., Itasca, Ill. Many people want their EAM or CMMS system to collect and analyze data from vibration analysis, ultrasonic noise detection and other early indicators of machine failure. “But this is impractical,” says Browning. “We want to attach the results of a job to the work order or maybe the equipment object itself so that you can access it later, but we’re not going to embed 20 line-item results from an oil analysis.”

Price points for sophisticated tools such as vibration monitors have fallen considerably and can be justified by some food and beverage manufacturers, but the analytics require a skill set not often found in a processing organization. To fill the gap, several vendors now offer fee-for-service condition monitoring, either as a stand-alone service or part of an OEM’s remote-monitoring reliability service.

An example of the latter is Ingersoll Rand’s PackageCare for compressors. A stand-alone option is the Machine Health Reporting Program from SKF USA Inc. in Canton, Ohio.

SKF’s program, which launched in 2012, blends a do-it-yourself element with root-cause analysis by specially trained technicians, who crunch the data and develop machine reports that flag alignment problems and pending bearing failures, explains Eric Lautzenheiser, the program’s business development manager.

Clients typically identify up to 100 critical machines — ammonia and air compressors, water pumps, air handling units and other processing, packaging and infrastructure components — and then use Microlog hardware cabled to a transducer sensor to capture vibration data from each machine. The data are then uploaded to SKF to generate machine-health reports.

Bearing failures account for most unscheduled downtime events, and vibration analysis can detect bearing wear well in advance. “Time-based maintenance is by far the most common strategy,” says Lautzenheiser, but that can be both inefficient and a gateway to bigger problems if not properly executed. As part of a program start-up, SKF personnel provide training in lubrication best practices and the use of laser-alignment for shafts, as well as how to use the measurement tool.

The identification of critical equipment is “the heart of asset management,” he adds. “It comes down to, if that piece of equipment stops working, I have to send everyone home.” Those are the machines that manufacturers target for vibration analysis, and “they typically figure out for themselves what those machines are.”

IFS’s Browning seconds that point. “Lots of people are making lots of money analyzing a process to distinguish between critical and noncritical equipment, but they come back with the same results as a veteran maintenance manager,” he says. “A real maintenance guy knows if he has redundancy.”

Blessed are the wrench turners

The asset pecking order has implications beyond where to focus maintenance activities. Rather than applying preventive and predictive maintenance to all assets, it can lead to a blend of approaches. If an asset isn’t critical to continuous operations and doesn’t pose a safety danger, “you can make run-to-failure decisions with more confidence,” says Browning.

Managing plant assets means different things to different professionals in an organization. For senior management, it may be viewed as a cost-cutting tool, and as with any automation system, ROI is tied to labor reductions. For the people in the trenches turning wrenches, EAM and CMMS may be an upgrade from clipboards and Excel spreadsheets, but they also requires a change in standard operating procedures. And that can be unsettling.

“Maintenance often is viewed as a cost, and the first thing companies cut in hard times is maintenance,” Browning reflects. “Software can make it easier for the maintenance guy to be productive, but you’re not going to replace them.

“You sell these systems twice: first to the corporate people and then to the users.” In the end, those users may be the organization’s most critical asset.

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