Imagining the food plant of the future is a fun exercise. I fall on the side of those who see the emergence of a network of nimble, regional facilities that can pump out respectable volume at a low cost-per-case and typically with a footprint under 250,000 sq. ft. The era of mega-plants is over, though there still are a number of them around. Depending on the metric used, a number of food companies can lay claim to operating the world’s largest food plant. The common characteristic: they’re all old.
Campbell Soup Co.’s Napoleon, Ohio, production site is both big and old. The most seasoned concrete was poured in 1938 by Standard Brands, which sold the property to Campbell 10 years later. Multiple additions in the ensuing years have produced a complex with “56 acres under roof,” as plant manager Mark Cacciatore puts it, or about 2.4 million sq. ft. Looming over the banks of the Maumee River, the 949 acre property actually houses four plants. The original structure is named Napoleon West Plant, where V-8 and other juices are filled. Food manufacturing occurs in the adjacent thermal plant, where soups and sauces are processed. Napoleon also hosts a PET blowmolding facility operated by Amcore and a can-making shop that Campbell built and later leased to Silgan.
The facility earns its plant of tomorrow chops by dispensing with the large batch sizes and long runs that characterized the production schedule a decade ago. Today, smaller batches rule, as Napoleon produces “more discreet quantities, to produce to demand,” says Cacciatore. Some additional equipment was required, but the bigger change is organizational, with multi-skilled workers performing more work to prescribed standards. “It’s as much about cultural change as equipment change,” he summarizes. Campbell has 1,150 workers on site.
Part of Napoleon’s future-plant cred rests in the integration of renewable energy. Other plants have solar arrays and CHP engines tied to anaerobic digesters, but few have turned over the capitalization to third parties to the extent as Napoleon. Effinity America Corp. funded the 9.8 MW solar array that blankets 60 acres of the site. Now part of SunEdison, Effinity hired the A/E firm that provided the engineering, procurement and general contracting services on the project, which was commissioned Dec. 30, 2011. Effinity sold renewable energy credits generated by the project to FirstEnergy Solutions, and Campbell entered a long-term purchase contract for all of the generated electricity.
The biodigester was built by CH4 Biogas LLC, with financing from Eksport Kredit Fonden, an economic development agency of the government of Denmark, where the biodigester was developed and fabricated. The 15-year power purchase agreement assures CH4 a market for the electricity generated by the gas-fueled reciprocating engine and gives Campbell bragging rights for reducing annual carbon dioxide emissions by 16,000 metric tons. The digester, occupying 7 acres of the site, is expected to produce enough methane to generate 2.8 MWh. Between solar and biomass, about a third of Napoleon’s electric needs are expected to come from renewable.
The corporation is committed to deriving 40 percent of production energy from renewables by 2020 and lower greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent below 2010 levels in 10 years. Coal-fired boilers in Ohio started conversion to natural gas two years ago, a $20 million project that Campbell is capitalizing itself. Wind turbines are under consideration.
Water use has been reduced by a third in the last five years, and recycling rates in recent years have ratcheted up to 97 percent from 80 percent. “We’re not at zero, but that’s the goal,” Cacciatore notes.
Two other thermal plants share manufacturing responsibility for soups and sauces. Seven in 10 juice containers, on the other hand, are filled at Napoleon, where six lines handle PET bottles, aluminum cans and 50 oz. containers. Typical fill rate is 920 cans per minutes, with a goal of 1,050. SKU counts are up 65 percent in the last five years, though proliferation is occurring with both soups and juices,
Overall, about 520 SKUs are made.
Aside from the water tower painted to look like a giant Campbell’s soup can, the facility’s most prominent feature is a seven-story tall retort and chiller. It’s a throw-back to high volumes in a market that wants 90- and 120-minute runs. “That’s a constraint,” acknowledges Cacciatore, but one Napoleon must work around.
Adaptation to market changes is one challenge in manufacturing. Another is low-cost producer status. Campbell’s 10K bluntly states the Sacramento thermal plant was closed because it was the high-cost producer. Being the Plant of the Future means being in operation in the future.