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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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, (, 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."

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