Process and Operations

MRO Q&A: Natural Product Performance Root Cause Analysis

MRO Q&A is a Food Processing series addressing maintenance, repair and operational issues in food plants.

Q. We have a process that utilizes steam, speed and humidity to produce our products. Our raw material is a variable natural product. When poor product is produced, we use trial and error to determine the root cause, which is time-consuming and expensive. Do you have any suggestions?

A. This is a great application for real-time data collection. Data storage costs have decreased recently, and it is now affordable to collect large volumes of data. The solution I suggest is attaching individual field devices to each of the process inputs you wish to monitor and connecting them to an industrial data network.

An industrial network should be separate from any business network (for example, your Enterprise Resource Planning software) you have operating for reasons of reliability. You will need a software package that is capable of manipulating the data you collect and transforming it into a meaningful format such as graphs, spreadsheets or charts of your choice. It is important that the software package you purchase is capable of displaying multiple process inputs on the same format over variable lengths of time, so you will be able to track your humidity, temperature, and speed on the same screen simultaneously over an hour, a week or a month, and see which parameter(s) has changed in your process when poor product is produced. There are several reputable packages available. The only limitations you have in data collection are what can be measured and the cost.

There are many advantages to a real-time data collection system. It allows you to determine how "capable" your process is and therefore helps you set upper and lower control points for installing alarms. It allows your equipment to "talk to you" and lets you monitor what's going on internally. In addition, it allows you to become more competitive by showing you how much you can tighten your process controls' upper and lower control limits. It also provides an opportunity to minimize and optimize the amount of energy you are using within your process
This will take time to implement, but you will be amazed at the power of data-based decisions, which this will enable you to make.