Process and Operations

MRO Q&A: Troubleshooting Odors At The Production Facility

A reader needs help troubleshooting odors in his production facility.

Q. I have fielded complaints about odors within our production facility and have not been able to identify and isolate them.  Any hints on how to troubleshoot this?

A. Odors can be a very elusive and infuriating problem. Unless the problem began when plant operations were new, you are likely looking for a change in operating conditions.

First, determine whether the odor is coming from inside or outside. Have your “mine canary” (the person in the facility with the most sensitive olfactory nerves) accompany you on a walk around the outside and on the roof of your facility (including shipping docks, waste water outfalls, etc.) on a very calm day and see if you can identify the same odor.

If not, obtain a printed layout of the facility and draw a grid over the entire area. Ask your “canary” determine, by quadrant, where the odor is present and where it is not. Inspect those areas for odor causing sources (chemicals, waste materials, sewer drains, etc). Keep in mind, you are in a food plant where bacteria grow and create an odor. Do not underestimate the possibility of it being in hard-to-see crevices. These can be elusive, so let your experts in sanitation help you.

If the problem persists, you can run a “smoke test.” With all the HVAC units and equipment running, but without product, setting off colored smoke flares will show you the direction internal air is flowing and perhaps transferring odor from one part of the plant to another. Perform the same inspection as before, along the air travel path.

This process is iterative so don't get frustrated. Keep in mind that 98 percent of solutions deal with getting “back to basics.” Avoid spending time looking for exotic solutions.
Happy hunting, and good luck!