How To: Save Money Through Big Picture Process Improvement


Charles Sanderson, PhD
Technical Director
Cargill Process Optimizers

At Cargill Process Optimizers, we identify cost-savings opportunities at food-production facilities through onsite and offsite information-gathering, modeling and analysis. We bring a fresh perspective, seeing things that might otherwise go unnoticed when focusing on day-to-day operations. (For additional information on process improvement, visit's Production Line resource center)

In the case of a leading frozen foods company, you might say that we saw $255,000 right there in the parking lot.

This company had called us to one of its non-dairy toppings and icings facilities to help the plant use less energy, wastewater and cleaning chemicals. When our engineers arrived at the site, they wondered why 20 tanker trucks were idled in the parking lot. We were told the trucks stored wastewater awaiting proper disposal.

By changing the plant's production schedule, we were able to minimize the need to rinse equipment when production shifted to a different product. By reducing clean-in-place cycles by running each product back to back, the company saves $255,000 of dollars each year without compromising product quality or food safety. Not only are there no more tanker trucks in the parking lot, the company was able to achieve a positive return on investment in less than a year.

It might seem like an obvious solution, but these "hidden processes" often have become part of the landscape. CPO can spot these silent drains on resources. Our collaborative approach, which involves interacting closely with onsite personnel, allows us to develop pragmatic solutions that address the root causes of inefficiencies within their economic framework.

CPO is a business that leverages Cargill internal engineering, numerical analysis and modeling capabilities to find efficiency improvements in food and beverage manufacturing facilities. While CPO has been a formal business for only about 5 years, we are an outgrowth of an internal-facing business unit that has applied the same tools and expertise at a wide range of Cargill's plants for many years.

While other consulting firms also specialize in cost savings, most focus narrowly on one area (for example; reducing energy consumption) or part of the plant (like a boiler house). Problem is, they end up ignoring other potential areas of cost savings as well as the negative impact of their recommendations on the entire process. Cargill stands alone in its holistic approach, optimizing synergies to finely tune a production facility's performance.

This approach has helped CPO's customers use 5% to 15% less energy, 2% to 25% less water and 2% to 5% fewer raw materials. Our customers improve yield by building capacity by 2% to 10%. Most customers are able to recoup the total cost of our sustainable process-improvement projects in less than 2 years.

A case in point is Kraft Foods' freeze-dried coffee plant in Banbury, United Kingdom. CPO was invited by the corporate energy group. In 12 weeks, our team of a high-end chemical engineer and a business expert built a detailed computer representation of each processing step and used integrative analysis to reduce use of energy and water and build capacity. We had gone into the project expecting to identify an annual cost savings of 5% to 15%, but we exceeded that goal and built additional capacity.

CPO offers unmatched levels of experience in agri-food process simulation and optimization in such diverse manufacturing arenas as corn milling, biodiesel and animal feed. We've got you covered, from the initial step of process-benchmarking review through steady state and dynamic process simulation and, finally, advanced engineering applications.

CPO's methods are now saving from $250,000 to $2.5 million annually at more than 150 plants worldwide, including nine of the top 20 food and beverage companies. That's money they can use to grow and diversify with the assurance that they're being good stewards of resources and the environment. What are you company's blind spots?

Charles Sanderson, PhD, is the technical director of Cargill Process Optimizers. He has been with Cargill for 13 years.