Process Optimization: Uncovering Ways to Use Less and Get More

Wade Martinson
Wade Martinson
Technical Director
Cargill Process Optimizers

Day-to-day management of a food or beverage manufacturing plant often doesn't leave you much time to review all manufacturing processes for inefficiencies. With rising ingredient and input costs, chances are the pressure is mounting to find new ways to take cost out.   Especially in these volatile times, what’s needed is an objective, holistic review of your processes. It’s possible that you are overlooking some of your biggest opportunities simply because you see them every day.

That's why a global baked goods manufacturer turned to the experts at Cargill Process Optimizers (CPO) to identify $4 million in potential cost savings. During Cargill’s assessment of six plants, we pinpointed process points where the company could cut energy costs, reduce waste and increase yield.

CPO is a business that leverages Cargill's internal engineering, numerical analysis and modeling capabilities to identify processes that siphon energy, produce waste or compromise yield in food and beverage manufacturing facilities. We know how to spot and address these silent drains on resources because we have successfully used the same analysis tools and expertise at our own plants for many years.

Because we're also in the food business, we understand how easy it is to overlook cost-management opportunities. We work closely with onsite plant personnel to develop pragmatic solutions to reduce the company's carbon footprint and mitigate market fluctuations—often with no capital expenditure.

At CPO, we look at the entire manufacturing process, not just one narrow area. This holistic approach allows us to evaluate interdependencies and how adjustments to one area will affect others.

In the case of the manufacturer referred to previously, we were able to save $2.4 million just by identifying a smaller footprint for a planned expansion.  Inside their plants, which produce baked goods for the foodservice industry and retail outlets, we zeroed in on several opportunities to reduce energy costs. First, we showed how hot gas emissions from the boiler or ovens could be reclaimed to heat water used in washing baking trays between batches.

Second, we identified optimal refrigeration setpoints for different processes and ambient temperatures so refrigerators run at their coldest settings only when needed.

Third, we recommended adjusting the operating pressure on the boiler—a big energy user in many plants. In fact, in plants that really don't need steam, we recommend replacing a boiler with a hot water heater. This move can boost water-heating efficiency from 80% to up to 98% by reducing losses driven by high steam boiler temperatures.

Yield-loss analysis can give you the true physical yield from raw ingredients and water, yet it can be difficult to accomplish. For example, if your plant uses water as both a food ingredient and for cleaning, how do you isolate how much you're using as an ingredient? CPO experts produce accurate calculations to give customers a better understanding of process performance from a yield perspective.

In the case of the baked goods manufacturer, we optimized yield by reviewing transition costs. While food manufacturers know which transitions are the most expensive, ways to reduce those costs can be hard to find. By reviewing transitions such as batches through the oven, we devised an optimal schedule to avoid inefficiencies such as unused oven space, temperature fluctuations that result in overcooking or undercooking, and accidental mixing of unrelated products.

Finally, process optimization increases product consistency to eliminate costly outliers. Because experience has taught us where equipment failures are most likely to lower yield, we can efficiently gather concentrated data in those high-risk areas rather than indiscriminately gathering data in places unlikely to have much of an impact.

Customers value CPO because we provide independent, third-party benchmarking of their practices. Whether we reinforce a best practice or suggest new ways to improve inefficient systems, our customers reap real monetary value from being able to fine-tune their processes and set realistic goals for the future. And, process optimization can also contribute to sustainability goals.

While many things are out of a food and beverage manufacturer's control, there are a number of things you can do to mitigate the high costs of ingredients and market fluctuations. It's just a matter of finding them.

Wade Martinson is Technical Director for Cargill Process Optimizers. He has been with Cargill Process Optimizers for the last 6 of his 13 years in the industry.