How to launch a new manufacturing line

Feb. 15, 2008
Consulting engineers can be great allies in expanding or changing your process, but only you can impress on them the unique needs of your company and your plant.

Competition in the food and beverage market grows more intense every day. The manufacturers that feed the world are being pushed to provide new products in a low-cost, fast and efficient method. As a result, the profits of successful food processors are heavily influenced by the performance of their manufacturing lines.

One common cause of low performance is poor equipment integration and commissioning. Poor project integration is commonly the result of picking the wrong project execution methodology.

Consulting engineers are working with food and beverage clients to meet the demand, designing and providing construction services for new production lines to meet stringent requirements for performance, high utilization and high efficiency.

While they may know the principles of engineering, they don't know your process or the unique needs of your company and your plant. The following is about what you need to understand and the choices you need to make to help those consulting engineers work their best for you.

When implementing new manufacturing line projects, the two ends of the execution spectrum are turnkey and design-bid-build (DBB). Each of these methods has advantages and disadvantages. Consulting engineers can advise and implement projects that have a variety of execution strategies. But the selection of the strategy ultimately is up to you. Here’s some help in finding the strategy that best fits your needs.

Is turnkey right for you?

Turnkey projects are those in which one vendor provides equipment, installation and commissioning services under one contract. This method replaces the need for in-house technical staff to manage capacity increases, plant upgrades and product changes.

Advantages include:

  • Fastest method for completing a standard project by providing opportunities to optimize parallel activities.
  • Provides owner with one point of responsibility.
  • Someone else can make equipment decisions for the inexperienced owner.
  • Useful if one manufacturer can supply equipment for the line.
  • Reduces administrative costs by combining the procurement process for equipment, line design, construction and commissioning.

However, there can also be disadvantages to turnkey projects:

  • Little owner flexibility to select equipment providers.
  • Provider may not have experienced designers and engineers who understand the unique problems of the owner's manufacturing environment.
  • No opportunity to provide supplier competition for mid-stream changes.
  • Changes are more expensive due to fast-tracking.

Original equipment manufacturers (OEM) can be poor executors of packaging processes, because their thinking is more machine-based than system- or process-based. OEMs that understand integration have skills that generally are centered on their own equipment.

For a turnkey integration project to be successful, team concepts such as commitment, communication and trust must be established early in the process so decisions can be made. The owner must be prepared to relinquish control of quality and details which will be handled by the turnkey supplier.

Whoever the turnkey supplier is, the project leader should be a "devil's advocate" to assure the manufacturing system truly meets all of the production and operational requirements. True turnkey integration specialists are a rare breed, but if they are part of the owner's team, the results are consistent and profitable.

The skinny on design-bid-build

The other school of project methodology is design-bid-build (DBB), which generally requires the owner to provide the major equipment and to work in conjunction with a design firm that provides detailed designs.

The owner bids installation with the design firm's assistance, and then hires the installation and commissioning services from vendors directly, while the design firm provides oversight. Such project scopes as building expansions, innovative package design, the latest process and packaging equipment, major piping efforts and plantwide tie-in require special engineering understanding that is not usually the specialty of turnkey providers.

Advantages for DBB include:

  • Offers the greatest flexibility for an owner to control cost, design and schedule issues.
  • Works very well for projects where manufacturing flexibility, process changes and innovative products are scoped and installed.
  • Changes and uncertainty in a project do not have large cost impacts since the project evolves over time.

While the specialized knowledge of design firms coupled with owner flexibility may be a great fit, it is important to note some potential challenges to the DBB process as well:

  • Responsibility limits may not be clear.
  • Costs and schedule may not be optimized.
  • There is an increased probability of responsibility disputes and owner involvement cost.

Somewhere between turnkey and DBB is a spectrum of integration solutions that combine the best of both worlds.

Multiple turnkey suppliers can be assembled to provide different aspects of a project. For instance, one supplier could provide all packaging systems, while another provides the building expansion and a third supplier takes care of electrical distributionn and infrastructure upgrades

Engineering firms specialize in recommending optimum solutions to manufacturing challenges - whether the investment includes purchasing a new production line, consolidating operations or upgrading existing production facilities. Consulting engineers can provide a strategic integration plan for blending the right execution methodologies whether it is turnkey, DBB or somewhere in-between.

Whatever project methodology a manufacturer chooses, there are four basic phases to consider in every manufacturing project. The four phases are design, procurement, construction and commissioning.

Phase 1: Line design

Manufacturing line design is the integration of various machines to ensure smooth product flow and transition from machine to machine with optimum line speed.

Modern manufacturing lines handle various kinds of packaging and process needs for a variety of products. As package designs and sizes keep changing, the flexibility of lines has become very important and a challenging factor in the process of line integration.

Consulting engineers can lead line design by developing machine specifications that meet various owner requirements. For instance, if an owner wants to establish a program of product container light weighting, the engineer can develop the critical quality parameters to maintain package integrity for the consumer.

Factors to consider in line design include:

  • Machinery interconnection methods and specification, including various types of conveyor systems.
  • Material handling of packaging materials to minimize line manning.
  • Packaging flexibility -- which means it can take a wider range of product sizes or material than is needed at the present time.
  • Balance machinery integration with function type, such as connecting intermittent processes (batch skids) and continuous motion machinery (fillers).
  • Buffer and storage requirements between machinery.
  • Communication architecture and machine interlocks required for all the machines to act in concert and create a continuous manufacturing line.
  • Evaluate building infrastructure and utilities to assure machine requirements are met.

In recent years, increasing demands, economics and environmental concerns have placed enormous pressure on production facilities to increase operating speeds, reduce waste, reduce rework and cut manpower requirements. Engineers can quantify line performance, optimize line layout and identify the optimal amount of accumulation that should be provided for maximum efficiency and machine throughput.

Phase 2: Equipment procurement

Equipment procurement is critical to the overall schedule of a project and often drives the final efficiency results of the new line. Today, equipment procurement often emphasizes fast track deliveries and low pricing to the exclusion of specification requirements and pre-testing.

Senior executives under pressure to cut costs are increasingly prone to view complex machinery and manufacturing lines as "commodity purchases" available from the lowest bidder. Consultants can help manufacturers work with suppliers to drive machine costs down while also delivering superior production requirements. Suppliers delivering the required equipment on-time and on-budget is very critical to a project's success.

Engineers work with suppliers on every facet of the procurement process, from equipment specification to equipment testing. For instance, packaging and mechanical engineers develop filler specifications that define machine speed, container quality parameters, preferred machine components, safety and energy requirements and raw material buffers.

The most important specification element is the machine's efficiency requirements.

This defines the machine's performance, reliability, speed and efficiency calculation method. The efficiency specification will define the acceptable time for machine failure repairs and the allowable machine failure frequency.

Once an owner has selected a supplier and issued the equipment specification, the supplier's engineers and the consulting engineers will conduct design reviews at various stages of equipment development process. Equipment submittals from the machine suppliers are reviewed for their conformance to machine specifications.

Finally, the food process and its engineers will arrange factory acceptance tests (FATs) with each major equipment vendor prior to equipment shipping. This test is defined in a FAT specification document defining test expectations and the required protocols.

The purpose of the tests is to simulate actual production conditions as closely as possible and test the machine's mechanical, electrical and control systems. These tests will test the machine under static conditions, dynamic operation and induced failure.

Any repairs or modifications that are needed for efficient operation are executed much better at the supplier's site rather than the owner's site. Without such testing, there are no reliable assurances from the equipment supplier that the machine will be ready for installation and commissioning

Phase 3: Line construction

Manufacturing line construction also is a critical phase in a successful line startup. Great design and great equipment cannot overcome poor installation.

Often expertise and training in construction techniques are underappreciated. During this phase, price too often drives the decisions. The three key processes that determine construction success are contractor selection, construction manager selection and field engineering support.

Contractor selection is the process by which installation contractors are chosen by the owner. These installation "specialists" include trades such as millwrights, riggers, electricians and pipe fitters. For instance, rigging, leveling and assembling equipment should not be performed by any common industrial contractor. High-tech, high-speed packaging equipment requires careful balancing, torque settings and alignment that come only from experience.

In today's regulatory environment, pipe fitters must understand the sanitary requirements placed on owners and install systems that can be sanitized in a fast, efficient and safe manner. An owner cannot afford the cost or time to train contractors on industry standards. Experienced engineering firms can provide guidance in contractor selection.

Construction manager selection is another overlooked art. The challenge is to find experienced road warriors who manage modern construction projects under strict performance requirements, tight costs and accelerated schedules.

The tasks that these experts must perform include:

  • Contractor management to control conformance to design and minimize change orders.
  • Safety and quality management to meet owner requirements.
  • Schedule optimization controlling project resources.
  • Utility downtime coordination with production systems.
  • Equipment supplier management controlling technician labor costs.

Lastly, field engineering often is not considered in engineering firm selection. Over the lifespan of a project, people, products and process requirements will change, and that results in the need for field engineering. These changes often occur once equipment starts to be installed in the field, requiring quick, responsive, accurate design changes.

If an inexperienced engineering design firm does not understand these needs, they will often limit support during installation and have a difficulty supplying the necessary engineering resources. Field engineers also perform submittal reviews, installation acceptance reviews and commissioning preparation.

Phase 4: Line commissioning

Commissioning considers every factor that determines how and when line equipment will begin functioning. To manage the process, the owner should craft and follow a comprehensive commissioning plan. A well developed, organized plan will enable a new manufacturing operation to come on-line sooner, reduce downtime and provide quicker returns.

Some of the key plan components include:

  • Identifying commissioning team roles and responsibilities.
  • Creating a schedule and start-up budget that includes training, testing, and start-up dates.
  • Arranging for start-up assistance with major equipment suppliers.
  • Obtaining initial supplies and spare parts and confirming availability during start-up.

The final stage in commissioning is the performance acceptance test. These critical tests are often developed with each equipment supplier during the equipment procurement phase and are the contractual basis for equipment acceptance by the owner.

The tests need to be scheduled and executed with each major equipment supplier.

The commissioning plan documents the test protocol and the required results, whether they are operational or maintenance, and the approved follow up proocess to correct deficiencies

A successful manufacturing line launch requires the development of a methodical design, implementation and commissioning plan. This is often developed as a team effort among the owner, equipment suppliers and an engineering group.

The selected project execution method deployed, whether it is turnkey, DBB or a hybrid, determines the source of the engineers and specialists that will execute the plan.

Lloyd Snyder, P.E., is vice president-food & beverage at Woodard & Curran (, an integrated engineering, science and operations company. The firm has been serving food and beverage clients for more than 25 years. Contact Lloyd Snyder at 800-426-4262.

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