Is Your Food Processing Facility Outdated?

The food manufacturing industry is facing some major changes. Consumer preferences are shifting away from Big Food and toward smaller, often premium, processors. New digital technologies, like the Internet of Things, are enabling processors to collect and analyze data across their entire operations. And new automation technologies are boosting productivity by reimagining production lines.

These are all very exciting developments. But many processors are struggling with meeting new demands and implementing new technologies because their facilities were built decades ago, and, while they may have had some upgrades here and there, they are still primarily set up to meet the challenges of yesterday, not today, and certainly not tomorrow.

Here are five signs your food processing facility is getting a little long in the tooth.

You’re still using batch processing rather than continuous processing

In the past, continuous processing was only an option for large food manufacturers. The available equipment had a large footprint and was designed for high-throughput applications, not for the types of specialty products that are all the rage today.

Fortunately, that’s no longer true. As evidenced by the equipment on display at industry trade shows this year, more OEMs across the production line are scaling their equipment down to allow smaller companies to reap the benefits of continuous processing. In addition to the productivity advantages, processors are also moving rapidly toward continuous processing for food safety reasons — to reduce human contact with the food and ensure that every product is cooked consistently every time.

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Your production lines aren’t flexible

One of the biggest trends happening across the industry right now is the increasing number of SKUs being produced in response to consumer demands for variety. In the past, a facility might run the same product for three shifts a day. Today, those same facilities may run 10 or 20 different products within a span of 24 hours.

Here are two ways equipment contributes to making lines more flexible:

  • Flexible equipment. One way to instantly boost flexibility is to buy equipment that’s flexible, meaning it’s not only applicable to a wide variety of products, but also easy to adjust the settings to achieve different results. For example, our bar markers and flame grills can be used before or after cooking, you can swap out the bar-marking head for different patterns, and the belt height and flame intensity are adjustable. This means you can easily switch between products and processes — from grilling burgers to searing chicken breasts, or flame roasting mushrooms.
  • Modular equipment. Another approach is to purchase modular equipment that can be used optionally depending on the product. Traditionally, this concept has applied mostly to upstream and downstream processes, like forming and packaging. But, today, even the core process can be modular. For example, our modular spiral oven can be used to boost the capacity of an existing line. Then, if it’s not necessary for a specific product, the oven can simply act as a conveyor.

You haven’t fully implemented sanitary design principles

With FSMA requiring a proactive approach to food safety, implementing sanitary design principles has become an imperative. There are multiple approaches to sanitary design, but they all focus on preventing cross-contamination through proper zoning and ensuring that both individual pieces of equipment and the facility as a whole are cleanable to a microbiological level.

The main reason companies choose not to spend money on sanitary design is that it doesn’t meet the ROI requirements for capital projects, which typically specify a three-year payback period.

But, as Randy Porter wrote in Food Safety Magazine when he was the director of food safety at ConAgra, the ROI calculations don’t take the big picture into account. In addition to reducing labor costs, sanitary design leads to less product placed on hold or destroyed, lower testing expenses, fewer consumer complaints, and more. “No organization has unlimited capital to spend,” he noted, “but sanitary design principles may be an area that provides a greater benefit from the capital than previously thought, not from an ROI perspective but from an on-going operational perspective that may return substantial savings to the bottom line for many years to come.”

Your plant isn’t energy-efficient

Sustainability is a huge priority across the industry right now. These efforts are driven by companies looking to up their corporate social responsibility quotient while also saving money on energy costs, and also by consumers, who prioritize sustainability when they make purchase decisions. In other words, if your plant isn’t energy-efficient, you’re likely losing a lot more than the tax breaks you could be getting for being green.

Explore five ROI-focused sustainability tips from Stellar.

You’re not set up to leverage new digital technologies

This is probably the area where the least progress has been made. Between the Internet of Things, digital twins, and the possibilities of blockchain, digital transformation is knocking on the door with promises of improved supply chains, more transparency, and even the solution to the skills gap (i.e., the younger generation wants to work in a digital environment).

Until recently, not many food processors had the IT infrastructure to leverage these technologies. But that’s changing quickly. In a Food Processing-ABB survey earlier this year, 53% of food professionals said their plants were engaged in Industrial Internet of Things-related activities. If you’re in the remaining 47%, you’re behind the curve.

Over the next few years, we expect to see many more processors of all sizes retrofitting their plants and revamping their operations. If you’re looking to move to continuous processing, assess your plant for food safety risks, or learn more about hygienic design, we can help! Contact us to start your journey into the future.

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