Food Automation Operations Face Increasing Rigor


Click for Tom Cutler Biography In the highly competitive food manufacturing sector there are unique challenges:

  • Increased regulatory enforcement, including Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points and the Bioterrorism Act
  • Safety and traceability
  • Flexible pricing and promotions
  • More quality control integration
  • Real time inventory planning and forecasting
  • Decreased processing costs

    New food industry dynamics require that sustainability must be a priority; in an era of cost-cutting food automation, food operations professionals, from plant managers to quality managers, must implement innovative technologies and form alliances with outside experts. One of the central distinctions of food automation is developing the right mix of innovative niche food products and line expansions which produce the best bottom line impact.

    With the possible exception of pharmaceutical manufacturing, no industry sector is similarly exposed to the quality manufacturing requirements as the food industry. Building core competencies, effective tracking and tracing programs are not optional; regulatory compliance requires it. From raw material control processors to state-of-the-art software solutions, leading and lean methodologies drive a distinct competitive advantage for even the smallest food operations.

    According to Evan Garber, President of Escape Velocity Systems, which specializes in technology solutions for the food industry, “High competition, highly variable material costs, regulatory requirements and quality management are some key challenges to food industry profitability. To succeed, food manufacturers must have a firm and immediate grasp of production and product margins…they must also be able to make timely sales and operational decisions based upon accurate data. Only with a coherent, cohesive data repository with efficient work flows can food manufacturers manage these complex issues.”

    As food manufacturers respond to the demands for greater food-safety standards, sanitation requirements are also an increasingly integral element of the automation system; sanitation efficiencies must serve as a dynamic part of the lean construct continued process improvement.

    Operational Efficiency starts on the plant floor
    Operational efficiency should be implemented in all types of manufacturing organizations; in the food plant (which often has a lower wage base that other automation workers) machine automation operators who are empowered to improve the process, receive increased training and knowledge, are more than twice as likely to meet or exceed production goals. This strategy only reduces the increasing challenge of finding and keeping quality food production employees; a lower wage structure axiomatically encourages turnover.

    Equipment reliability, flexibility, and efficiency must be well-considered in food automation, because the batch process (difference recipes for each food product manufactured) often impacts start-up curves and downtime. Fewer equipment service calls and faster machine changeovers create a direct benefit as long as the technology solutions are implemented to measure and drive ongoing levels of productivity.

    Garber also suggests there are key performance indicators that can be utilized by all process food manufacturers: “Successful food manufacturers, particularly those that function in the formula-based environment, must create metrics which can be managed and measured….overcoming the common challenges that result in poor asset utilization, capacity loss, and diminished quality.”

    Jerry List, vice-president of QC Software, which provides warehouse control systems for several sectors including food distribution, suggested that, “Food automation distribution warehouses are facing increased pressure as retailers insist on customized orders, including partial pallets…even single unit food product delivery.”

    Ultimately automation is the only solution to the growing inability to find and keep labor in the food processing industry. Labor issues, the increasing need for traceability, food safety, and competition from low-cost global manufacturing, fuel the growing trend toward increased automation in the sector. Automation will allow food manufacturers and distributors to achieve a consistent pattern of positive growth and return on equity through manufacturing leadership.

    Author Profile:
    Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based TR Cutler, Inc., the largest manufacturing marketing firm worldwide –  Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium of three thousand journalists and editors writing about trends in manufacturing.   Cutler is also the author of the Manufacturers’ Public Relations and Media Guide. Cutler is a frequently published author within the manufacturing sector with more than 300 feature articles authored annually; he can be contacted at [email protected].