Managing the barbecue batch

When it comes to making lip-smacking barbecue sauce, a dedicated sauce manufacturer knows its stuff. A U.S.-based company has been bottling a signature barbecue sauce while growing a product portfolio to include mustards, marinades, salsas, spreads, dressings and glazes.

In fact, today, over 250 variations of sauces are produced and packaged each year for global restaurants and food companies. But with growth and success comes operational challenges. To meet new demand, the company had to invest in advanced technologies to overcome production bottlenecks. From tank capacity to quality control to measuring, many of the steps along the production path were manual processes that impacted the speed of each 650-gallon batch.

For example, the first stage in the production line is the tank farm that fields the deliveries of ingredients. Deliveries were not defined to a set schedule, rather dictated by production and tank capacity. In addition, manual processes and record keeping were causing discrepancies in receipt, inventory and consumption volumes that required cycle counts in bulk-ingredient tank farms. Daily liquid ingredient counts revealed inaccuracies that resulted in inventory adjustments.

A delivery could not be completed with a full tank, so delivery drivers would need to wait until production used more ingredients. The delays meant incurring avoidable charges.

Meanwhile, inside the plant, measurements contributed to delays. While manually opened and closed valves introduced liquid ingredients to cooking kettles, the flow-metering system relied on additional validation to ensure accuracy of liquid in a batch. Even a fractional error could mean a large variance in a batch. Adjustments, such as adding salt or vinegar, were needed to bring a batch within specification. And, such adjustments consumed time and capacity that could have been used to start a new batch.

To fix these specific issues the company had two options: Build out the physical infrastructure to support growth or improve operational efficiencies through automation and applications. They chose the latter.

Mixing in MES

On its technology journey, the sauce manufacturer turned toRockwell Automation, adopting its manufacturing execution system (MES) software called CPGSuite. The system was implemented across sauce production lines, with select manual tasks automated and built onto the control system.

The CPGSuite software synchronizes the production process from raw material receipt to the creation of the finished sauce. Through a process order, all production is controlled from start to finish where all work centers are given quantity specifications, ingredients and any special instructions for each sauce.

Flow meters and an HMI control panel installed in the tank farm streamline the daily intake of ingredients while sensors provide accurate measurement. Manual open and close valves were automated for precise measurement as bulk liquid ingredients pass from the tank farms to production. Another HMI control panel near the kettles identifies ingredients and requires operators to follow specific workflows that adhere to the recipe.

To further control quality, thin-client technology is used for scanning incoming raw materials. Variances are identified and communicated to the necessary areas downstream in real time.

With a single view of resources, from current schedule fulfillment to ingredient usage, operators can schedule production and purchase ingredients based on the real-time inventory levels. And, with an automated hard stop in all tanks, there are no more overflows.

The CPGSuite software collects all process data during the execution of a process order and stores it in a common model relative to the production order from the control system, as well as manually entered data. This contextual information provides the basis for production reporting and post-production, root-cause analysis.

In addition, information on raw-material usage, quantity and adjusted batches is sent directly to the sauce manufacturers’ ERP system so operations can eliminate transcription errors, and focus on other production challenges and value-added activities.

A dedicated project team was assembled to focus on the newly accessible data. Analytics on the time required to run each sauce allowed the company to further enhance their pricing, identify shift differentials and leverage best practices across all shifts.

The new system also provides the sauce manufacturer with validated data for use in regulatory compliance reports.

As a result of the company’s experience with the CPGSuite software on their sauce production lines, it is now looking at ways to gain efficiencies in other areas of the plant.

Traditionally, the sauce manufacturer’s bottlenecks were in processing, but that focus has shifted to packaging. With the success of the MES solution, they hope to integrate the packaging area in a future project.