Food producer increases throughput with modernization pilot

Many digital pilot projects find success in adding production line optimization or increasing overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) for machines, but as initiatives move forward, companies envision the promise of a data-connected enterprise. For the food and beverage industry, many enterprises are enacting digital roadmaps to include data standardization for material handling, processing and packaging business units.

A large sauces and dips food processor with multiple plants in the United States recently began a digital transformation by upgrading its plant operations with a data standardization effort, along with upgrades to its industrial networking. The company employs GE’s manufacturing execution system (MES), under the Predix platform, to link plant floor data from its packaging, processing and raw material business to the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform. 

The food processor turned to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based GrayMatter to implement the MES platform and have it communicate with the company’s ERP platform. “We’re trying to be more proactive with planning and data across the supply chain. Plus, we’re at the very beginning of this digital journey,” according to the food producer. 

The food company supplies restaurants and grocery stores with a variety of sauces and dressings in several packaging formats. To enable more accurate filling, the company started by evaluating product giveaway with the goal of increasing material utilization for its products on some key packaging lines. For every 100 lbs of a packaged product, approximately 4 lbs were given away due to overfilling or product giveaway before the pilot project.

“The company wanted to minimize product giveaway and began to use electronic data in more detail,” says Coleman Easterly, director of MES at GrayMatter. Besides the obvious other benefits, leveraging electronic data automatically is reducing the need for manual data logging.

With new monitoring in place, plant personnel can act on excessive overfills via automatic e-mail alerts. The MES platform enables comparisons by product code, equipment, order, reason and other parameters.

From there, the pilot project moved upstream to the food processing units for more responsive quality production management and raw material tracking.

With the MES and ERP platforms connected, material utilization is increasing due to the monitoring of bulk ingredients with the batch recipes. The food processor also is tracking the intended quantity and actual dispensed quantities of bulk ingredients during batch production runs.

“For the batch runs, we’re tracking the duration of steps automatically to compare to normal and use statistical process control (SPC) alerts to tell us when it’s departed from normal,” adds Easterly.

Besides processing and packaging, the company is adding lab samples to the process for a complete product genealogy with the batch process. The progression includes bar coding and processing every batch sample in lab facilities. Then the MES system automatically acquires the data from the label and updates the system for quality assurance status.