Get More From Your Existing Assets

Identifying why your equipment is running below its potential is the first step in boosting output. Visibility tools, remote diagnostics, and the care and feeding of your essential human assets can push throughput in the right direction.

Asset reliability is required to achieve good manufacturing health, according to Richard Larsen, FSO Institute coach, and recently retired chief facilities officer for Honeyville, Inc. In fact, Larsen says it affects nearly every aspect of effective production. “Every aspect of manufacturing from preparation to getting the product out the door and to the customer is affected by plant assets.  How the assets function not only affects production results, but also those who work on and with those assets,” he explains.

Food and beverage processors often talk about total cost of ownership (TCO) when thinking about their assets. Larsen says the difference between TCO and asset reliability is that TCO focuses on the capital expenditure and the due diligence needed to assure that you are getting what is expected in the way of manufacturing assets.


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“Asset reliability is taking the TCO baseline and adding real-world performance characteristics to the purchase decision,” states Larsen. He says it is important to ask questions such as:

• How will this asset function under expected conditions?

• Will performance be able to meet expected performance?

• How will operations be able to maintain the asset before, during, and after operation?

• What is needed for expedient return to service?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so many things in food and beverage processing facilities.  Keeping lines up and running, flexible manufacturing, and quick changeovers are nothing new, but with the current travel restrictions and vendor plant visitors rare these days, food and beverage manufacturers are pressed even harder to get the most out of their existing assets. 

According to Brent Robertson, customer leader for manufacturing execution system (MES) products at Aptean, visibility is key to successful asset utilization. “Over the last six months, there has been a shift in wanting to get visibility into labor usage. Five years ago, it was really OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) centric,” he states.

Most processors can find machine availability if they have the right tools, Robertson explains.  “If I don’t have technology that’s showing me how am I actually doing against what I should be doing in terms of throughput, I don’t really know what my true capacity is,” he says. Robertson believes processors should use historical trending to ascertain if what they are implementing is actually making a difference. MES, track and trace, and OEE tools are available to help, but since the pandemic, the use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices have increased on the plant floor. Today, wireless sensors keep data moving from the shop floor into a solution that give processors the visibility into how assets can be better used. Whether it’s a checkweigher or a metal detector, modern tools can deliver data in a format that delivers true visibility.


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Food processors must know the metrics of their equipment availability, performance, and quality. And in the COVID-19 era, there are extra costs related to production. “With COVID, the labor piece is extremely critical,” Robertson says. “Processors either have trouble keeping people or finding the right people, so they’re trying to maximize the workers that they have,” he adds.

Aptean’s MES solutions provide labor tracking. “We know how many people should be on the line working,” says Robertson. Employees can swipe into a machine, so management can see in   real time what employees are doing, manage that labor, and factor in the cost of labor, he adds. Audit reports and business intelligence (BI) tools gather the data. The analytics layer or BI gives you that ability to drag and drop anything from the database into the way you want to see it, Robertson continues. “We’re actually showing you down to the second how everything actually performed,” he explains. “Then you start seeing actionable intelligence. For example, let’s say line one starts up in the morning, and we have a rough start for the first hour. The line gets up and running for two minutes, and then it stops for a minute, then it’s up and running for 30 seconds, and it stops for a minute.” For successful asset utilization, these micro stops must be recorded. “With that information, now I can take what was a poor first hour of production and make that smooth,” Robertson states. OEE tells you a critical part of the story, but there are other pieces of the story that are very important, according to Robertson. “OEE doesn’t really factor in labor,” he says. If the overnight sanitation crew runs over into the morning shift, no product is being made during that part of the morning, but it affects equipment performance that does not show up on OEE. “Once I start the job, OEE is telling me what I’m producing, but it doesn’t tell me the whole picture. A full MES system will track that,” says Roberson.

According to Niranjan Kulkarni, CRB’s director of operations improvement, improving asset utilization has a direct impact on equipment availability, which in turn increases the capability of the equipment to produce more. He says that improving asset utilization can also have other benefits in reducing or deferring need for adding more equipment, headcount, space/expansions, and capital investments.

“Employing the right maintenance program can prolong the equipment life and improve equipment reliability,” but a one-size-fits-all maintenance approach is not useful, he says. “Selecting the right maintenance program can have a positive impact not only on equipment reliability, but also improve the overall profitability of a facility,” Kulkarni explains. “Without proper maintenance, unplanned equipment downtime or stoppages are likely to increase, impacting throughput and resulting in missed shipments.”

3-D simulations help food and beverage manufacturers visualize how to efficiently use their assets and floorplan.3-D simulations help food and beverage manufacturers visualize how to efficiently use their assets and floorplan.He says several manufacturers are implementing corrective or frequency-based maintenance policies. However, he recommends processors consider moving toward a risk or condition-based maintenance strategy, or a true predictive maintenance strategy, when the current pandemic abates.  “Implement data mining and machine learning techniques to predict with a higher accuracy when the next ‘perfect storm’ will occur,” Kulkarni suggests.

Calculated success

PMMI’s OPX Leadership Network developed an Asset Reliability Calculator. In it, measurement tools were created to determine the value and justification of asset reliability from a dollar and performance view, showing size of the prize results, says Larsen.

In one example, he says, the asset reliability matrix used set reductions of 200 hours unplanned and 50 hours planned downtime. In this study, the economic gain was close to $4 million in annual operating costs. (See image on Page 55)

“By using the calculator, the economic value led to identification, planning, and implementation to achieve reductions in unplanned downtime and planned downtime,” Larsen states. “Seeing this kind of dollar comprehension brings home the real need to pay attention

to giving the proper attention to plant assets.” The additional margin was attained with advancements in increased productivity and reduction in maintenance costs. Learn more about asset reliability and available OpX tools in this issue on Pages 90-92.


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A pound of cure

Chris Jarc, vice president and manager of project management at Hixson Architects, Engineers and Interiors, says in the past, processors would throw away decades-old equipment. Today that doesn’t happen, he states. Preventive and predictive maintenance not only extends the life of the assets, but extend the efficiency of the asset, he says.

Jason Tucker, senior process engineer with CRB concurs. “One of the best things to do is to be more proactive on maintenance.” He sees some plants go for the quick fix when they can actually maintain, check, and replace seals and seats, for example.

“I think there’s a lot of pressure on a bottom line for companies,” says Jarc. “Nobody wants to build a new plant anymore. They want to either renovate what they’ve got because it’s cheaper per square foot.”

All of this makes equipment specification and layout more crucial. Workers must be able to safely access equipment to maintain it. Tucker says a smaller piece of equipment might do the job that used to take a couple pieces of equipment—a huge help with plant footprints. 

Procuring and maintaining new or additional real estate can be a significant portion of any company’s capital and operating expenses. “Monte Carlo simulations, such as discrete event simulations (DES), can be used to assess and identify the right combination of variables to maximize the usage of footprint. DES has the capability to model uncertainty and variabilities inherent in process times and perform ‘what-if’ analysis,” Kulkarni says. 

Help from IoT

Since the start of the pandemic, some food and beverage processors have taken advantage of IoT technology. Jarc says if you have a plant full of equipment from overseas, you are more likely to use remote diagnostics. Hixson only recently allowed its staff to travel, but one solution they use is FaceTime, where processors walk to the equipment needing attention and show partners the problem.  Jarc says processors have set up cameras to allow Hixson engineers to take a look. Learn more about secure camera solutions from Cisco in the sidebar on Page 52.

Robertson says the future holds the use of biometrics for doing quality checks. “I think those will grow in terms of the need to touch screens less. Because anything I do in an application, it doesn’t matter if it’s ERP or MES or OEE, I have to touch a screen to input data.” He also believes COVID-19 is likely going to expedite use of technology such as retina scanning, facial recognition, augmented reality, and digital twins.


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The Remote Equipment Access: Options Analysis tool created by PMMI’s OpX Leadership Network provides an understanding of the pros and cons of common industry methodologies for remotely accessing equipment installed in manufacturing facilities. This OpX work product is not intended as a how-to guide; it is designed as a discussion tool to consider the approaches available to enable remote access to equipment.

Of human interest

Kulkarni says food manufacturers must pay attention to all the little things that make their plants a great and safe place to work. Time spent on employee training is also essential, giving staff the opportunity to grow into supervisory roles. Lack of training or training or unclear procedures can cause operator error, he explains.

The OpX Asset Reliability Calculator helps determine the value and justification of asset reliability from a dollar and performance view.The OpX Asset Reliability Calculator helps determine the value and justification of asset reliability from a dollar and performance view.Plant staff is a huge investment, according to Jarc. “If you think about somebody who’s working in a facility for 30-40 years, you’re going to put more money into that person than you are to an air compressor.”

“Find [people] who are really passionate about working. And understand that you have to make it a great place for them to work,” advises Jarc. “You must retain them, make sure they love their jobs, and that their jobs drive them to want to come to work every day,” he adds. Then, Jarc says, the number of widgets going out the door will take care of itself.

If you focus on doing the things that make your operation efficient, such as proper training, correct supplies and ingredients, and performing the right preventive maintenance, your assets will be maximized, Jarc concludes.

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