Frozen food caters to consumers’ demand for convenience. These products are easy to store and do not require much preparation, two features that have contributed to the industry’s tremendous growth. In recent years, notable gains in the overall U.S. frozen food market have continued unabated. At the same time, as consumers become more concerned about their health yet also crave new delicacies, consumer spending on frozen desserts is rising. The development of new products in response to this demand is a driving factor behind the frozen dessert market growing to $53 billion in the past few years.1 To ensure these products are manufactured efficiently, it is imperative to reduce unplanned downtime.
Costs of Unplanned Downtime
Millions of dollars are invested each year in capital improvements to facilities and equipment to increase product safety, protect employees and reduce costs. These changes are important because equipment in a typical food processing plant may run 16 to 20 hours a day, every day. Often, equipment failure is the most common cause for downtime. The longer it takes plant personnel to respond and repair equipment, the more damaging the interruption. What is more, systems that are not at full speed create a domino effect that can result in missed deadlines, lost revenues and disappointed customers.
Unplanned downtime can cost a food processing facility an astounding $30,000 per hour.2 Additionally, according to analyst firm Aberdeen Research, 82 percent of companies have experienced unplanned downtime over the past three years,3 and a Deloitte industry report cited recent studies that show unplanned downtime costs industrial manufacturers an estimated $50 billion annually.4 Downtime can cost a company more than just money, however. It can be a logistical nightmare.
In addition to ensuring plants run at full capacity, manufacturers are contending with a worker shortage that threatens to slow production.
Worker Shortage and Plant Downtime
U.S. manufacturing is in the thick of an expected shortage of two million workers over 2015 to 2025, according to a report from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute.5 A 2017 industry study sponsored by Advanced Technology Services found that the leading cause of unscheduled downtime within respondents’ facilities6 was:
- Aging equipment (42 percent)
- Operator error (19 percent).
- Lack of time needed to perform necessary maintenance (13 percent).
Of all the core disciplines affected by the shortage of trained personnel, machine maintenance may be the most troublesome for food producers. Thirty-five percent of U.S. manufacturers are currently seeking maintenance technicians, and an even higher percentage are shifting at least some maintenance responsibilities to operating personnel — a potentially dangerous tactic at a time when equipment is becoming increasingly automated and complex.7
Temperature Controls and Technology
Equipment failure in this industry also runs the danger of spoiled food. Although equipment is more reliable than ever, the tolerances are increasingly fine, production demands more onerous and the consequences of failure, more severe. According to the CDC, foodborne illnesses sicken one in six Americans each year and put 128,000 people in the hospital. Refrigeration-equipment malfunctions, long wait times in hot locations like loading docks, and a lack of cold-chain resources in developing agricultural markets all contribute to the problem. Analysts estimate that solving these cold-chain problems could save the food industry $150 billion a year in waste alone. Improvements in temperature control and better data collection along the cold chain can help reduce these numbers.
One strategy to help resolve this is for food processing plants to invest in technology for areas with worker shortages such as sensors that monitor whether a machine is working properly instead of having someone probe the equipment to check out a problem. A supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system integrated with sensors can detect precise environmental conditions such as strict temperature criteria. Taking this even further, the integration of remote alarm notification software into the SCADA system provides additional benefits.
This software allows fewer people to monitor more assets using devices that people already have such as smartphones and tablets. Uninterrupted remote availability is essential to ensure that systems can be monitored continuously even without staff on-site or with fewer people working at the facility. In combination with an alarm notification system, the SCADA provides vital information about potential or existing production disruptions in real time.
Remote Alarm Notification
Hardware and software are available that can monitor equipment continuously. Also, by applying machine learning to historical data, it can warn when a breakdown or other problem is imminent. Bolstered by wireless technology and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), these customizable systems have the potential to improve predictive maintenance.
Benefits of utilizing a remote-monitoring and notification software system via a mobile app include:
- Streamlined decision making. Push notifications let the user quickly see what is wrong, send an acknowledgment and monitor alarm condition changes in real time from a smartphone.
- Team problem solving. Chat capabilities helps teams converse, brainstorm and share solutions from wherever they are — whether in the plant, at home or on the road.
- Efficient collaboration. Team visibility functions show who has seen an alarm as well as who has acknowledged it, reducing guesswork and redundant responses.
- Multiple communication channel support. Voice and SMS messaging in addition to app notifications add redundancies in the event of internet connectivity issues.
Case in Point: Remote Alarm Notification in Action
At the Nestlé Dryer Grand ice cream factory in Tulare, Calif., the facility uses a GE iFix HMI/SCADA that interfaces with a PLC-based system to monitor the primary refrigeration system, watching for and triggering temperature alarms across all stages of production. Because some alarms are capable of shutting down the equipment, however, immediate response is crucial. In a worst-case scenario, an unacknowledged alarm could cause the engine room to shut down, forcing the production line to halt, resulting in the loss of raw ingredients such as cream and egg yolks, variegates and particulate.
Promptly informing refrigeration technicians of these alarms was a big challenge because alarms had to be acknowledged at the HMI console. If a technician was busy in another part of the plant, or off-site, they would need to return to the console to acknowledge and address the alarm, which took up to an hour. More challenging was that all alarms received the same generic notification, so determining the severity, cause and location took more time and increased the risk of a production shutdown.
To help remedy this situation, Nestlé’s software integrator, Astec Solutions, recommended the installation of remote alarm notification software as an upgrade for their alarm response and distribution system.
“This software is compatible with a wide range of HMI-SCADA platforms, including Nestlé’s existing HMI,” said an Astec spokesperson. “The software we selected is easy to install, imports existing alarm tags, configures alarm escalation protocols and begins implementation. Additionally, the company offers guidance throughout the installation process, making the transition simple and nondisruptive.”
That opinion was echoed by Al Olivares, Nestle’s onsite IT lead. “We’re importing our existing tags; that’s what is great about this particular software. You can just import your alarm tags and don’t have to recreate your alarms — it’s easy to make the transition.”
One feature the team at Nestle liked was the ability to design a notification workflow. The software’s alarms are tailored for an efficient notification process that sends immediate notice to the right refrigeration technicians on duty. Nestle’s refrigeration technicians are able to acknowledge and respond to an alarm as soon as it is triggered, even when they are off-site. By using the same alarm structure and taking advantage of the mobile alert capabilities, Nestlé streamlined its operations, minimized downtime and reduced technician response time.PC
- Grandview Research Frozen Dessert Market Size, February 2021.
- https://www.wipfli.com/insights/blogs/manufacturing-tomorrow-blog/170628---the-real-cost-of-unplanned-downtime (accessed January 16, 2020).
- https://www.aberdeen.com/techpro-essentials/stat-of-the-week-the-rising-cost-of-downtime/ (accessed September 2, 2020).
- https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/insights/focus/industry-4-0/using-predictive-technologies-for-asset-maintenance.html (accessed September 2, 2020).
- Rose Shilling, “Worker shortage has processors scrambling to hire and keep good employees,” Food Engineering, May 22, 2019.
- https://www.advancedtech.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Solving-the-Skilled-Labor-Shortage-in-Food-and-Beverage-Manufacturing.pdf (accessed September 2, 2020).
Greg Jackson is CEO of Austin, Texas-based WIN-911, a provider of remote alarm technology for food processing and other industries. For more information, call 512-326-1011 or visit win911.com.