If you search the internet ‘how to reduce energy consumption or improve production throughput’ you’ll get myriad answers, some of which are actually incredibly helpful. Others are generic, non-industry specific responses that are likely to leave you none the wiser.
What we do know is that as a manufacturer, throughput in production can mean the difference between meeting quotas and losing customers to your competition – and whatever challenges the world is currently experiencing are reflected in the food industry. The biggest challenge is maintaining consumer trust in the food you are providing, but it’s not just about the quality of the product. Now consumers are starting to ask questions about how food is produced and what the carbon footprint is through the whole supply chain. So, here’s the real challenge: what is the food industry doing to tackle these issues?
Energy Use Reduction
According to the Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC) energy-intensive industries, in which the food sector sits, account for around one sixth of UK CO₂ emissions. Food is vital to everyday life and the industry utilises advanced technology and skilled workers in its processes. Many products are traded internationally which only makes the challenge of reducing energy costs more incumbent on food businesses as a means of tackling future problems today.
There are, of course, many schemes and technologies that allow for the reduction of energy costs. For example, our enterprise integration platform Condor monitors fundamental process data for machine performance, offering both historical plant performance as well as real time snapshots of current output such as real time energy usage data. This data allows for machinery performance to be profiled and compared when changes are made to make sure that payback is achieved. It’s no longer a case of it is either on or off.
Further, smart motor control allows targeted equipment power management providing key diagnostic information that enables you to optimise performance with real-time access to operation and performance trends – hence further energy savings. Automation removes human error and influence on the production system. It also increases efficiency and reduces carbon footprint.
And this isn’t a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ – at Promtek we have signed up to a trial program run by Interface NRM funded by Innovate UK, to implement an audit standard for carbon reduction to ISO14604. We have positioned the company to support our customer base if they wish to sign up to this standard too.
Improving Production Throughput
Mechanically factories do not change and evolve that quickly but all of the equipment has motors and sensors, and smart technologies allow data to be gathered from these individual components. This data is the heart of improving production throughput. Collecting, processing, analysing and validating that data before sending it on to other systems like the enterprise resource planning (ERP) and maintenance management systems provides the fundamental measurement that will be used to assess production performance. Enterprise integration platforms will give you this benchmarking data before and after you make any changes to your production cycle and will provide the evidence required to show you have been successful.
Another challenge affecting production throughput in the modern food industry is spikes and dips in demand. These are difficult to predict (except for the obvious seasonal demands) yet they can also be useful and used to drive a positive net gain with the application of smart data. By collecting a good amount of data from early on in the process, such as the physical impact of the ingredients on the equipment and relating that back to the dates in question you can look for patterns which will help you to predict the impact of demand on your machinery’s reliability more accurately. Do this over time and you’ll start to see annual trends too.
In a spike phase you do not want your factory to let you down. Knowing your supply chain and all the demands on it, coupled with ongoing and effective maintenance on machinery, will ensure demand is met. A dip in demand is an opportunity to carry out that maintenance and review production throughput, ultimately using the dip strategically. Data collection on the factory provides indisputable facts on what you need, how you need it and when you need it and that data will feed into a producer’s planning process.
Flagship Apprenticeship Scheme
Carbon neutrality has become the favoured touch stone in the drive for sustainability, but we would argue that it is not enough. If the industry fails to embed the knowledge, experience and skills gained over the last 40 years into the next generation of engineers, technicians, production managers and business owners, then all the benefits of carbon reduction will be wasted by the effort of re-learning all those lessons in the course of replacing old equipment with new, rather than learning new techniques to adapt and update the equipment to keep it fit for purpose. Young and inexperienced new starters joining our industry are vital to creating a sustainable knowledge base and must be empowered.
Benjamin Franklin said, ‘Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn,’ and it’s as true today as it was then. When employees lack proper training, they cannot support a business properly; when they are poorly trained, they can be a danger and actually create delays to a production schedule. Properly trained employees and suppliers with the appropriate skills to make confident, well-informed changes to the production process is key to maximising throughput.
With that in mind at Promtek we have invested in our engineering team’s future and are delighted to have been awarded the Make UK Engineer Apprenticeship: Employer Gold Kitemark Accreditation which recognises us as one of the best employers in the UK for engineering apprentices. As the accreditation is voted for by existing apprentices, we couldn’t be more thrilled that this investment has paid off. We think the world of our apprentices so it’s amazing to know they think the same way.
This investment in staff, and staff training, can be normalised across the industry and will create real time improvement in production throughput as employees will feel rewarded and valued and will in turn add value to any food processing business.
With controlled energy costs (through carbon footprint reduction), data driven production throughput and component staff well versed in company ethos and accountability we can be more than useful to the future, and continued success, of the food industry.
By Charles Williams, Managing Director, Promtek
[Image by Sigmund for Unslpash]