Shearer's Foods: Shearer Determination
by Dan Malovany
When Bob Shearer was growing up, he wanted to go into the funeral business. From the time he was 12 and all the way through college, Mr. Shearer figured he could make a good living in this sustainable, long-term growth industry.
“I always thought that was the business that I was going to go into,” he recalled. “My parents had two sets of friends in that business. I followed how they expanded their facilities. I was always intrigued by that. Besides, whenever you go into a small town, the nicest looking buildings are usually the funeral homes.”
As the saying goes, however, life works in mysterious ways. Instead of opening a funeral parlor, Mr. Shearer traded in one sustainable, long-term business decision for another, when his parents bought a snack distributorship in 1974. Five years later, Mr. Shearer, his parents and brother Tom started hand-making their own kettle potato chips in 25-lb batches in a 2,500-sq–ft operation in Canton, OH, because they thought they could make them better than others in the market. “I was young. I didn’t know better, and I wasn’t afraid to fail,” Mr. Shearer recalled.
In 1982, when the burgeoning snack manufacturer moved to a 20,000-sq-ft operation on 10 acres in Brewster, OH, Bob Shearer, now chairman and c.e.o. of Shearer’s Foods, thought the company was set for life. Nearly three decades and multiple expansions later, the meticulously landscaped flagship plant has grown in excess of 180,000 sq ft. Despite its size, the Brewster facility, which produces a full line of potato chips, kettle chips, tortilla chips, and extruded snacks, is busting at the seams. With production maxing out at its main plant, the company recently opened the first phase of its new snack facility in nearby Massillon, OH.
For Shearer’s Foods, the start-up of that operation took the company’s definition of building a sustainable, longterm business to a whole new level. In fact, in June, the new 63,000-sq-ft operation received LEED Platinum certification.
LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the green building rating system developed and administered by the US Green Building Council (USGBC). Initially, the council developed LEED to define sustainable practices in libraries, offi ces and other commercial buildings, but more recently, it guides and rates industrial manufacturing facilities, which use more energy, and where energy savings can be significantly greater.In fact, Shearer’s Massillon plant, which the company calls the Millennium manufacturing facility because it’s located on Millennium Avenue, is the first snack facility in the world to receive LEED Platinum status under the stricter guidelines instituted by the council in January 2009, said Scott Weyandt, sustainability and compliance manager, Shearer’s. The newer guidelines require the facility and food processing operation to meet tougher USGBC requirements. These guidelines involve the inclusion of both processing and building energy in the calculation of baselines and required energy reductions. Mr. Shearer observed that embracing sustainability and “tree hugging” in general are not necessarily in his DNA. In fact, he didn’t give the concept much attention, let alone credibility, until he attended a seminar four years ago in Cleveland, OH, where Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of General Electric, elaborated on the practical business applications as well as a corporation’s duty to go green. “Prior to going there, I’ll be the first to admit that I viewed people who believed in going green and sustainability as liberals. That wasn’t my personality,” he said. “I did a 180 after listening to what he said. It made so much sense. It was our duty as a business thriving in our community to preserve our natural resources.” Mr. Shearer acknowledged that marketing benefits, customer advantages and long-term returns on investment can be earned by reducing consumption of energy, water and other natural resources and becoming an industry leader in sustainability. But these factors were not the driving force behind the company’s green initiatives and the LEED Platinum effort for the Millennium facility. It was something even more basic. As Scott Smith, president of Shearer’s Foods, explained, “We never do an ROI on quality. It’s just something we need to do.” Also, Mr. Shearer noted the company simply outgrew the Brewster operation and needed more production because of its rapidly growing private label, contract manufacturing and branded sales efforts. “Everyone asks us why we built the new plant so close to Brewster’s,” he said. “It came down to the fact that we’re all from this area. We are part of the community, and we really like the workforce that we have.”
BUILT IN STAGES
. Three years ago, Shearer’s Foods foresaw the need to boost capacity and began designing the Millennium facility, which is located on 34 acres in an industrial park. The snack manufacturer’s initial goal involved ramping up production quicker than it did, but in late 2008 during the credit crunch, financial market meltdown and a full-blown deep recession, Shearer’s board of directors cautiously decided to build the project in two phases. Shearer’s Foods broke ground on the first phase in July 2009 and finished construction of the building in March 2010. “We did it fast, which is the Shearer’s way,” Mr. Weyandt said.The 47,000-sq-ft main floor of the building contains 20,000 sq ft of processing area, 12,800 sq ft for packaging and 14,200 sq ft of support areas. Additionally, the company built a 15,000-sq-ft mezzanine level to provide temporary storage of raw materials and for future products. In all, the entire usable area in the building stands at 63,000 sq ft.In April, or about nine months after breaking ground, Shearer’s Foods fired up the first line, a corn tortilla chip operation. A high-efficiency extruded snack line, which will produce the company’s Shapers multigrain snacks, began production this summer. The first phase also has space for two additional processing lines.Certainly, the building’s design with its abundant skylights, daylight harvesting sensors, high-intensity fluorescent lighting, reflective white roof and increased levels of roof and wall insulation will contribute to energy savings. However, to become LEED Platinum certified under the newer, stricter guidelines for an industrial operation, the facility needed to be outfitted with a slew of environmentally friendly bells and whistles. Shearer’s Foods partnered with the US Environmental Protect Agency’s Energy Star Partner program, and no detail went unexplored, according to the company.From a materials standpoint, the plant has a zero-landfill program as a part of a companywide goal to reduce all waste to landfills. Additionally, a continuous rainwater recycle system collects up to 17,000 gal of water a month from the roof and reuses it for restrooms while an IAQ-Tek air quality system monitors filtered air coming into the plant to ensure that it exceeds industry standards for purity and comfort by more 30%. If a filter clogs or the system malfunctions, an alarm alerts maintenance. To ensure product quality, the packaging area is air-conditioned to limit moisture buildup within the bags. Employees can adjust the temperature of the packaging room to between 68 and 76°F for comfort, and the system turns off when the area is not in use.“The indoor air quality and comfort system is not only an energy-based decision, but it’s an example of a decision that’s also employee-based for their comfort,” Mr. Weyandt said. “Sometimes, there are costs such as employee comfort that you can’t calculate in any system.” Despite all of the environmental and energy-effi cient systems, the building itself only contributed about 10% of total energy savings. The bulk of the reduction, rather, came from its operations and, specifically, its corn tortilla chip line, which features an innovative oven that reduced gas usage by 47% during its most recent month in production, according to the company.
FIRST OF ITS KIND
. Production on the corn tortilla chip line initially ran three shifts, six days a week. As the production ramps up with the three other lines coming onstream, the operation is designed to run 13 days straight followed by one day set aside for maintenance and thorough sanitation.Only 10 employees work on the tortilla chip line, including those assigned to sanitation and maintenance. White and yellow corn is stored in two 250,000-lb Columbian TecTank silos. The corn is vacuum-conveyed to the silos and then travels by compressed air from the silos to the corn clipper cleaner through a Dynamic Air Conveyance system. All material handling was engineered by Project Technology Services, Cleveland, OH. After washing and destoning in a Quality Fabrication & Design cleaning system, the corn is pneumatically conveyed into two kettles that each cook a 1,500-lb batch for 20 to 25 minutes before it is transferred into one of 12 3,000-lb holding tanks, where it soaks for 10 hours. Water used for cooking of corn is pre-heated using recovered waste energy from the oven stack.Additionally, the corn cook process is a low water one, and conserves up to 180 gallons of water per batch. To create the masa, the corn travels through a clean wash tumbler to a hydroscopic dewaterer and hightemperature nozzle cleaner, then across a drain belt to remove excess moisture prior to entering an A.C. Horn stoneless masa mill, which grinds 3,000 lb of corn per hour into masa using two sanitary stainless steel plates.The masa is then pumped to the hopper of a J.C. Ford sheeting system. After traveling through a presheeter, the masa enters rollers, creating a sheet that’s cut into various sized tortilla chips, depending on the type of tortilla chip being produced, prior to entering the energy-saving oven, according to the company. Instead of using ribbon burners, the three-pass oven, which currently cranks out 3,000 lb of corn tortilla chips per hour but has enough capacity for up to 5,000 lb per hour, relies on infrared technology to bake the chips. Built by IET Combustion, the patent-pending oven is outfitted with 24 infrared burners but only uses 12 of them to bake corn tortillas because the system’s side-to-side heat distribution is so even and effi cient. Additionally, the oven features an enclosed cavity to prevent unwanted drafting. In an older-style oven, 2,400 cu ft of air would be exhausted, but the new enclosed oven sends only 800 cu ft up the stack. “It’s a common flaw in a lot of oven designs to allow air to infiltrate and cause drafting,” Mr. Weyandt explained. “Ovens, because they are so much warmer inside, will draw air like a vacuum, heat it and discharge it without having any impact on the product. You waste a tremendous amount of natural gas and energy in doing so.” Shearer’s also can turn the oven’s burners on and off to customize the baking process, to produce specific product varieties and to maintain product consistency. “We’re always hitting the gold standard on our product as far as quality,” he noted. “There are certain things you can do on paper, others you can model, and then there are a lot of unexpected variables that you don’t really see until something is in full production.” The snack manufacturer plans to continue to partner with companies like IET to create new systems and processes for improving sustainability. “We want to be a leader in the industry,” he said. “We’re pushing the boundaries on innovation. The IET oven doesn’t exist anywhere else. In some ways, we’re breaking new ground by partnering with these companies to create new sustainable equipment.”
. At the Millennium facility, Shearer’s Foods pushed the limit in recoveringheatfromthe tortilla oven. Typically, the 650°F exhaust air from such a system would go directly into the atmosphere. Instead, the company captures more than 90% of that heat using a liquid chimney and heat-recovery system designed by Professional Supply, Inc. (PSI) of Fremont, OH. Rather than transferring heat through metal plates, the system sprays a fine mist of cool water onto a large metal screen to allow the hot exhaust air to come in direct contact with the water, thus transferring the heat. The system condenses 550 lb of moisture per hour, creating 130°F water that can be used throughout the building. For example, instead of bringing in 65°F municipal water to cook corn, the plant redirects the preheated water from the heat-recovery system to save energy and speed up the corn cooking process. The facility also relies on the heated water for sanitation.“Because the oven’s primary job is to dry out the masa, the air is pretty much 100% saturated as it comes out of the oven, and as it goes up the liquid chimney, the air cools as its entrained moisture is condensed by coming into direct contact with the cooler water,” he explained. In addition to creating hot water, the liquid chimney scrubs the exhaust as well, trapping particles that can later be filtered out of the hot water.After baking, the corn tortillas travel though a 3-level equalization belt that brings the product temperature down and equilibrates the moisture, a necessary step prior to frying for up to 60 seconds in a Quality Fabrication and Design system. Thermal oil technology saves additional energy during frying. A remote heat exchanger, supplied by Quality Fabrication, uses natural gas burning at 500°F to heat the thermal oil, which absorbs about 80% of the natural gas’ energy and circulates through the heating tubes within the fryer to bring the oil up to proper cooking temperature. The remaining 20% of the heat generated by combustion of the natural gas travels up the exhaust stack to an air-to-air heat exchanger and to a PSI air handling unit, which preheats air to heat the building on cool days. On a cold winter day, the heat exchanger can reduce the exhaust’s temperature to 50°F by the time it’s released into the atmosphere, according to Ed Kiser, PSI’s mechanical engineer. At that cool temperature, he added, water vapor released as a product of combustion will condense out of the exhaust stack, resulting in recovery of nearly all of the 20% of heat that would have gone up the stack. At this time, exhaust heat from the fryer’s oil is not captured.From the fryer, the chips traverse on a Wright vibratory conveyor and through a seasoning drum and tumbler. They then travel up to the mezzanine level, through pivot conveyors that continually feed each of the five TNA Robag systems with scales that accurately weigh the products. After falling down a chute, the tortilla chips are packaged in form/fill/seal bags for retail distribution or bulk packaging for the company’s contract manufacturer clients.Later in summer, the plant started up its Shapers multigrain chip line with a Clextral twin extruder, a Quality Fabrication and Design fryer, Heat and Control conveyance systems and two TNA Robag scaler/bagger systems. The line can produce 800 lb of the better-for-you snacks an hour, which is more than twice the amount on the lines in the nearby Brewster facility.
RAMPING UP PHASE 2
. In July, Shearer’s broke ground for the 60,000-plus-sq-ft expansion project, also known as “Phase 2” of the Millennium operation. From a construction standpoint, the facility will mirror the first phase. “We’re using all of the same contractors,” Mr. Shearer said. “We are using all of the same sustainable materials, and we are 100% committed to what we’re doing.” That’s where the similarities end. Initially, the second phase, which is scheduled for completion in January, will house six kettle potato chip lines, with room for two more. Eventually, the facility will have eight kettle-chip systems, which feature a centrifugal oil-removal system that removes 40% of the oil from the chips after frying to create Shearer’s signature reduced-fat kettle chips, Mr. Weyandt said. In addition to featuring more energy effi cient thermal fluid exchanger oil heating, the 500-lb-an-hour kettle fryers will have significantly more capacity than the largest 360-lb-per-hour kettle fryer in Brewster.In the new operation, the company also will install a large continuous potato chip line with a preheating system for the oil to aid in energy efficiency. Shearer’s is extending application of sustainable technology used in Phase 1, with the introduction of steam heat energy recovery in Phase 2. This new system will recapture energy in the steam released by the 4200 lban-hour continuous potato chip line, for use in heating the additional square footage of the expansion.In addition to space for a second continuous potato chip line and a pretzel line, the second phase will include 20,000 sq ft of warehouse space. Currently, warehousing for snacks produced at the Millennium facility is at a nearby facility down the road. From a sustainability perspective, Mr. Weyandt said, potato chip production is much more complicated because of the amount of water used during the peeling process, especially when compared with low-moisture products such as extruded snacks. As a result, Shearer’s will need to add a wastewater treatment facility with an anaerobic digester. This system relies on micro-organisms to break down biosolids, which produces methane gas that can be reclaimed for heating boilers. By turning waste into energy, the system produces a very small waste stream. Currently, the company uses aerobic systems at other sites, where the solid waste needs to be hauled away daily for animal feed recycling or as a fertilizer. The by-products from the anaerobic system will be recycled every one to two years. In addition to reducing hauling costs, the waste from the new system could be used to seed the start-up of some other anaerobic digester. Becoming LEED-certified is much more easily accomplished when building a plant from the ground up than when retrofitting existing facilities, according to Mr. Shearer. “Here, we are starting from scratch,” he said. “You can use all of the right materials. You can put all of the latest and greatest in sustainable technology into the plant, otherwise you have to take it in little projects with existing facilities, and that can be expensive.” The cost to become LEED-certified comes at a premium, Mr. Shearer added. For the $20 million start-up of Phase 1, Shearer’s Foods got a break from the downturn in the economy. “Some will say [the LEED process adds] 5% more to construction costs. I say it’s closer to 8 or 9% more,” he said. “The one thing that worked for us was the timing and the construction downturn. We got much more competitive bids from our contractors because of the economic times.” Sustainability, however, remains a companywide initiative, and Shearer’s is transferring many of its practices and new equipment innovation to its other facilities. The company, for instance, is adding three of the new, larger high-efficiency kettle fryers to its Brewster facility and four others to its Hermiston, OR, operation to boost capacity and reduce energy costs. Eventually, the company wants to have all of its facilities LEED-certified and certified through the Global Food Safety Initiative. “We’re looking at all of our sites to make them more sustainable and more effi cient,” Mr. Weyandt said. “It’s a testament to our commitment to sustainability. We’re driving innovation back to our OEMs to create new equipment. We’re trying to make this facility a model for other industries.” •