Overworked lines lead to production pitfalls

by Nico Roesler
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Maximum efficiency on a divider requires that all machines on the line be synchronized. Source: Reiser

While speed comes to mind when maximizing a line’s throughput, equal importance should be placed on longevity. Mitch Lindsey, technical sales, Burford, related to the age-old story of the tortoise and the hare.

“Slow and steady wins the race,” he said.

A machine running at full capacity is more likely to wear down faster. Running it just under capacity protects from wear and allows it to increase throughput over the long term.

“It doesn’t do us any good to design a new piece of equipment that won’t meet existing speeds,” Mr. Lindsey said. “You always want to be above that because you don’t want bottlenecks. So, if you know that the capability is X, you design in 20% above that so you have some safety built in.”

That gap between steady performance and maximum capability is also useful when mechanical failures occur elsewhere on the line. In packaging, for example, if a bread company is running three baggers at a rate of 100 loaves per minute, and one machine goes down, it could increase the speed of the other baggers to 100% capability to make up for that lost production until all machines are back online.

Other advances at the end of the line include TNA’s new ropac 5 high-speed case packer. Because baking and snack products must now be packed into a larger variety of cases, bags or wraps, the speed at the end of the line must keep up with everything upstream. The ropac 5 is capable of up to 300 bags per minute.

“Smaller pack sizes remain a key driver in the U.S. packaged foods market and food manufacturers need equipment that can really help them step up production speeds,” said Michael Green, group general manager, TNA.

While high speeds are the ultimate goal, new equipment should typically operate at no more than 80% of its full capacity to help it run smoother and extend the lifetime of the equipment, said Cesar Zelaya, bakery sales and technology manager, Handtmann. The company offers the Handtmann Communication Unit (HCU) to find the right balance between optimized production and longevity of the machine. It’s another way to simplify what sounds complex by letting all the machines on the line communicate directly with operators and line supervisors.

“It’s a unique tool for controlling, monitoring and optimizing production,” Mr. Zelaya said. “It reduces the work of the company management team, quality assurance and the production management in the face of cost pressure, greater dynamics and complexity.”

Handtmann also offers an HMI diagnostic system that provides immediate feedback to the operator when something is preventing the equipment from running, such as an empty hopper, an activated safety interlock or shut-down equipment downstream. This minimizes the time required to troubleshoot the issue and get back in production.

Sensors, fuel meters on ovens, and moisture sensors in ovens allow operators to be in multiple places on the line at one time.

“When operators start watching these types of devices, and the trend lines of these are steady, then your process is probably running at its best performance,” said Joe Zaleski, president, Reading Bakery Systems. “If you’re looking for process upsets, you need more sensors on the operational system that can report to operators without them running up and down the line.”

Avoid major pit stops
Like most businesses, bakeries are streamlining to cut costs while increasing hours of operation and throughput.

This puts a strain on line workers and equipment. Mr. Lindsey said this mentality means the major equipment like ovens, proofers and mixers get the most attention for preventative maintenance while the others get less.

“The bakeries today are streamlined, but they’re really not scheduling downtime for preventative maintenance,” he noted. “Years ago, bakers used to have almost a full day, and they did it twice a week. Now they’re lucky to get 8 to 10 hours once a week. If that’s all the time you get, you concentrate on your bigger equipment, and from there if you have time you go smaller systems. We see that a lot of equipment doesn’t get preventative maintenance because of that.”

The lack of manpower available isn’t always due to cost-cutting measures but also finding willing and knowledgeable workers to do the job. Preventative maintenance and employee training help maintain the proper throughput and manage line speeds for a production facility. And the industry is in a bind because many veterans with years of knowledge are leaving the workforce.
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