Every department within a bakery must work in concert to achieve its ultimate goal — to deliver completed orders on time. If purchasing fails to order the correct ingredients or packaging materials or human resources doesn’t ensure the bakery is properly staffed, then the bakery is going to have a hard time meeting this goal. The same can be said about the maintenance department. It is a vital cog in the wheel, guaranteeing that all equipment is ready to run optimally.

Nathan Cottrell, engineer, Alpha Baking Co., Chicago, IL, began working at the company in February 2006, shortly after graduating from Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology. He started as a purchasing agent for the maintenance department at one of its Chicago bakeries and, within a few months, was asked to fill a vacancy in the QA department at the same plant. After the QA position was filled, Mr. Cottrell worked on a large maintenance project with Dave Granger, vice-president, operations.

He has filled a number of positions within the company over the past 4-plus years and worked in all four of Alpha Baking’s production facilities and across various departments within the company. “This has been very helpful in learning and understanding the different concerns and thought processes within these departments,” he said.

Currently, he works under Mr. Granger and has a variety of responsibilities in the maintenance department, including handling a majority of the environmental concerns. He also spearheaded the purchasing and is helping to implement its new computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software package. Mr. Cottrell recently took time to talk with Baking & Snack about maintenance at Alpha Baking’s facilities.

Shane Whitaker
What are the responsibilities, focus and goals of Alpha Baking’s maintenance department and how have these duties evolved in recent years?

Nathan Cottrell
Our responsibilities are to keep unscheduled maintenance downtime to an absolute minimum while striving to hold product quality and efficiencies at the highest level possible. These duties have evolved with an increasing amount of focus and attention paid to product safety/quality and food security. With ever-growing food safety concerns, it’s maintenance’s duty to stay ahead of the curve in hopes to just keep up.

Are maintenance and sanitation a combined unit within the bakeries?
Maintenance and sanitation are two separate departments and are managed by two separate department heads. This is because there is a gap in technical skill and knowledge  required between these two departments. However, the  departments work together in a collaborative and complementary manner to achieve proper production conditions.

What type of maintenance program is used by Alpha Baking and how is it organized?
Alpha Baking is beginning to use CMMS Data Group’s MVP Plant asset management program. We chose this because it incorporates all of maintenance’s needs into one package. Preventive maintenance (PM) programs, employee history, operation costs, downtime/efficiency reports, parts inventories and much more can all be tracked with a single software program at a single facility or at the corporate/enterprise level.

Alpha Baking’s facilities feature different levels of automation and its maintenance staff have varied skill sets, what impact do these factors have on maintenance within its plants?
This makes managing the maintenance department a little more complex than it may have been at one time. When it comes to automation, first, you need to bridge the gap in computer-literacy that may be seen across various age groups. Very little work can be done in automation without the understanding and comfort of using computers and electrical components. Because of this, the skill levels of your maintenance staff at various facilities may differ, and these needs must be managed appropriately. Typically, younger individuals are more versed in the automation areas, and the seasoned, more experienced generations are experts with the older, more mechanical-based equipment. Bringing these two age groups together to exchange knowledge is a big key to the success of your maintenance department.

What are greatest maintenance concerns at the company’s bakeries?
Downtime and product safety/quality are always major concerns for any maintenance department. However, with the current economic situation and the push for newer, “greener” trends, operation costs and company sustainability have come to the forefront of maintenance concerns.
Because of the downward trend in the economy during the past couple years and the always-rising cost of operation such as utilities, raw materials and insurance, companies are forced to start devoting time to developing and implementing new and/or creative ideas to drive down their total overhead. This has led companies to re-evaluate their current raw materials used to ensure they are getting the most value for their dollar. In that process, they also should ensure that they are using these products as effectively and efficiently as possible in an attempt to keep waste down to lower levels than what was considered acceptable in the past.

As far as utilities are concerned, the latest buzzword, “sustainability,” has driven maintenance departments to seek ways to lower their overall energy consumption. Doing lighting audits, recovering wasted heat from exhaust sources and tracking water intake versus discharge are all areas that
demand attention at many companies, not just Alpha Baking.

How do the bakeries schedule preventive maintenance? Do they use schedules outlined by equipment vendors or others?
Preventive maintenance is scheduled through our asset management program. These schedules are a combination of vendor recommendations in equipment manuals along with general equipment knowledge gained from experience within the field.
Preventive maintenance should always be a priority to the maintenance department and never get pushed to the backburner no matter what new trends or issues come around the bend. Properly structured and carried out, PMs are the one area that has a direct impact on runtime efficiencies. If PMs are neglected for even a short period of time, the results will be seen in the increased downtime that comes from these forgotten work tasks. At Alpha Baking, we are relying on our CMMS asset management package to keep the departments on schedule with their PMs. The program’s flexible scheduling and alert functions help prevent tasks from getting briefly overlooked or forgotten all together. They can even be structured differently at each facility so facility engineers can customize their PM programs to best fit their needs and styles.

Does the company use predictive maintenance within its bakery facilities?
Currently, Alpha Baking does not use predictive maintenance within its facilities. However, the new asset management program does have the capability of generating predictive maintenance reports and work tasks based on reoccurring conditions entered into the database. This is what we will use moving forward to help predict equipment failure.

Alpha Baking is extremely excited about this feature of the program, and we hope to use it to help stop reoccurring failures that could have been missed in the plants. As long as the information is entered into the database, the program will see the reoccurring pattern and alert staff. This has the capability to alleviate communication breakdowns between management levels or even between shifts. It will be an important foundation to build an even more effective PM program.

How does maintenance deal with spare parts?
Maintenance keeps a stock inventory of all necessary spare parts. Inventory is kept by purchasing agents on staff at each facility. Cross-facility inventory records will be kept and tracked in our enterprise asset management software.

Any operator or maintenance person would tell you how critical having a stock inventory of spare parts is to keeping your facilities up and running. Something as simple as a $5 O-ring or seal can cost you several thousand dollars per minute of downtime. Developing purchasing agreements or contracts with your vendors that include the development of critical spare parts lists is a good way to know exactly what parts to keep on the shelf and which of these are most critical to the overall performance of each process. Often, a critical spare parts list will also come with any new piece of equipment. If it is not given, it should definitely be requested.

What are the future trends for maintenance in bakeries?
Energy recovery, cost justifications and emissions recording/reporting are going to be driving issues that keep maintenance members on their toes during the next several years. Sustainability will continue to be a critical point for maintenance departments. Costs are going to have to be kept to a minimum through thorough inventory tracking and energy recovery/reduction. Environmental awareness is at an all-time high and increasing by the day. Maintenance staffs all across the country are going to be required to confront these concerns and issues head on.