When integrating a food processing or packaging line, food manufacturers need a near-expert-level familiarity with each piece of equipment involved, and the controls needed to make the system function smoothly; one false move can lead to costly downtime. By doing your homework, and possibly engaging expert help, companies can ensure integration is effective and efficient.
Chris Jones, group manager of sales for controls at tna Solutions, offered readers of FoodProductionDaily.com some advice on ensuring successful line integration, and on working with experienced experts who can help make it possible.
FOOD PRODUCTION DAILY: What advice would you offer to a food processing or packaging operation looking to put together a new line?
Chris Jones: There are a number of key things to consider before setting up a new packaging line. Ideally, we would always suggest partnering with a total solution provider, such as tna, to ensure complete compliance across a number of areas. At the onset of any project, it’s important to undertake a detailed and accurate site survey to fully define project requirements. Based on these findings, we would then set up a detailed user requirement specification (URS) and agree on a realistic and well-policed project, plan and timescale. Suppliers, such as tna, are not only able to offer manufacturers a fixed and structured financial agreement, but they also provide solid project management, and ensure that only the latest proven and modular technology is being used. This limits costs and ensures an efficient production line right from the start.
FPD: How would that advice differ if the company is not installing a whole new line, but instead integrating a new piece of equipment into an existing line, or reconfiguring?
Jones: The integration of a new piece of equipment or technology into an existing line carries a lot more risk than setting up a brand new line. Efforts to optimise individual processes and align each piece of equipment are a lot more time and cost intensive, resulting in more downtime and potentially more inefficiencies in production if not done correctly. It is therefore even more important to ensure each of the points mentioned above in question one are adhered to. As the only total solutions providers, tna has the experience and technical knowledge to quickly assess existing operations and offer integration solutions to optimise processes, limit costs and reduce time to market.
FPD: Packaging and processing equipment is more complex and advanced than it used to be. Jones: Does this make line integration easier, or more challenging?
Jones: It is certainly true that technological progress has added a whole new dimension to the operation of processing equipment. While this can be challenging at times, it has also greatly improved the coordination of equipment. Even the communication between dissimilar technologies is now more advanced than ever, offering operators complete control over their production line and putting an end to isolated control cells. As a result, clients today are expecting a lot more from their equipment and will only accept the highest levels of performance, flexibility and ease of use. At tna we therefore offer a product range that is totally modular in terms of hardware and software configuration, providing ease of selection and implementation.
FPD: How does automation figure in? Does that complicate things, or facilitate the process?
Jones: Automation is in many ways the ‘glue’ that holds all such integrated control systems together. It not only speeds up production, but also creates a greater level of transparency and accountability. The implementation of automation and controls technology fully exposes each of the processes within a production plant, enabling the collection of key plant data. As a result, plant managers are able to quickly identify problems, implement corrective actions and provide detailed production reports on request.
FPD: Could you give an example of a recent integration project you were involved in?
Jones: We recently completed a major distribution and packaging system upgrade that required us to replace 20-year-old technology with the latest tna robag and tna roflo technologies. The client was experiencing production inefficiencies and wanted to gain a greater visibility over their entire processing line, including detailed data from the bagging, check weighing and metal detection systems. As a result, the business was looking to install the latest PC, PLC and SCADA technology with a view to improve packaging speeds, reduce operational labour and enhance traceability over product usage and wastage. As the only total systems provider in the market, tna was tasked with the complete turn-key project, including full mechanical and electrical installations, commissioning and training. While the outdated plant and tight time frame proved to be a challenge, tna was able to complete the project on time and within budget. The results speak for themselves and the client is now looking to use this ‘blueprint’ for other plants within this world-wide group.