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Food Processors Embrace Technology-Driven Approach to Maintenance


Advanced Technology Services, Inc. is leading the way with a technology-driven approach to maintenance for our Consumer Packaged Goods customers. Listen to this episode of “Food for Thought” podcast from Food Processing featuring ATS discussing manufacturer challenges, maintenance best practices and how Industry 4.0 is transforming the industry.

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Food Processing: Jason, welcome to the special bonus episode of the Food for Thought podcast. How are you doing today?

Jason: Thanks very much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Food Processing: Let’s open with you telling me about yourself and your work at ATS.

Jason: I’ve been with ATS a little bit over two and a half years. I’ve been in the manufacturing industry for pretty much my whole career. My role works with a couple of enterprise customers, as well as prospective new customers, in talking with them about the solutions that ATS provides. ATS, in short summary, we’re an asset reliability and industrial maintenance organization that really leads with integrating technology and helping customers to increase their production, reduce downtime, as well as reduce costs as well. We work across many segments of industries, but in the last 12 to 15 months, we’ve really seen an uptick in the production levels in food and beverage companies specifically. So, excited to talk about this today.

Food Processing: What trends are you seeing for food and beverage manufacturers in 2021?

Jason: One thing that’s been very clear is demand has gone way up for a lot of organizations. As the pandemic has contributed to that over the last 12 to 15 months, production has increased. More than ever what we see is that any downtime or interruption in production for food and beverage companies has been magnified, and has caused interruption. We’ve seen a lot of these organizations not only looking for solutions around asset reliability, but also looking for ways to integrate more technology into their organizations around the themes of improving the reliability, their performance, and their productivity.

During the height of the pandemic, where a lot of organizations in the food and beverage space really tried to trim down their product offerings and kind of go back to basics, they were so crunched for production and to get product out the door that simpler was better. But now that the market is coming back, what we’re seeing is it’s starting to shift back to some of the things that we had seen before. The tried and true favorites are still going strong, but we’re also seeing the trends of healthy eating, plant-based protein, sustainable packaging. Some of those topics are really coming back to the forefront as well.

Food Processing: From your perspective, when a client is considering outsourcing their maintenance or MRO services, what challenges do they typically face?

Jason: There’s a lot of considerations to think about. It’s not a decision that’s typically made in a very short amount of time, but when we work with organizations that are considering outsourcing, what we see are typically excessive machine downtime, so challenges in production and it running consistently and reliably, gaps in their workforce around the ability to attract and retain their workforce in the town, the skilled trade talent that they need, how to integrate and interpret technology and emerging technology, gaps in supply chain.

Some of those things are pretty prominent when we look at organizations that we’re talking with about potential outsourcing models. What we talk to companies about is finding a partner that can try to bring all the components that they need to the solution, so they don’t have to piecemeal it together and work in a lot of different buckets to bring one solution to bear, because every company is not a one size fits all. As we work with organizations, even with the same company, different plants function differently. They may have different products, they have different leaders, they have different equipment. So there certainly is not a one-size-fits-all solution to any of the opportunities that we engage with.

Food Processing: As the industry 4.0 revolution rapidly changes the face of manufacturing, what do you think is important for food and beverage manufacturers to prioritize as they upgrade aging equipment and facilities?

Jason: What we’re seeing is really looking at organizations embracing technology. As industry 4.0 comes through, there’s a lot of opportunities and things that organizations can latch onto. But when you think about some of the more foundational elements that we would consider important, a CMMS system is really kind of a starter when you look at how to set up a manufacturing organization, and then how to plan and execute maintenance.

It gives companies an opportunity to track the performance of their assets in the production environment, and it can detail all the way down to cost at the asset level. It allows an organization to set up preventative maintenance programs, it allows integration with supply chain and inventory to aid spare parts programs, purchasing. So, a well-run CMMS, that’s utilized to its capability, really can be, you know, a structural component to setting up a successful maintenance organization, and down the road, what it will also do is it will aid an organization in making capital purchasing decisions because when you have the asset information contained in the CMMS and you can track the cost of the assets, you can see where your, what we call bad actors are, and where a lot of the spending is going. It really gives you a lot of visibility and data to be able to make data-driven decisions around your manufacturing organization.

I think another thing that we’re seeing in the market is machine health monitoring for predictive maintenance, and the ability to use IoT sensors to track the health of production assets so that they know when a machine may be getting ready to fail or a part of a machine is getting ready to fail, so that can turn into planned work and a minor repair, versus unplanned work, downtime, and a major repair or replacement. That’s also a pretty significant piece of what’s coming through the industry.

Additional monitoring capabilities are coming also, when you look at different ways to bring Industry 4.0 into your plant, things that will help you monitor facility assets, utilities, raw materials. There are other things coming through as well for organizations looking to embrace Industry 4.0, there are certainly going to be options to get involved there.

Food Processing: What are some of the benefits of implementing a predictive maintenance plan?

Jason: When you look at predictive maintenance, it’s really a key step in the evolution of the maintenance journey. And it’s really that ongoing opportunity to check the health of production equipment on a regular basis and look for those potential problems before they happen and would cause production interruption and downtime. The other key aspect to predictive maintenance is that proactive repairs are always less expensive than reactive repairs.

When you think about the dynamic of planned versus unplanned work and the man-hours that are associated with that, having spare parts on hand versus purchasing parts that are needed and that need to be expedited because you don’t have them in the storeroom, and obviously, the cost tied to lost production time as well, and potentially missing delivery dates and getting product out to suppliers… so, you know, the ability to implement a predictive maintenance plan helps keep you out in front, and keeps your manufacturing facility in a more planned environment versus reactive.

Food Processing: What are the hesitations you see happening with manufacturers when it comes to embracing the new technology, like sensors?

Jason: There are two things that come to mind when I think of this, and this is an ongoing dialogue that we’re having with existing customers, potential new customers right now, because there’s a big upside to this technology, but there’s still a lot of unknowns around it. I think when we look at it, having someone on the team that can drive the change and initiate that, essentially it’s a cultural change, and really drive that cultural change, as well as being able to wrap their head around the technology, what it is, what it does, what it’s bringing to the table, sort of really have that individual as part of a plant team that can help facilitate that cultural and that initial piece.

But then the second piece, when someone is hesitating with making that decision, what it’s going to do is it’s going to increase the amount of data that comes in, right? And that amount of data can either be a help or a hindrance, because if you don’t know what to do with it or what the data is telling you, and you’re not able to interpret it, then all it’s going to be is another data source, and that can lead to more confusion than it can help. So, when you look at sensor technology, I really think a key is, you know, partnering with someone who has the technology available but also helps with the understanding of what that data is.

Food Processing: How is technology helping manufacturers push safety to the forefront?

Jason: Our organization really is foundational with safety. It’s really a cornerstone of our culture. There’s been a lot of advances in technology that have helped make both machines and manufacturing plants safer. Sensor technology is a piece of that. Not only just the sensors that I’ve talked about for predictive maintenance, but photo eyes, light curtains, and additional sensor technology that has come to market that is integrating safety into plants.

Wearable devices are also becoming more prominent. They do aid also with proximity with machine safety, but they’re also tracking items like noise levels, air quality, temperature, ergonomics. There’s a lot of things coming through wearable devices that are also helping safety. Additionally, and I think COVID has probably accelerated this last one a little bit, but you look at safety related to building systems, either with employee screening, like thermal imaging or temperature scanning, but also advanced camera and building access systems, just for overall building and facility safety, so that those plants are more secure.

Food Processing: In a post-COVID world, what do you think is important for manufacturers to know to give them the best chance for success?

Jason: I think the last 12 to 15 months have been a pretty significant learning experience for everybody, on a lot of levels. But what I would say is understanding that you can’t necessarily have a plan for everything, what I would say would be develop a plan. And when I think about a plan, and these are just my own ideas, but related to safety, the people inside your organization, your employees, you know, your production and your production plans and schedules, your supply chain, and there’s probably a couple of other items, but really to have a foundational plan around those areas, so that in the event that something unexpected happens again, that you have a plan to fall back on, and perhaps the plan that you did isn’t perfect for what the scenario is, but at least you have a plan that you can modify or tweak to fit the existing set of circumstances that you’re in, versus not having a plan at all, and then being in kind of a frenzied state and having to create the plan as you go, akin to trying to build a plane in the air.

That’s not ideal, so I think if you at least have a plan to work from, that gives you a good starting point, a foundation to work from. We talk with a lot of companies on a lot of different topics, and I think as we get to know them better, and look at and understand their environment and their plant, I think we start to be able to tell what companies really have a very detailed plan about their business and which ones don’t. But, it’s a learning experience either way, but planning is always a positive thing.

Food Processing: What advice would you give those decision-makers and influencers that want to move to a predictive maintenance plan, but aren’t sure how?

Jason: As far as advice goes, what I would say is finding a trusted partner that has the experience with the tools is really important, because you have to have tools and build the system around the needs and the functionality of the plan, but you also need help on that journey with collecting, understanding, and utilizing the data, as I kind of talked about earlier.

Data for data’s sake isn’t the value-add when you’re looking at an IIoT predictive maintenance plan. More data without being actionable and insightful really isn’t going to help with anything and help your plant run better. So, you know, that’s really, really important, because ultimately these programs, when you’re talking about predictive maintenance or about the making plant run more reliably, seeing better production, controlling cost, and, you know, specifically when we talk about cost, if you partner with the right organization, you have the right plan in place, the return on investment from these programs pretty reliably will cover the cost of what you have to put into it, and then some. They really do pay for themselves over time.