This article originally appeared in IMPO magazine's October 2014 print edition.
Many manufacturing companies operate on thin margins, so wringing every drop of efficiency out of your equipment is crucial to profitability. This is especially important in food manufacturing, where consumers are often price sensitive. In addition, unplanned line stoppages or processing delays can result in scrap or spoilage of high cost ingredients or products. Here are eight simple tips to keep your equipment properly maintained and running smoothly.
Plan preventive maintenance
The most important thing you can do to keep equipment running smoothly is to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for scheduling preventive maintenance. Your team may have to perform some maintenance activities after a period of elapsed time or after a certain level of production. Keep a log for each piece of equipment to be certain that the team is on top of the recommended maintenance.
Part of the maintenance program should be to inspect all components and to replace them at the first sign of wear. Replacing parts before they fail can prevent unplanned downtime. If you can, upgrade components such as wire and cable to higher quality replacements that have a longer expected life or that can withstand more stress.
Stock spare parts
Many manufacturers provide a recommended spares list. If possible, stock the items that fail most frequently. It’s a good idea to stock items such as wires, cables and shear pins so you can get back up and running quickly in the event of a problem.
Choose cables and components that stand up to your environment
Food manufacturing can be a hostile environment for electrical and mechanical equipment. Long hours of continuous operation processing acidic or abrasive foods followed by frequent cleaning with water, heat and chemicals are a normal part of the day in the food industry, but perhaps not for electrical equipment.
When you replace wires and cables, be sure to select materials designed for this harsh environment. The quality and reliability of such simple items as wires and cables directly affects the performance and reliability of your food processing equipment.
Much of the equipment in use in today’s factories includes computerized components that may require periodic updating. Part of your preventive maintenance program should be monitoring the equipment company’s support website to be on the alert for software or firmware updates. Up-to-date software may improve the equipment’s efficiency and prevent possible problems that could cause disruption during production. It’s worth the time to check and update a machine’s firmware if it can help prevent unplanned downtime.
Part of your preventive maintenance program should be calibration of your equipment, but you may also need to adjust your gauges and calibration tools. Scales and measuring devices can get out of alignment or their accuracy may deteriorate over time. You can’t calibrate your equipment if your gauges are off, and lack of calibration may result in improperly mixed or otherwise poor-quality product.
Poorly trained operators may cause equipment malfunctions or unnecessary wear and tear on equipment because of improper or inefficient procedures. While it takes time and effort to train operators in proper setup and operation of equipment, it pays off in the long run with higher-quality product, less scrap and rework, more throughput and less unplanned downtime. Properly trained operators can improve efficiency and extend the life of your equipment.
Even though you have a preventive maintenance program in place, you might want to add a periodic inspection to your activities list. Inspecting machines for unexpected signs of wear allows you to keep equipment in peak condition. You may want to replace the original equipment wires and cables with higher quality, more reliable counterparts designed to withstand the rigors of your environment. Not only will this prolong the life of the equipment, it may also prevent unplanned downtime due to equipment failures.
Cleanliness and hygiene
Especially in food processing, cleanliness is a manufacturing imperative. Spills and dried-on gunk attract insects and vermin that may choose to snack on your equipment as well as your product. Of course, you do everything you can to stay compliant with government regulations for cleanliness, but cleanliness is more than a regulatory hassle. It can increase productivity and improve quality in addition to prolonging the life of your equipment.
Keeping your equipment in peak condition improves performance. It reduces unplanned downtime due to breakdowns, improves production efficiency and throughput, and improves the quality of your product.
About the author:
Scott McNeill, Director of Operations at TPC Wire & Cable Corp. (www.tpcwire.com) in Macedonia, OH. TPC Wire & Cable manufactures wires and cables for harsh conditions. The company designs products for food manufacturing facilities to withstand abrasion, impact and extreme temperatures.