Every project has risk. Knowing how to mitigate the risk, is the key to success. Easier said than done, right? The first step to mitigating risk is to identify the risk factors. The nature of a project will define the types and levels of risk that should be considered.

In our world of industrial Food Manufacturing, and particularly with food processing involving Food Cutting, the risks tend to be common across all industries, albeit at varying degrees of acceptability:

  • Project delivery or start-up date
  • Scope management
  • CAPEX over-runs
  • Cost of operation
  • Personnel safety
  • Food safety and sanitary-design of the processing line
  • System performance

All these risks can be addressed by focusing on the specific food processing application defined in the project. A few examples:

  1. Cheese topping for frozen pizza: requires cheese shredding, conveying to the pizza, addition of anti-agglomerating agent (e.g. cellulose), blend mixing, distribution to the pizza, and recirculation of overflow.
  2. Canned tomatoes (cut): considerations required for feeding a dicer, preventing over-feeding/jamming, reducing juice-loss, improving product recovery, and ensuring dice quality/shelf-life.
  3. Frozen (IQF) root-crops: considerations for foreign-materials infiltration into dicer/cutter, fines generation, cutter robustness, knife longevity, maintaining cut-quality on discharge, and transportation to freezing tunnel.
  4. Fresh salad blends: requires tote-reception and unloading of feedstock, conveying to processing, cutting/shredding, ingredient blending, and conveying to packaging.

These examples show that a more complex process requires a more complex risk management strategy. So, how can focusing on the application help?

Process Line Solution

Most industrial food processing projects are developed as machine-based unit operations strung together into functional process lines. Each machine supplier is contracted to deliver a small part of the overall process, like individual Lego pieces to a whole design or structure, thereby limiting each supplier’s scope and risk. Who is responsible if the sum of all parts (i.e. the processing line) does not perform as expected? What happens to the project timeline if one of the machines suffers late delivery? The 1-Stop Shop approach addresses these questions by allowing the development of a comprehensive line solution by a single Process-Line Solution supplier. The entire project is coordinated with an unlimited view of the overall project’s goal, thereby shifting the risk from the end-user back on to the supplier.

In addition, the individual pieces of the complete process can be designed and built with assurances of compatibility. As a result, the need for additional parts that may be required to ensure alignment (and which could possibly be missed by a committee of multiple suppliers) would be eliminated. Therefore, all equipment needed for the process would be considered in the overall system design. Capital costs are accurately projected from a single point, i.e. the complete system is budgeted, bid, and acquired at a confirmed system value.

Customized Solutions

The benefits of an application-focus are even more clear under consideration of a facility’s specific requirements, expectations, and limitations. With knowledge of the application, a customized solution can be developed with the appropriate amount of process flexibility. Consider this fashion analogy: one-size-fits-all never looks great (even if it may be functional)!
A customized solution allows the process line to be optimized to the specific needs of the project. The solution can be tailored to space limitations, capacity requirements, personnel/operator shortages, greenfield/brownfield restrictions, or any other challenges that a project imposes. Customizations include type and quantity of unit operations (e.g. machines) that form the process to ensure appropriate management of the scope requirements. Subsequently, the application-based process solution can be optimized for superior performance. Performance criteria may include the following:

  1. Yield (or recovery) percentage (%)
  2. Fines generation
  3. Product uniformity (e.g. cut quality or precision)
  4. Capacity (e.g. range of accuracy, bottleneck/buffer locations)
  5. Waste or loss of sellable product (e.g. product containment)

The management of these criteria as a function of the solution design has a direct impact on raw material (feedstock) costs, final product availability, production revenue, profitability, and ultimately on the project’s return on investment (ROI).

Operating Efficiency

Every application has a unique operating cost and efficiency structure. A good understanding of the application is therefore critical in applying the appropriate system design and customizations, and by extension to maximizing the operating efficiency and to minimizing the risk. Factors that influence the operability of the process line include the following:

  1. Design efficiency
    The design efficiency is defined by the simplicity of the solution. Does the system have many components? Are the individual equipment conceptually complicated? Are special tools required (or does the system feature a toolless design) for maintenance? How easy are the system’s tear-down and cleaning procedures?
  2. System Automation
    Automation can be a solution to various constraints on an industrial operation. With minimized operator intervention as the end-result, automation can respond to:
  • Limitation of human resources (quality or skill factor)
  • Availability of labor market (quantity factor)
  • Demand for equipment intercommunication (cascading equipment response to product-demand or safety signals in the event of capacity surges, accidents, spillages, obstructions, or line build-ups)
  • Repeatability of performance (consistency or uniformity)
  1. Equipment availability (uptime)
    The system’s mechanical availability or uptime directly reflects its ease-of-use, including operation, sanitation, and maintenance. Quite simply, a higher availability (or lower downtime) translates to higher revenue-generating production time.
    Focus on the application in relation to the comprehensive solution design, therefore, has a direct impact on productivity and operating costs, further justifying the project’s return on investment (ROI).

Process Responsibility

A machine-based process line limits the scope and responsibility of the individual suppliers and places the overall process risk squarely in the hands of the end-user. In other words, if something goes wrong with the project (and inevitably something will), who will take the responsibility to resolve the deficiency? Is it the duty of Machine A’s supplier, or Machine B’s supplier? Will Machine A’s supplier blame the performance of Machine B?
Additionally, adopting an application-based solutions approach benefits the project by ensuring the following:

  1. Performance Criteria
    A Process-Solutions supplier who is given the responsibility of the complete application system is in a better position to offer Performance Guarantees within wider scope limits.
  2. Personnel safety
    Rather than limiting the supplier’s liability to a specific machine, a complete application-based process solution requires that the whole line be designed consistently with personnel safety in mind.
  3. Food safety and sanitary-design
    Food safety has become a primary focus in today’s industrial environment and translates to processing systems in the form of sanitary-design. Individual machines can meet sanitary-design criteria but unless the whole process line is evaluated as a single entity (including considerations for line placement, installation locations, machine interconnections, and common sanitation practices for each equipment), sanitary-design benefits cannot be fully realized. Remember: if it is easy to do, it will be done frequently and properly!

Essentially, by taking a holistic approach focused on a specific application to a process-line, a client can allow the supplier to solve a big-picture problem rather than to simply provide a function irrespective of the whole effect. The supplier with full ownership of the solution will be better positioned to empirically understand the issues and to solve the problem.

So, does an application-based solution minimize risk in a project? Consideration of an integrated process line, potential customizations, operating efficiency concepts, and supplier-responsibility of the process has clear benefits to risk reduction. Comparatively, some may argue that rather than fitting the solution to the application, risk may be mitigated by fitting the application to the available solutions (i.e. changing the requested process parameters). Although this argument merits some validity, focus on the application also promotes innovation of new technologies that could lead to better practices in industrial food processing. The goal of an application-based solution is to help the client find the easiest path to success, and towards stress-free operations.

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