Food manufacturers that aim to expand their business understand that automating isn’t merely a value-add proposition. To stay competitive, you eventually have to automate. Whenever production facilities increase throughput, consistency requirements grow, and there is less room for error. While your manufacturing plant may have already automated some aspects of processing, ingredient handling automation carries several added benefits to help streamline your operations and enhance overall efficiency.
The impetus to automate is driven by the desire to increase hourly production while improving the accuracy of ingredient additions at the same time. Through automated solutions, businesses similarly realize greater labor consistency and considerable material savings. Altogether, these factors lead to a strong return on investment. Once a company reaches a particular growth milestone, it can no longer reasonably absorb the cost of human error and inconsistent product outcomes. Among the key benefits of automating is the capacity to reduce the waste of expensive minor ingredients attributable to human error, even if the incidence error is relatively low.
Wasted ingredients, of course, produce inconsistent products, and high warehouse traffic amid heavy machinery leads to the inaccurate handling of your micros between personnel and heavy equipment. Warehouse owners typically use a factor of 1 ton per week as the break-even point to justify the automation of their micro ingredients. Irrespective of what’s motivating the change, food processors find several benefits after automating the storing, scaling, and handling of their major and minor ingredient delivery systems.
Automation ensures that the weighing and dispensing of your materials are accurate to render the same consistent and uniform product every time. When you automate your ingredients handling, you have more control and visibility into your operations. Your tracking and record-keeping are simplified, helping you keep pace with the increasing demands of regulatory bodies.
Starting the automation process
As you explore automating your ingredient handling systems, keep in mind that food processors must first consider their requirements from both an equipment and supplier standpoint. Manufacturers should search for equipment suppliers that operate in their niche and can provide machinery that meets their industry’s regulatory standards. It is important, as well, that, as a prospective buyer, you test your recipe formulations on the equipment for putting it into commission.
When companies find themselves in the enviable position of meeting increased demand, the next step is to analyze the ROI. What kind of investment does automating require, and what can be expected in return? Finding a solid grasp of your material losses and labor overhead is a good point of departure for estimating your gains after automating your ingredient delivery processes.
If you find that you are continually losing a lot of expensive micro and minor ingredients, this is a good indicator that it’s time to start looking into industrial automation solutions to reduce scaling and spillage errors. Food processors often wonder, as they begin to venture into automation, whether they should retrofit their existing machinery or start fresh with newly purchased equipment. This question is best addressed through close partnership and collaboration with your suppliers to determine the specific needs of your business and how to meet those unique requirements. Handling a high volume of different ingredients, for instance, means you need a lot of warehouse space.
In this case, your equipment supplier works with you to design a system with a compact footprint that incorporates all the necessary elements within the facility. Moreover, combing this effort through multiple vendors and suppliers further complicates the process, and may even prove counterproductive. Working closely with your trusted partners, however, will draw out several of the key questions about the challenges to automating, bringing reliable answers to them.
Successfully automating your ingredient handling
Before implementing industrial automation solutions to your ingredient handling, you must have a keen understanding of the specific ingredients you’re handling. A strong grasp of the nature and qualities of each material you use ensures that you understand and can anticipate how it will interact with the automated solutions you implement.
Food ingredients can have several different properties, from abrasive to sticky. When you understand the challenges and requirements of your ingredients, you’ll be more informed when it comes to equipment design and materials. Take dry ingredients, for example. They have varying densities and textures that pose several unique challenges. Solid elements command distinct storage, dispensing, and packing requirements that can potentially disrupt process flows.
Liquid ingredients, on the other hand, contain suspended solids discovered in fats, flavoring, and sugary coatings that can clog your equipment to produce an inconsistent ingredient flow. Any equipment you deploy should, therefore, be designed to handle the flow of both dry and liquid ingredients. The most common pain point for delivering liquid ingredients is in the spray nozzles used to apply them to dry solids.
A reliable automated industrial solution will have taken such obstacles into account, engineering the equipment to handle dry solids without the outmoded spray nozzles that can clog your system and produce inconsistent outcomes. Automation suppliers have, instead, developed a series of spinning disks to atomize liquid ingredients into a fine mist, eliminating the dependence on spray nozzle delivery systems.
Once you’ve addressed the various obstacles posed by the specific ingredients you handle at your plant, you can focus on streamlining your production line operations. When you rely heavily upon manual operators, blenders and other process equipment remain idle while ingredients are scaled.
Disruptions to production like this cost money straight off your bottom line, and a well-designed automation solution with the right information controls helps eliminate this unnecessary downtime. A strong warehouse management system design paired with an advanced software product ensures a fast ROI.
Since 1999, EZSoft has been helping bakeries and food manufacturers in Pennsylvania take control of their facilities through advanced automated solutions that reduce downtime and increase productivity.
Curious to learn more about how automating your process improves accuracy? Call EZSoft today at (484) 568-5040.