Case-Study: Reducing Inventory Whilst Maintaining Lead Times

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Dealing with increasing standards and regulations, the need for high hygiene levels and the handling of allergens is key for food processing companies today. The right technology can revolutionise profitability and the agility of manufacturing. By David Newell, general manager & director, business development, Asia-Pacific, Matcon

Food manufacturers have to handle such a wide variety of ingredients and produce numerous different recipes to meet the ever more demanding consumer tastes. This is a problem shared across the industry from bakery and beverages to flavourings, and for brand manufacturers and contract manufacturers alike.

An international food ingredient specialist supplier faced such a challenge. With a global customer base of food manufacturers, they produce thousands of different flavouring mixes each year, using over 500 different ingredients. Some of these ingredients are classified as having allergen risks, which only added to the challenge.

The Challenge Of The Traditional System

The company had initially been using a system common to many facilities—they utilised seven Nauta mixers coupled directly to auger fillers. This was a very cumbersome system because it took a considerable amount of time to switch between recipes, with cleaning taking in excess of four hours. With so many different recipes to accommodate, they regularly needed to clean down. This was wasting valuable manufacturing time, was costly to do and required a significant amount of manpower.

In an effort to reduce the number of recipe changes and clean-downs, they ran ‘campaign’ production and used a ‘white-to-black’ philosophy. This helped to keep efficiencies high, but the consequences of this were large amounts of inventory being created which then needed storing. The risks involved for such operations were many. For example, these stored products could suffer spoilage or go out of date before they were sold. Not to mention, costs rose as a result of needing to create additional warehousing space.

The company decided that in order to be able to expand, it was important to reduce this costly part of the business and improve response times, and therefore commissioned Matcon to provide a more lean and efficient solution.

Improving On Existing Equipment

For the high demand, high running recipes that were produced day in day out, it made sense to keep the present equipment which were highly efficient at processing large volumes, so three of the Nauta mixers were retained. These were decoupled from the auger fillers and Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs) were used to transport product from the mixer to the packing line. This enabled the mixers to be emptied much quicker. In addition, the slower packing process could take place without holding up the mixing process as these were now able to operate independently.

IBCs being fed through floor from Sack Tip Unit.

For all the other recipes of smaller quantity, high variety, or those for rush orders, a Matcon IBC processing system was designed for them. A sack tip unit fills the IBCs with the raw ingredients before they are blended in the IBC itself on the blender. The IBCs then move on to feed the existing auger fillers where they fill into bags. An in-line sifter and metal checker also provides further quality assurance on the auger filler.

The system designed also incorporates a storage and retrieval system to supply raw materials to the sack tip unit which further helps to improve efficiencies.

Hold-ups for cleaning are significantly reduced as the IBCs are cleaned off-line, and a further advantage is that the blender does not need cleaning between batches and the packing and sack tipping modules are designed for quick and easy cleaning.

This system design enables full traceability and batch integrity throughout the process. The enclosed design of the system enables safe handling of all varieties of recipes and ingredients and has allowed the company to maintain their strict hygiene standards, even where allergens are involved.

Newly Gained Benefits

With the IBC system in place, the company benefited in several areas.

Shorter Lead Times

Typical System — IBC Discharge to Auger Filler Packing.

As all of the manufacturing steps take place independently, the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) of each process stage can be optimised. In-bin blending removes the mixer cleaning time and with the packing line now only taking one hour to clean, several recipe changes per day can be accommodated. This has enabled the company to achieve a rapid turnaround on orders. Those which had previously taken weeks to deliver could now be fulfilled in a matter of days. Today the company achieves a consistent three-day ‘make to order’ regime.

As throughput is maximised with the minimum amount of equipment investment needed, and with a reduced amount of waste product lost in cleaning, the cost per kilogramme of manufactured product is significantly reduced, improving the business profitability.

No WIP (Work In Progress) Inventory

Lean product system flow is achieved so now, without hold ups or interference between stages, WIP is not necessary to keep the system moving.

Increased Flexibility And Allergen Handling

The increasing use of allergens in recipes challenges the traditional sequential coupled process designs, preventing them from being used efficiently as each recipe change requires a full clean down of the entire system.

By using an IBC System, each batch is fully contained within an IBC, and all transferal of product is also contained, so there is no risk of cross-contamination or dust generation.

As the product is blended in the IBC itself, there is no risk of cross-contamination during the blending process either. This new system has given the company peace of mind that the strict hygiene standards can be met and means that they can run ‘any recipe, at any time’ without compromising safety, fulfilling their make to order objective.

Highest Product Quality Assurance

Quality assurance is monitored at every process step without interfering in the process flow. This ensures that the product is safe and delivered at the correct quality.

The unique cone valve technology ensures that product is securely discharged from the IBCs. There is no risk of product becoming stuck or adhering to the walls of the container (and becoming waste) or becoming de-mixed. This overcomes the risk that if product does not stay homogenous, it will either have to be scrapped or put back to be re-blended, all of which increases production costs.

Ultimate Hygiene Standard And Batch Integrity

With the process industry facing a number of increased challenges to adhere to external audits, compliances and hygienic standards, it is vital to use technology which complies. Matcon places hygiene as a high priority and has been proven to comply at the highest levels.

With the new system in place, audits have passed with the highest ratings and further business has been secured thanks to the much improved appearance of the installation.

The Ability To Handle Anything

The cone valve at the heart of each IBC is able to control the flow of the vast array of powders that the spice blending customer handles. They can even cope with more cohesive materials and those containing a liquid addition. They have been able to reduce waste and cut operator time that was previously spent in managing these more difficult powders.

The discharge process is automatically regulated, delivering a consistent, controlled feed to the downstream equipment, allowing it to operate efficiently, thereby maximising throughput.

When discharging blended or mixed powder to packing, the cone valve protects it against segregation, so the consistency of the finished mix is retained throughout the process, resulting in a quality product in the final pack.

All This In The Same Space

Full-scale testing in the UK test centre first, using their ingredients, meant that the customer had full confidence that the IBC blender met with their strict blend requirements of their most challenging recipes.

As such, with all these advantages of the new system, the company has benefitted from full manufacturing flexibility; with the ability to make to order with the peace of mind that this is done in a safe, low risk way with full quality assurance. This was all achieved without the additional expense of a brand new and bigger factory which the company had initially planned to accommodate for the production of a wider range of recipes.

By adjusting the new solution to fit the existing building constraints, benefits of a new factory could be provided without the expense thereof, which would have been double the actual project execution cost.

What About The Future?

Today, they are able to develop new products for their customers with the use of a production system that provides total recipe flexibility, reduced lead times and inventory level control, whilst adhering to strict quality and hygiene standards.

With the modular design of the system and the ability of the cone valve to handle almost any type of powder, the company has a future-proof system that will be able to grow as they do.