Manufacturing Excellence - May 2003
Excellence in Manufacturing
Technologies and ideas that improve plant operations and product quality.
by Jim Wagner, Editor
Technology is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Or is it?
Fall River Wild Rice doesn't think so. Or Quaker Oats. Or White Wave. Or Synergy Production Labs. Or Now Foods. Or National Organic Laboratory. Or The Healthy Beverage Co. Or 100-year-old Lion Brewery. All have embraced novel technology and improved their manufacturing and product quality.
White Wave (Boulder, CO) and Synergy Co./Synergy Production Labs (Moab, UT) recently replaced conventionally generated electrical power with sustainable and renewable wind energy.
White Wave is the largest American company to replace all of the conventionally generated power in manufacturing operations with wind power. The wind energy support program began in January 2003 with the purchase of 20 million kWh of green tags, the industry term for wind power credits, from Renewable Choice Energy (Longmont, CO) and Bonneville Environmental Foundation (Portland, OR). Basically, instead of energy from the nation's power grid, White Wave's energy needs will come from wind energy.
Wind power comes from wind farms in Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, Iowa, and Texas. Eventually it will come from farms across the country.
White Wave will save approximately 32 million lb of carbon dioxide emissions each year—equivalent to taking 3200 cars off the road.
Synergy's ecological practices earned it an environmental consciousness award for excellence in manufacturing in the state of Utah in 1999.
Photo courtesy of Synergy Production Labs.
The change will increase expenses by several hundred thousand dollars per year, although the increase will not be reflected in soy products. "We believe this initiative is a partial fulfillment of our corporate responsibility to return to the marketplace a portion of the profits we derive to meaningful and environmentally sustainable business practices. We are delighted to do so without economic impact to the consumer," says Steve Demos, company founder and president.
Synergy purchases 100% of its power from Utah Power's Blue Sky wind power program. "Our goal is to genuinely minimize our environmental footprint," says Mitchell May, CEO. "A choice to do anything less than 100% would have been incongruent with our personal and professional integrity."
Wind power is about 40% more expensive, but the benefits are immeasurable, says May. "The obvious benefit is that our Blue Sky purchase means that 140 tons of carbon dioxide emissions will be avoided each year—the equivalent emissions of 300,000 miles' drive time," he says.
Sustainability is a core business ethic. Synergy plants indigenous trees in cooperation with Plant-It 2020. The number of trees is based on its use of virgin paper, cardboard, and packing materials, and the carbon dioxide emissions associated with work-related activities such as incoming and outgoing truck and air shipments.
The QC labs in Now Foods' Bloomingdale, IL, facility give faster turnaround of test results than outside labs.
Photo courtesy of Now Foods.
Synergy also uses 100% biodegradable cleaning agents approved for use in its certified-organic facility. Xeriscape landscaping circles the facility. Light sensors ensure appropriate use of energy. Products are shipped in biodegradable cornstarch packaging material. And the CEO's private office is powered entirely with solar cells.
This emphasis earned the Environmental Consciousness Award for Excellence in Manufacturing in the state of Utah. "We believe that we cannot, in good conscience, market natural health-related products while making business decisions that compromise the health of every living thing on the planet," says May.
Quaker Oats' Peterborough, ON, Canada, plant supplies grain-based cereals and granola bars to retailers throughout Canada and the eastern seaboard of the United States. The plant doubled production in less than two years; to keep up with demand, Quaker had to optimize space usage and increase production efficiency.
Quaker wasted a lot of space storing a small mountain of preprinted secondary packaging. "We were overrun with cardboard," recalls Henry Clarke, purchasing and planning coordinator. "We typically had about 750,000 preprinted cardboard boxes in our warehouses."
QA personnel at Now Foods have performed detailed analyses of more than 5000 received material lots over the past year and a half.
Photo courtesy of Now Foods.
Switching to an in-line ink-jet printer eliminated the boxes, opened up 75% of the warehouse, and decreased packaging costs 10%. "We have been very pleased with the savings," explains Clarke. "The savings are so great that we calculate the system will pay for itself in less than two years."
The new printer cut costs by allowing Quaker to eliminate obsolete boxes, add flexibility to the production line, simplify product tracking, reduce material-handling time, and make faster changeovers.
"We might order 1000 boxes for a particular product and then only need 945," explains Clarke. "Many boxes ended up becoming obsolete, and when each box costs between 30 and 70 cents (Canadian), losses add up quickly."
The success of the first ink-jet printer prompted Quaker to install ink-jet printers on four additional production lines. "The Marksman 6000 printer with Trident printheads has generated significant cost savings and greater production efficiencies for our plant," says Clarke. "Our plan is to install the printer on several new production lines over the next few years."
The new ink-jet printing systems were engineered by Harlund Industries Ltd. (Edmonton, AB, Canada). The systems have FoxJet Marksman 6000 printers with Trident UltraJet II printheads. "The Trident UltraJet II printhead has a stainless-steel orifice plate that is much more durable than plastic," says Clarke.
The printhead also features an automatic maintenance module that routinely cleans the printhead at programmable intervals. This self-purging capability was a very important selling factor for the Quaker plant. "The factory floor has a lot of oat dust, pancake flour, and corrugated fibers, which routinely clog printheads and slow the production process," says Clarke. "The automatic maintenance function keeps the printhead up and running, which is essential to plants like ours that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Thanks to this feature, the new printer has been running nearly flawlessly for more than a year."
In what seems like a contradiction in terms, Now Foods (Bloomingdale, IL) believes heavy investment in technology helps hold the line on prices.
Now Foods spends more on quality than on marketing and advertising combined, according to Bruce Parker, assistant to the president at the company. "In the past 18 months, we performed detailed examinations and analyses on over 5000 received material lots and 3000 microbiological tests on foods and herbs. Also, we have performed detailed analyses of more than 10,000 production lots, in-process materials, blends, and finished products."
Now Foods' QC labs have seven high-performance liquid chromatographs, two gas chromatographs including one with a mass spectrometer, a UV-Vis, a Fourier-transform infrared analyzer, and other instruments. The microbiological lab is one of the few that tests herbs and foods for molds, yeasts, E. coli, Listeria, and other health concerns.
"Our in-house analytical capabilities give quicker turn-around of test results than outside labs, at half the cost due to efficient test methods," says Parker. "For example, we can test all water-soluble vitamins or more than 15 amino acids at one time."
On the production floor, Now Foods purchases most of its equipment at auction at 10–25% of new prices. The equipment is reconditioned "like new" by engineers and mechanics, according to Parker. "This is shown by our consistently high up time and ever-improving, even record-breaking, production results," he says.
Reliable manufacturing means fewer products in inventory. "Our inventory turns are double the industry average, a cost savings and an assurance that customers get fresher products," says Parker.
The Golden Grain division of Quaker Oats (Bridgeview, IL) installed an innovative microprocessor-based metal detector for incoming rice that ensures raw ingredients are free of metal contamination.
The detector is integrated into the plant's pneumatic pipeline system. Metal contamination can occur when incoming rice is unloaded from railcars via the dilute-phase pneumatic conveyor that transfers the rice to silos.
Golden Grain's metal detector covers high volumes of incoming material. Rice is conveyed at a speed of 4500 ft/min, and the system uses a high-speed reject valve that operates in 100 milliseconds.
Photo courtesy of Golden Grain.
Golden Grain's technical service manager, Joe Thomas, contacted Safeline Metal Detectors (Tampa, FL) to engineer a sanitary-grade system to find and reject metal contaminants. The system also provides proof that the detection system works in the absence of contaminants.
Although Golden Grain has not had metal contamination problems, the company wanted extra protection. "It's very beneficial to say we have a metal detector and we have minimized the risk of any contamination," says Thomas.
The technical challenges were significant. At Golden Grain, 20,000–30,000 lb of rice are conveyed at the rate of 4500 ft/min, too much volume for conventional valves. "The trick was actuating the valve fast enough within a reasonable distance of the metal detector," explains Tony Ross, commercial manager at Safeline.
Safeline specified a Powerphase metal detector with a high-speed reject valve that operates in 100 milliseconds. The valve is located within 16 ft of the metal detector. Rice is kept flowing at all times, important because a pressure drop could cause blockage problems.
The metal detector finds metal contaminants as small as 1.2 mm of ferrous metal and 2.0 mm of stainless steel.
Because the fast-conveying pipelines cause vibration, the metal detector also has an enhanced vibration-immunity feature that overcomes the limitations caused by equipment vibration that traditionally affect metal detector sensitivity.
Quality assurance personnel program the detector to indicate how frequently manual testing is required and a signal is automatically given calling for a performance check. If the check is not made within a predetermined time, a secondary signal may be given that sounds an alarm or even stops the production line if the check is not made within a predetermined time. Successfully completing the test returns the detector to normal operating mode.
Natural Organics Laboratories Inc. (NOLI; Amityville, NY) uses a near-infrared (NIR) analyzer for raw-material lot inspection on the loading dock. The analyzer instantly monitors the identity, purity, and potency of raw materials without sample preparation, an important quality procedure in light of the proposed good manufacturing practices for supplements.
"Consumers can be confident that the supplements they purchase contain ingredients that have passed rigorous and exacting test methods, including NIR testing," says Jim Madden, NOLI's general manager.
The instrument significantly reduces the raw-material testing burden on the quality control laboratory, where all testing is carried out based on raw-material specifications such as microbiological testing. Incoming raw materials are immediately tested on the loading dock. An NIR identification and assay report is generated and submitted to QC with the raw-material samples. The report has significantly reduced the quantity of sample preparation and testing that the QC laboratory is required to perform.
Fall River Wild Rice is packaged in glass-coated polyester pouches.
Photo courtesy of Fall River.
The analyzer submits samples to light in the 350–2500 nanometer wavelength range. The reflectance of near-infrared light from the sample is compared with a model that NOLI creates from more than five years of retained approved product samples. If the results do not fall within a predetermined specification range, the sample is tagged for further analysis. If the sample is found to be acceptable based on further testing (i.e., HPLC), the NIR spectral data for the lot is incorporated into the model for future testing.
Rich in protein and fiber, wild rice is among nature's healthiest grains. Fall River Wild Rice, a grower-owned cooperative in the northern California town of Fall River Mills, wants to see wild rice adopted year-round. "We needed to get this product accessible to more people," says Hiram Oilar, general manager.
Oilar concluded that convenience was the key to the market after he saw prepared soups in flexible pouches on supermarket shelves. If high-value salmon soup could be sold in a shelf-stable, ambient-temperature pouch, why not sell wild rice to the same upscale market?
Fall River's first attempt was a foil-lined pillow pouch sold in six-count cartons. Dry wild rice and water were combined in the pouch, sealed, then cooked and sterilized on high-heat, high-pressure retort chambers. The lightweight pouches were attractive, and could be immersed in boiling water to heat their contents.
While acceptable, the foil-lined pouches lacked one important element. They could not be microwaved.
Plus, Fall River wanted a pouch that could stand up on the supermarket shelf. Bright graphics would attract shoppers, and the corrugated cardboard box that held the six pillow pouches would be eliminated.
Hugh Landes of the Select Marketing Group Inc. (Sandusky, OH) oversees packaging and marketing efforts for Fall River in the eastern United States. He contacted CLP Packaging Solutions (Fairfield, NJ) for help.
CLP had developed nonfoil retortable pouches for British grocery giant Sainsbury's house-brand rice as well as pouches for Nestle's Pureeasy baby food.
The first order of business was to find a replacement for foil. Besides structural strength, foil served as an oxygen and moisture barrier. "We replaced the standard foil layer of the conventional retortable pouch with glass-coated polyester," says Rani Stern, CLP's chief technical officer. "The glass-coated polyester provides excellent shelf life for the food, but it requires extremely tight tolerances on the package manufacturing line because even a little stretching during the converting process can decrease the barrier properties significantly."
CLP added an easy-opening feature using high-energy lasers to perforate just one of the pouch's several layers. Because just a tiny fraction of the pouch is affected by the laser, laser-scored pouches retain their barrier properties and the ability to withstand the pressure and heat of the retort process, notes Stern.
With the packaging in place, Landes and Select Marketing's sales manager, David Metzger, worked with In-House Graphics (Vermillion, OH) to develop a powerful graphic identity for the pouches. The resulting pouch contains 10.5 oz of cooked wild rice and carries a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $4.99.
Fall River is preparing to expand the line with ready-to-serve Wild Sides wild rice and white rice blends in similar pouches. The co-op has also branched out into wild rice chips, richly flavored healthy snacks available with lightly salted, garlic, and sweet-and-sour wasabi seasonings.
"People are eating wild rice," says Oiler. "In anything you do, it's critical that you find some hook, something to get the buyer's attention. Just wild rice wasn't enough—but a pouch of wild rice that's ready to eat after a minute or two in the microwave has been a great hook."
ErdaTek, developers of ready-to-eat entrées for restaurants, is completing the construction of a USDA pilot kitchen housing several vacuum packaging systems for prepared entrée products.
"This is a fast-growing food-service sector being driven by innovative food processing technologies," says chef Erik Carré, founder of ErdaTek. "A critical component of developing ready-to-eat foods is capable equipment."
Among the technologies used by ErdaTek is a process known as cook-in-pack. Created by French chef Georges Pralus in 1974, cook-in-pack is a method in which ingredients are cooked in a pouch or a vacuumed airtight tray, and then quickly chilled and refrigerated. Prior to serving, the packaged food is reheated in simmering water, or in microwave or convection ovens.
"Cook-in-pack is unique and gentle in that it allows the cellular structure of food to remain intact," says Carré. The food's natural moisture and juices are retained, preserving flavor, aroma, and nutrients. Natural flavors are so enhanced that far less seasoning, especially salt, is required."
Using cook-in-pack methods, natural fibers soften and dissolve, leaving foods tender enough to cut with a fork. The food is improved in taste and it retains its nutritional content.
The new systems will double ErdaTek's production capability, and significantly accelerate speed to market.
Also, measurable shrinkage of cook-in-pack products is 10% or less, compared with 20% or more on conventionally cooked products.
In addition to customer demand for convenience, the outbreak of foodborne illnesses in the prepared-meals industry is another factor driving cook-in-pack technology. Cook-in-pack delivers safe extended-shelf-life products with minimal or no preservatives under controlled refrigeration. Using precision-calibrated, reliable, and above all, sanitary vacuum packaging equipment, entrées can be created with an average shelf life of up to 30 days.
To process cook-in-pack applications, ErdaTek plans to install
several new Multivac (Kansas City, MO) systems, including a T200 tray sealer and a C500 double-chamber vacuum packaging machine. The systems facilitate hot-fill and high-pressure pasteurization, and accommodate modified atmosphere packaging technology.
"What really appeals to me is hot-fill capability," says Carré. "The systems regulate the amount of vacuum pulled on products when they are hot. This is a critical component, and a necessity for success when using hot-fill methods to create cook-in-pack entrées.
"As we move into the future, this trend toward fast yet fresh food is only going to grow," said Carre. "Food processors who fail to recognize this will soon find themselves at a significant disadvantage in the marketplace."
Monday is soda day at the Lion Brewery (Wilkes Barre, PA). The 100-year-old microbrewery sets aside hops and lagers to brew up batches of what might be the only organic soda in the United States.
Healthy Beverage Co.'s Steap Soda complies with National Organic Program guidelines and is certified by QAI.
Photo courtesy of Healthy Beverage Co.
Steap Soda was launched this January by Eric Schnell and Steve Kessler, two veterans of the beverage and natural product industry. After launching more than 100 beverages for other companies, the two cofounded The Healthy Beverage Co. (Newtown, PA).
The stars lined up perfectly for the launch of the new soda, according to Schnell. Consumers were looking for reduced-sugar sodas. Demand for organic products was growing. And, after months of hard work, six flavor combinations had been developed with all-natural, all-organic ingredients. The only thing left to do was make the sodas.
"We searched forever for a brewery that would help us," says Schnell. "Not only were we a start-up, but we demanded compliance with the NOP standard."
Lion Brewery eventually signed on and became a minority partner in Healthy Beverage Co. Before it could make Steap Soda, it had to become a USDA-certified organic brewery.
Lion changed its operations and manufacturing. Procedures were put in place specifically for organic ingredients. "There is a long list of requirements under the new NOP rules," says Schnell. "For example, ingredients such as green tea and natural sugar cane syrup (Florida Crystal; West Palm Beach, FL) must be quarantined. All of the cleaners must comply with organic standards. Even the pesticides they use comply."
Realizing that organic certification could be a valuable marketing tool, Lion studied the regulations, changed the facility, and earned Quality Assurance International (QAI; San Diego) certification on the first pass. Now, every weekend, maintenance cleans the equipment from the beer and gourmet sodas that have run the week before, because every Monday is Steap Soda day.