CASE STUDY: Hillshire Farms Increases Efficiency by Mobilizing Information

5 Dec

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Since the invention of the corn dog in 1930, Americans have fostered a genuine love for food on a stick. Hillshire Brands, a global leader in packaged meat and bakery production owned by Tyson Foods, is at the forefront of these innovative food products.

The Hillshire plant in Haltom City, Texas produces 58 varieties of meals on a stick from the classic State Fair corn dog to turkey dogs with a honey sweet batter to maple breakfast sausage wrapped in apple cinnamon pancake batter. The products are cooked, put through the “sticking” process, dipped in batter, fried and then frozen – in a continuous process line. The products are then packaged before they are sent to a connected mixing center for distribution. The Haltom City plant rolls out a whopping 2.8 million corn dogs each day.

Any food supplier has to keep food safety top of mind, and especially with the 2015 implementation of new regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The FSMA requires U.S. food suppliers to now focus on the prevention of contamination rather than the response to contamination. Additionally, with raw-materials costs for food products on the rise, suppliers need to find ways to ensure product quality while also maintaining plant efficiency and yield.

With improved visibility into production and access to real-time data, Hillshire increased plant productivity and enhanced its processes for reducing foodborne illness risks at its Haltom City plant. Faced with new FSMA requirements, Hillshire also realized a business need to improve production monitoring and efficiency.

The plant’s old utility system that monitors refrigeration was outdated and obsolete. In addition to being inefficient and costly to maintain, operators were facing temperature deviations with no insight or access to real-time updates that posed a risk to food safety and product quality. A single day of refrigeration system downtime can cost the company $120,000 in raw-material losses before labor costs are included.

Yet another challenge arose from a large number of product variations and changeovers on the plant floor each day. Hillshire’s Haltom City plant used the FactoryTalk software suite to improve visibility and pull actionable data from within the Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture system. Changes in product variations impacted other variables, including fry times, cooking temperature, raw-materials combinations and amounts.

“We were seeing the plant get out of balance as product flowed at uneven or unforeseen rates from our meat area to the kitchen to the packaging area,” said Harvey Williams, manager for Hillshire’s Haltom City plant.

Quality deviations and wasted product can occur if process variables are not changed for a new recipe or if the downstream area of production is not prepared for an increased or reduced timeframe that comes with a new recipe. During one recent deviation in the hot dog cooking area, Williams was alerted to a cooker fault after a shift concluded. To get to the root problem, he had to loop-in two value stream managers and the quality assurance manager.

They had to look through manually entered operator data on water temperature from the entire shift to determine when the cooker faulted and decide how much and which product needed to be thrown out. Hillshire needed a solution to reduce the variability in the production process while complying with the FSMA. “With our inedible rates reaching over 1.6 percent, we needed a solution beyond end-of-shift Excel reports that told us how much waste occurred,” Williams added.

“We needed something that could give our value stream managers a view into process variability across the plant to reduce the amount of inedible, wasted product.” Williams turned to a manufacturing intelligence solution leveraging similar software in use at several other Hillshire plants. To improve visibility and pull actionable data from within the Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture system for plant control, Williams tapped the FactoryTalk software suite.

The integration between the control system, software and the use of the EtherNet/IP network, provide the necessary monitoring and tracking for the plant’s utility system. Additionally, the solution was scalable enough to offer up plantwide insight on issues that occur in each area of production during changeovers to improve efficiency and product quality.

Williams implemented a manufacturing intelligence solution using FactoryTalk View Site EditionHistorian and VantagePoint® software. Historian software automatically identifies gathers and stores production data from the control system. VantagePoint software aggregates this data – along with information from the ERP system, and other plant databases and systems – correlates and presents production information to operations, so variances are easily identified and corrected in real time.

The Haltom City plant will be monitoring about 1,500 data points across cooking, sticking, battering, frying, freezing and packaging. For example, the system has been set up to pull specific information from a fryer; recording temperature at various levels and locations within the fryer to ensure all product is cooked evenly. This information is displayed via the dashboard, so an operator can view all the active fryers at once or drill down into one specific fryer if an alert is noted. If a new fryer is added to the line, it can be added to the dashboard in a matter of minutes, copying over the existing tags and the related KPIs developed for the other fryers. In total, the Haltom City plant will be monitoring approximately 1,500 data points across cooking, sticking, battering, frying, freezing and packaging. Additionally, the team has extended this solution with Microsoft® Surface tablets running the FactoryTalk VantagePoint KPI mobile app for Windows 8.1.

Operators and value stream managers on the floor are now able to monitor any area of production – packaging status, cook temperature and frying capacity – in the palm of their hands. Armed with anytime access to real-time and historical production data and trends, operators can see where there are problems, where problems might potentially arise or where additional capacity exists to increase production or run an alternative product. When new regulations under the FSMA are fully implemented in 2015, FactoryTalk Historian software will be essential in improving traceability and reporting for the FDA. The increase in data collected by Historian software, and reported and shared via VantagePoint software, helps the plant track exact serial numbers, date and time-stamped detail on which SKU numbers came off each specific line.

If the plant ever had an issue with food safety, alerts are in place that allows managers to immediately pull up data to check how many cases may have been affected and their specific product serial numbers. Mobilizing the solution, unties area managers from the machine or control-room monitors, allowing them to better manage their zones and collaborate across production zones. “Our value stream managers no longer have to wait for Excel-style, manual reporting at the end of each shift to make production decisions,” Williams said.

“With the FactoryTalk solution, managers can show summarized, contextualized information on the tablet directly to the operators on the plant floor. Those teams can now immediately see how their actions are affecting quality assurance goals. Understanding these cause-effect relationships has been revolutionary for our teams. We are seeing functions work more collaboratively toward higher-level plant goals rather than focusing on the individual goals that only impact their area of production.” This deeper insight has helped Hillshire decrease inedible product and waste goals at the plant to 0.8 percent, which translates into savings of nearly 5.5 million corn dogs annually.

“We now have operators thinking through important ‘what-if scenarios.’ When one production area has capacity, they’re looking to find ways to make adjustments across functional areas to help optimize production,” added Williams. “The Manufacturing Intelligence solution from Rockwell Automation and mobility from Microsoft has been crucial in improving production while helping us meet quality standards,” he continued. “When new regulations come into play in 2015, it will help our plant maintain our exceptional quality and food-safety record.”

This article was originally written for the Rockwell Automation Journal.