Luminaires can reduce food processing plant downtime

Sealed luminaires meet standards, address myriad challenges

By Lynn Walldorf February 17, 2022
Courtesy: Kenall Manufacturing Co.

Each year, millions of dollars of capital improvements are made to facilities and equipment to increase product safety, protect employees and reduce costs. This is a critical expenditure, since equipment in a typical food processing plant often runs 16 to 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

Equipment failure is the most common cause of unplanned downtime. The longer it takes plant personnel to respond and repair equipment, the more damaging the interruption. Systems not at full speed create a domino effect that can result in missed deadlines, lost revenue and disappointed customers.

Unplanned downtime can cost a food processing facility an astounding $30,000 per hour. According to analyst firm Aberdeen Research, 82% of companies have experienced unplanned downtime over the past three years. A Deloitte industry report cited recent studies that show this unplanned downtime costs industrial manufacturers an estimated $50 billion annually. That said, downtime can cost a company more than just money — it can be a logistical nightmare. The expenses and ramifications are simply too high for plants to risk equipment failures, particularly now.

The challenge of unplanned downtime has been compounded by the shortage of trained maintenance workers and further challenged by the impact of COVID-19.

As the world grapples with the effects of COVID-19 — including supply chain issues — the food processing industry is under more pressure than ever to maintain ongoing operations. At the start of the pandemic, food processing plants in the U.S. were deemed essential. Maintenance workers were in short supply prior to the pandemic’s onset and that shortage has become more acute. Plants need innovative solutions that mitigate unplanned downtimes.

Worker shortage and plant downtime

The U.S. manufacturing skills gap could leave as many as 2.1 million jobs unfilled by 2030, according to a report from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute. Left unabated, this gap could cost the U.S. economy as much as $1 trillion. Moreover, a 2017 industry study sponsored by Advanced Technology Services found that the leading cause of unscheduled downtime within respondents’ facilities was aging equipment (42%), followed by operator error (19%) and lack of time needed to perform necessary maintenance (13%).

For plant maintenance and facility managers, the mere utterance of the word “downtime” can elicit panic, particularly with the current worker shortage. According to a study conducted by the Manufacturing Institute, an average of six out of 10 positions in the manufacturing industry remain unfilled because of a gap in skilled workers. One of the positions factories are most in need of is maintenance technicians.

Throughout executive interviews conducted as part of this year’s National Association of Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey, a resounding distress signal kept repeating itself: “We can’t find the people to do the work.” This sentiment is backed by data: 77% of surveyed manufacturers anticipate there will be ongoing difficulties in attracting and retaining workers in 2021 and beyond. The immediate shortages the industry must address include the challenge of filling entry-level and skilled positions.

Finally, many working in these industries today are nearing retirement age, and few younger workers are coming in to fill the void. The widening age gap for skilled workers will put strain on facilities in many industries.

Reduce downtime and costs by using sealed luminaires

The need is greater than ever to optimize equipment reliability so as to maximize uptime and productivity. According to a 2018 McKinsey & Company report, McKinsey on Food Processing & Handling: Ripe for Disruption?, “Customers are demanding machines that improve operational efficiency, cut costs, and increase uptimes.”

While luminaires, or light fixtures, aren’t part of the production line, food processing companies can reduce food-borne illnesses, lessen operating costs and reduce downtime through the use of sealed luminaires. Innovative infrastructure solutions like sealed LED luminaires can ensure sanitation regulations are being met and that maintenance above the production lines is minimized.

A well-designed sealed enclosure, using high-quality construction and materials, virtually eliminates the risk of contamination and need for frequent maintenance. Luminaires with a nonporous, triple-gasketed sealed design ensure they remain free of corrosion, dust, dirt, insects, moisture and bacteria. This sealed luminaire design also helps reduce costly unscheduled maintenance and downtime by protecting the luminaire’s internal components.

Plant illumination and standards

Food processing plants must pay close attention to food safety. Typically, this involves power washing and sanitizing equipment. In these environments, the installation of sealed LED luminaires can improve safety and compliance and reduce plant downtime.

Food manufacturing facilities must follow USDA regulations, including those involving the presence of glass in a facility. When handled incorrectly, glass, such as that in some luminaires, can create the threat of contamination. Specifically, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires sealed enclosure luminaires certified to Ingress Protection (IP) and National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) standards to reduce the risk of contamination and avoid costly disruption of work due to unscheduled maintenance.

Photo 1 caption. Sealed luminaires installed in the U.S. Pet Nutrition plant in Lyons, GA., helped support certification by major accreditation organizations, including the FDA and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Photo 1 caption. Sealed luminaires installed in the U.S. Pet Nutrition plant in Lyons, GA., helped support certification by major accreditation organizations, including the FDA and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Courtesy: Kenall Manufacturing Co.

The purpose of the food equipment standard is to establish minimum food protection and sanitation requirements for the materials, design, fabrication, construction, and performance of food handling and processing equipment, including luminaires. To ensure safety and reduce maintenance, the FDA has developed certifications and standards. For example, relative to lighting in the food processing plant, the light should be:

  • Easy to clean
  • Made of smooth, no-hole and corrosion-resistant material
  • Designed to reduce the ingress of dust, debris, pests and other possible hazards.

In addition to the food equipment standard, color rendering guidelines have been established to help ensure proper product examination during quality inspections. Food processing environments are also required to have the correct amount of illumination at each task location. To comply with the stringent standards set by the USDA, FDA, and Illuminating Engineering Society (IES), a minimum color rendering index of 85 is recommended where color rending is critical.

Maintaining sanitation with luminaires

The Food Safety Modernization Act is transforming the nation’s food safety system by shifting the focus from responding to foodborne illness, to preventing it. Product recalls cost food and beverage companies millions of dollars each year, but 56% of 2019’s recalls across the U.S., UK and Ireland were preventable.

Food processing plants are a very difficult environment for luminaires due to the impact of daily cleaning and sanitizing. Harsh chemicals like sodium hydroxide and other caustics are used to clean equipment and can be extremely corrosive. In addition to caustic chemicals, high pressure spray is used, sometimes at up to 1,000 pounds per square inch. While this ensures all contaminants are removed, water enters unsealed fixtures and does extensive damage.

Sealed enclosure luminaires, however, prevent both the ingress and egress of dust, fungus, bacteria and other contaminants that might put processes and people at risk. Additionally, the NSF has introduced a new protocol — NSF P442 — that requires stringent pressure testing and third-party certification to prove that luminaires are qualified for clean industrial applications. They must prevent the flow of air between the plenum space and the controlled environment, be protected from contaminants, particulates and moisture, and be easily cleanable. This protocol is very difficult to achieve but proves that a luminaire is truly leak-proof and ready for use in the most challenging environments. Not every situation demands this protocol – but for those that do, look for the NSF P442 certification.

Innovation mitigates challenges

The shortage of maintenance technicians creates a cascade of challenges for food manufacturers. In the short run, these challenges include disrupted production schedules and increased safety risks. Over the long haul, a lack of regular maintenance and insight into machinery function can put plants’ capital equipment at risk of serious damage and shortened lifespans. Each of these challenges puts manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage.

Luminaires installed over food production lines aren’t capital equipment, yet they can be critical for workers doing their jobs and to keep operations running. Installing sealed enclosure luminaires that meet industry standards is one effective solution to help offset the worker shortage.


Lynn Walldorf
Author Bio: Lynn Walldorf is the product manager at Kenall Manufacturing Co. Kenall Manufacturing Co. is a Legrand company, founded in Chicago in 1963.