Process optimization can reduce costs

Get a better sense of the big picture and make adjustments to your operation.
By Todd Allsup, Stellar February 14, 2017

One of the best ways to reduce a facility's costs is through process optimization, which allows a company to get a better sense of the big picture and make adjustments. Courtesy: Samuel Zeller, UnsplashWith a new year comes a fresh start, and for some business owners that may mean a budget reboot. Perhaps the 2017 resolution is to cut costs at the facility—but where? There are a lot of areas to consider and one of the best ways to eliminate unnecessary costs is to optimize your processes.

Manual vs. automated

What aspects of the facility involve manual intervention? What processes are completely automated? Keep in mind, automating doesn’t always equal improving. Just because a process can be automated doesn’t mean it should. In some cases, manual processes can be bettered without automation. For instance, an additional work shift may solve an efficiency problem more effectively than new equipment, and in some cases, it may even be more cost-effective.

Of course, determining what processes should be automated varies from plant to plant and depends on the plant’s return on investment (ROI) goals. Analyzing the extent of automation in your facility is a great place to start when looking for opportunities to improve efficiency.

Free up traffic patterns

No one likes sitting in rush hour traffic on the way to work. Meanwhile, congestion may be tying up your facility and your output-and that’s even worse.

Determine where these backups are occurring and whether they’re in the form of people, equipment or product. Some traffic inefficiencies can be attributed to habit, such as "shortcuts" to different parts of your facility. Others may have evolved over time, such as forklift paths that no longer make sense for your current configuration.

Find the sweet spot between ROI and shelf life

Can you facilitate a longer shelf life for your products by optimizing packaging? Obviously, the longer a product can sit on a shelf, the larger the ROI, but this can be a delicate balance. This direct relationship relies, to some extent, on packaging. Different packaging materials have various effects on the food they contain.

For example, a bag with holes will have faster degradation with exposure to the atmosphere. One way to keep bagged food fresh is with scaff flushing, or filling a bag with gas.

Think outside of the box. Or the bag.

Analyze changeover capabilities

It seems that now more than ever, consumer preferences change frequently. They crave more variety, and for your processing, that translates to quick changeovers.

Of course, flexibility costs money, so the key is being flexible enough without spending too much capital. Determine what processes are mandatory to your plant’s operations and to keeping it profitable, then weigh your flexibility capacity against your operations. Assessing these factors and other data can help optimize process schedules to allow for greater flexibility in changeovers.

Look at the big picture 

As a plant owner, it’s easy to get caught up in the details. When trying to optimize processes in the past, the owner may have been focusing on one little piec, such as a changeover. Plant owners can identify the best areas of opportunity and optimization if they start by looking at the entire process portfolio.

A facility assessment allows companies to take a step back and evaluate the processes that make up your plant’s hectic day-to-day-as a whole-and then dive into the details. By looking at the big picture and then narrowing in, a third-party assessment team can catch all opportunities for improved efficiency.

-Todd Allsup is the vice president of food and beverage facilities at Stellar. This article originally appeared on Stellar Food for ThoughtStellar is a CFE Media content partner.