The food and beverage manufacturing industry is notoriously difficult and demanding. Not only does it have razor-thin profit margins, but the industry is constantly facing new challenges to meet increasing customer demands. Food manufacturers are also under constant regulation – and with good reason. Careless mistakes could lead to serious health and legal consequences. The only way to keep up is to keep equipment sanitary and properly functioning at all times.


In this article, we discuss the top plant maintenance challenges faced by the food and beverage industry, as well as 6 essential strategies to strengthen preventive maintenance plans and ensure safety and regulatory compliance.




Top Food Quality Maintenance Challenges

6 Essential Strategies to Ensure Regulatory Compliance

How Sigga Can Help



Top Food Quality Maintenance Challenges


To maintain a competitive edge, the food and beverage industry must stay current with the latest in preventive and predictive maintenance approaches to maximise uptime and maintain compliance. This is more easily said than done as there are many unique challenges to address and overcome including:



Keeping the Workplace Hygienic


Food and beverage manufacturers must maintain a hygienic workplace to avoid lawsuits, recalls, or food contamination. This situation requires the whole organisation to be focused on sanitary practices. Cleanliness needs to be ingrained in the company culture. For the maintenance department, it adds extra procedures and extra steps to every task for food & beverage manufacturers.


Maintenance processes whether it is inspections or repairs can introduce contamination into the production line. From bacteria and random debris to flakes of rust and paint, the maintenance team needs to be aware of the potential issue and follow documented procedures to maintain hygienic conditions. In addition, safety must be considered as many cleaning requirements often result in a wet environment which can create a safety issue for workers and reduce the useful life of equipment.



Avoiding Spoilage and Contamination


When equipment breakdowns, food can be contaminated or spoil until a repair can be completed. This impact is more than the typical downtime issues of financial losses, staff idleness, and potential unsatisfied customers. The situation adds to the pressures and process steps for the maintenance organisation to quickly diagnose the problems and implement repairs to minimise the downtime event.



Addressing Multi-layered Compliance Regulations


The food and beverage industry is highly regulated since the products are intended for human consumption.  For example, in addition to standard regulations for all manufacturers from organisations such as the Occupational Safety & Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. food & beverage manufacturers need to address regulations from the Food & Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Hazardous Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) organisation and more.


And of course, many of these organisations conduct routine and complaints-based inspections. So, it is critical to stay current with the latest food and beverage industry regulations and compliance requirements.


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about many new regulations in food manufacturing plants, like reconfiguring the work environment to ensure social distancing, increasing cleaning and sanitation requirements, and reducing the number of onsite workers. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) together with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), released a recent checklist for employee health and food safety, for food manufacturing plants to address these added regulations.


This challenge further drives food & beverage plants towards more advanced maintenance strategies to support the continual change in procedures and documentation required to stay compliant.



Sophisticated Equipment


There are many complex assets in a food processing plant that require constant maintenance from specially trained technicians. Many crafts are needed to address the range of failure modes and risk factors in the maintenance and repair of food and beverage production equipment. From high-speed conveyors, ovens, and coolers to bottling machines and end-of-line packers, the number of plant maintenance procedures become exponential.


Lisa Denney, reliability-centered maintenance facilitator at Coors Brewing Co., "found that when you adjust the mechanical systems of these machines, you can affect the electrical program, too," she says. "So, you really need to have team of specialists - someone with a mechanical maintenance background and an electronics technician - who can work together on this equipment."


Exacerbating this challenge is the shortage of skilled labour. It is difficult enough to schedule inspections and preventive maintenance tasks with the range of trades needed, but the problem also impacts the ability to quickly respond to breakdowns.



Linked Processes and Equipment


The more machines used in the food production and packaging process; the more important preventive maintenance becomes. Chuck Armbruster, corporate reliability engineering manager at the J.M. Smucker Co. commented, "every time you add another piece of equipment on a production line, that's another potential source for downtime. …As a result, all the machines need to be integrated and made reliable in order to get the finished goods out at the far end of the line."


For the gain in benefits of end-to-end production lines for food quality and production efficiency, food & beverage plants need to increase investments in good maintenance practices.



Continuous Production


In the world of food production, machines are continuously running. Finding the right time to do inspections or routine maintenance can be challenging. But the downside of not completing preventive tasks can be devastating. Not only can unplanned downtime affect the entire production, but also runs the risk of shortening the machine's useful life.


Even if condition monitoring is in place, actual preventive maintenance work is critical. Production and maintenance departments need to work closely together to align on the maintenance plans and the day-to-day maintenance schedules.



Tight Maintenance Budgets


The food manufacturing industry is a high-risk industry where operational efficiency is not an option but a necessity. With slim profit margins and the pandemic creating swings in demand, the industry is feeling even more pressure. That said, it is even more challenging now to invest in better maintenance practices whereas the result can be greater operational efficiency and cost savings for the whole production organisation.



6 Essential Strategies to Ensure Regulatory Compliance


While food and beverage manufacturers have to face plenty of challenges, there is nothing more challenging than keeping compliant. There are many ways for a food and beverage manufacturing company to fall out of compliance including failure to control hygiene, cleanliness, pests, waste products, safety data sheets and even failure of record-keeping. The impact can be significant fines, plant shutdowns, product recalls, customer complaints, bad press, and loss of business.


Below are 6 essential strategies to keep yourself compliant through proper maintenance.





6 Maintenance Strategies for Regulatory Compliance

  1. Training

  2. Document Procedures

  3. Implement Hygiene Protocols

  4. Excel at Work Management

  5. Condition Monitor

  6. Pursue Reliability-Centered Maintenance


Training 1. Conduct Regular Training


Study after study find that insufficient employee training is one of the top-ranked problems for food safety and compliance.  You must train your maintenance team on the best practices in quality control, occupational safety, and food safety. More importantly, they must understand why it's vital for the company and the consumer. You can solidify these best practices through regular training, so these are always top of mind.


Consider comparing your training practices with these guidelines published by the University of Nebraska regarding good manufacturing practices. This study suggests the inclusion of targeted and ongoing training on issues, such as cleaning and sanitation procedures, allergen control, monitoring, and incoming ingredient receipt protocol, among others.


One way to reinforce training is to completely document procedures and make them easily available.



Document procedures 2. Document Procedures


Regulations like the HACCP require food and beverage manufacturers to individually document their own manufacturing and maintenance practices to maintain food quality. These instructions and guidelines need to cover every process from simple hand-washing procedures to how to change a coupling.


Besides creating the documentation, it is important to make the policy and checklists available to the right person at the point of the task. For example, you need a coupling replaced and have not given instructions to the technician on how to properly conduct the task. The technician completes the procedure, but the coupling seizes and fails within a few days. Then, a different technician repairs the coupling again, but is highly familiar with the procedure and now the equipment is running fine. What if the coupling fails again? What is the risk of assigning the right technician to complete a long-term repair? Rather than take chances, documentation that is easily accessible to every technician goes a long way to get it right every time.


Besides documenting your procedures, for compliance you need to document that procedures were followed, completed successfully and on the appropriate time interval. Keeping data digital through-out the maintenance process down to the technician completing individual tasks makes it easy to capture the data for proof of compliance.



Hygiene protocols 3. Implement Food Quality Maintenance Hygiene Protocols


Because food manufacturing and sanitation are inseparable, your maintenance team must ensure they follow all the same procedures as the production team. In addition, they need to be aware of the chemicals they use and the potential to contaminate food with grease, dirt, metal shavings etc. from conducting maintenance and repairs.


The choice of equipment and even parts can impact the lifetime of the assets, especially in wet environments. "In the course of doing our Reliability Centered Maintenance program, we found that equipment that is subjected to moisture and chemicals is much more likely to fail," according to Lisa Denney, reliability-centered maintenance facilitator at Coors Brewing Co. "For instance, when we looked at gearboxes, we saw that those in the wet areas of the plant fell two years earlier than those in the dry areas."


Maintenance training and documentation needs to be specific to the plant location and equipment to recognise and proactively avoid food contamination and maximise the lifetime of plant equipment.



Excel at Work 4. Excel at Work Management


Given the compliance requirements and the business need to optimise uptime, it is critical to be exceptional in work management and the planning and scheduling of maintenance work. Assigning the right technician to the right tasks at the right times not only optimises resources and improves uptime, but it will also help with compliance management and reporting.


Using SAP PM for plant planning and scheduling can be tedious and slow. Your management team needs more data than what is available in SAP to create schedules to align preventive maintenance plans with production calendars and technician skills. Using an automation solution with SAP PM can replace the routine time-consuming work while providing intuitive views to optimise and manage maintenance schedules.


The result of using technology to optimise SAP PM can result in more preventive maintenance work getting completed and better utilisation of the maintenance staff. Per Doc Palmer in his Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook, "Implementing proper planning and scheduling can improve productive maintenance time (wrench time) of a typical organisation from 25-35% to 50-55% - almost doubling the ability to get work completed."



Condition monitor 5. Install Sensors and Condition Monitoring


Today’s technology of smart machines and sensors can monitor the condition of assets and trigger a maintenance notification. Sensors can even recommend a change in production to extend the use of the equipment until a repair can be scheduled. These Industry 4.0 technologies have been coming down in price and are not only for high-margin manufacturers. They can even pay for themselves by reducing the amount of preventive maintenance tasks required, avoiding breakdowns, and resulting downtime impacts. For example, sensors can conduct vibration analysis, sample oil viscosity, detect temperature changes with infrared thermography, monitor noises with ultrasound.


These technologies can predict a potential problem before it causes a failure. In many cases, production can solve an issue on their own without the need to notify the maintenance team. To take advantage of these technologies, you need to be able to turn the data collected into insights and work orders for the maintenance team. It is insufficient to just monitor, you need to have the work management processes to act on the data. 



Pursue reliability 6. Pursue Reliability-Centered Maintenance Practices


Preventive maintenance is essential for food and beverage plants, but reliability-centered maintenance takes it to the next level. Some assets are best left to run-to-failure, while others would benefit from constant monitoring. The general principle of reliability-centered maintenance is to deploy the most effective maintenance approach to every piece of equipment to maximise uptime and minimise maintenance costs.


Given the complexity and breadth of maintenance tasks for food & beverage manufacturers, reliability-centered maintenance practices not only optimise maintenance work, but the data structure and practices underpinning this strategy supports compliance management and reporting.



In Conclusion


Jamie Borley CEng MSc CMRP MIAM, a chartered engineer and Certified Maintenance & Reliability Professional framed this up well for the Processing Industry Informer, “Those food & beverage manufacturers, who are soaring and towering above all others, have realised that to keep ahead demands asset management strategic thinking and managing their maintenance with modern and pragmatic best practices. They are closing all the gaps in their maintenance processes and optimising their workflows. They realise the need for continuous improvement, and continuous evolution underpinned with mobile technology, solutions, and strategies.”



How Sigga Can Help


Sigga is an internationally recognised software company that has been supporting major food manufacturing industry clients in their digital transformation initiatives for the last 20 years. As the leading provider of solutions for SAP EAM, we have a deep understanding of the obstacles and pains of the maintenance function.


We remain on top of the ever-changing technological advancements and offer best-in-class EAM products for complex integration and business scenarios. Our Mobile EAM app provides an interface to SAP PM for technicians replacing paper and manual data entry processes. The app supports technicians to follow compliance-based procedures with full access to manuals and checklists while online or offline. Plus, captures real-time data for compliance reporting even allowing for custom forms to meet unique procedure lists and data capture requirements for HACCP and other regulations.


Our Planning and Scheduling solution automates routine steps to free up managers to plan maintenance activities more strategically. The solution maintains data on planned equipment downtime, technician skills and detailed technician availability. The solution also tracks parts availability including vendor turnaround time to supply the parts needed. The interface makes it easy to adjust schedules, track work status and pull reports to support compliance requirements.


Here are some of our food and beverage manufacturing clients that have optimised their maintenance processes and improved compliance with our solutions.


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