Using energy sensors to reduce food manufacturing downtime

By Jon Rabinowitz

If you're in the food manufacturing industry, you may have begrudgingly come to accept the notion that machine failures are just part of doing business. If that's the case, you've likely resigned yourself to maintenance costs exacerbated by the suddenness of failures and urgency with which repairs are needed.

When you're paying a factory full of employees to stand around waiting for a machine to be serviced, the cost of maintenance is not just measured according to the price of the repair but also by lost productivity, the asynchronicity of input flow and possible supply chain complications. For food manufacturers, this is the stuff of horrible headaches. But it doesn't need to be. 

Machine failures increase an operation's total cost of ownership (TCO) and hamper its ability to operate competitively, yet plant managers rarely have the information they need to anticipate breakdowns and take pre-emptive corrective action. Having said that, solace should be taken in the fact that such unplanned downtime at food manufacturing plants can in fact be avoided.

Easy-to-install energy sensors can help managers bridge that knowledge gap by delivering precise operational and asset performance data in real time to inform upon and enable a predictive maintenance regimen. Predictive maintenance is recognised by most manufacturers to reduce downtime and improve safety.

Here's how smart energy sensors play into that proactive approach... 

Which electrical problems signify equipment failure? 

Inductive distance measuring systems, vibration detection devices and other similar network-connected sensors can catch equipment issues, but are usually prohibitively expensive. Such sensors also require that regular manufacturing operations be suspended for the duration of the installation process. This can contribute to the exact headache that it's intended to alleviate, not to mention push TCO even higher. 

In contrast, unobtrusive energy sensors use electrical currents to identify and alert managers to asset performance anomalies. By establishing a baseline electrical signature for each asset in a food manufacturing operation and comparing live consumption patterns against those baselines, a smart energy sensing system can monitor and report on the operational state and overall health of assets, in real time.

Floating neutrals, over-cycling compressors, sequence of operations (SOO) errors, you name it – whatever your food manufacturing malady, it will show up in the energy signature before it shows up on the production line. 

For example, a study from the National Institute for Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics, found that broken rotor bars cause 10% of all motor failures and "significantly" increase power consumption.

Suppose a food manufacturer installed a wireless sensor to a circuit feeding an induction motor. Two weeks later, the sensor starts registering abnormal levels of energy consumption on that circuit. This anomaly would be reported immediately and trigger an investigation that points to the machine's broken rotor bar.

Energy sensor retrofits to reduce food operation downtime

Non-invasive smart energy sensors can connect to individual circuits across any facility directly through the electrical panel. Each sensor has an identification number that correlates with a specific circuit.

After installation, these sensors will feed live information to an easy-to-navigate, all-in-one cloud analytics platform. Food factory managers can access this platform through any of their devices (desktop, tablet, smartphone, etc.)

Food manufacturing downtime can mean the difference between profitable and unprofitable operations. One of the best ways to prevent it is to follow the trail of energy data breadcrumbs leading to dysfunctional equipment.  

With the right system in place and due managerial vigilance, food manufacturers don't have to spend tens of thousands of pounds to vanquish unplanned downtime. They just need the right type of visibility.