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by Kevin T. Higgins, Senior Editor
April 1, 2011
Some additional upfront cost already is paying dividends to this manufacturing organization, with the biggest returns yet to come.
When sellers of financial derivatives and the Bernie Madoffs of the world dangle deals to double and triple capital virtually overnight, it’s a wonder anyone invests in manufacturing. Spending on the production of goods is, with depressing regularity, viewed as a necessary evil to be minimized to the fullest extent possible.
In that context, the Massillon, OH project that Shearer’s Foods Inc. began three years ago is remarkable. Rather than attempt to do it on the cheap, Chairman and CEO Robert J. Shearer declared the project would leverage new and existing technologies to create a manufacturing center that would squeeze every bit of productive use from energy inputs, while minimizing the amount of water consumed and waste generated. The effort would add 8 to 10 percent to the price tag, the snack food maker estimated, but he characterized the added cost as an investment in the future.
Fast-forward three years, and the realization of Shearer’s vision is still unfolding on the rolling hills of northeastern Ohio. Project scope has expanded, not contracted, with the overall price tag increasing accordingly. Phase I was completed in March 2010, a 47,000-sq.-ft. showcase of engineering innovation that earns the distinction of ’s 2011 Plant of the Year.
Integrated data streams
Data communication for human functions, on the other hand, is done through a statistical process control (SPC) program that extends beyond quality issues to include safety, sanitation, training and documentation of manufacturing processes.
Quality, food safety and compliance data are tied to statistical process control software from Chantilly, VA-based InfinityQS. Shearer’s is one of the first food companies to install version 4, an advancement developed for Kraft Foods that includes an enhanced data management system, and Dynamic Scheduler, a program that manages operator start-up sheets, quality checks, packaging checks and other procedures. Scheduler’s visual presentation is a ticking alarm clock, a cue to operators of an impending task and when it should be performed, explains Steven Voight, an InfinityQS application engineer who worked with Shearer’s on the installation. If a task isn’t executed or a problem occurs, the program notifies supervisors or technicians to respond.
“The Shearer’s staff is very good at manipulating the software and making it do what they want it to do,” says Voight. So it didn’t surprise him when they integrated the quality software with many of the other programs, including ERP and a customized MES program named Manufacturing Information Portal (MIP). When a packaging run begins, the operator begins by scanning the package bar code. If the bar code is incompatible with the ERP’s production schedule, the discrepancy is flagged and MIP locks down the pallet label printer, halting production until the correct package for the finished goods is scanned.
Flat-screen monitors provide at-a-glance views of machine states on the plant’s lines, with green icons for normal operation, blue icons for idle equipment and red icons for machines with missed tests or other conditions. At the operators’ stations, the InfinityQS Dynamic Scheduler quality application displays a green sheet of to-do tasks, such as sampling of packages to verify weights. Failure to perform a check on time immediately is reflected on the factory dashboards.
Senior Vice President of Operations Scott Heldreth spearheaded the customization of the SPC software to serve quality control objectives. “My background was originally centered mostly around technology and system implementations,” explains Heldreth, who joined Shearer’s a decade ago as CIO. He replaced all paper-based records with electronic documentation. Associated programs such as Qualtrax, which documents employee training and testing and the versioning execution of standard operating procedures, and asset management records were brought into the quality database. The result is exceptional document control and the ability to meet customers’ and regulators’ audit demands. Gone are the days of “documentation through mostly brute force efforts,” says Heldreth, “including manual audits, paper forms, individual notifications and manual tracking systems.”
One payoff was the relative ease with which the plant received third-party certification through the SQF-level three program. Many food companies that have gone through SQF and other certified audits under the Global Food Safety Initiative have struggled with the documentation requirements. Timelines of a year or longer are not uncommon. Automated documentation and standardized procedures helped the Massillon plant achieve SQF level 3 certification in two and a half months, according to Don Asplin, corporate quality auditor.