Developing an Equipment Maintenance Program in Food Manufacturing

Creating an efficient and effective maintenance program in any manufacturing company is important to its overall success. However, for food and beverage producers, there’s an extra layer of importance, due to food safety concerns and regulations.

Consider the following factors in establishing, running, and maintaining an effective maintenance program for your food manufacturing business.

Selecting and Designing Equipment

If you’re selecting new or pre-owned equipment for your food manufacturing business, it’s important to consider how the machine is designed and constructed as well as how it affects your overall production process. Does it increase the risk of contamination or decrease it? What type of evaluation will it need to undergo before it passes regulatory requirements?

Along the same lines, the design of the factory floor can play an important role in controlling food contamination, as well as employee safety hazards. Many microbial or allergen problems can arise from food that may get stuck within the equipment itself in between production runs.

According to a recent study, one-quarter of all food contamination results from improperly designed or improperly used equipment. As a result, it’s important for food manufacturers to ensure that all food contact surfaces are constructed from food-grade material that’s not corrosive, toxic, or absorbent. The overall maintenance program that follows must also minimize the risk of food contamination.

Food Safety and Maintenance

Although an excellent maintenance program is critical to any manufacturing company, it plays even a greater role in the food and beverage industry due to food safety issues.

Several foodborne outbreaks have been linked to improper equipment maintenance in the past. For example, in the early 1980s, a type E botulism outbreak was found to be caused by can reformers that were not working well. Once this was identified, this equipment was monitored more closely and eventually replaced.

Just as food and beverage manufacturers must have stringent sanitation standard operating procedures and traceability processes, maintenance procedures must be well-defined to ensure food safety, as well.

The Role of Preventive Maintenance

Although preventive maintenance is important to any manufacturing company, it plays a special role in food and beverage companies. Besides the typical benefits of less downtime and improved productivity, preventive maintenance can go a long way to ensure food safety, as well as record work completed for documentation and compliance. Often, many plants rely on pen-and-paper systems and spreadsheets to document preventive maintenance; however, these systems can be ineffective for many reasons. First, with non-digital systems, the potential for misplacing and losing documentation is high. This can be particularly challenging when important audits or inspections are coming up in your plant. Secondly, spreadsheets can be especially unreliable forms of documentation, as many people can have unlimited access. This leaves the potential for people to change or edit areas, thereby making the spreadsheet an untrustworthy form of documentation. 

When you start a preventive maintenance program, you should consider reliable forms of storing data, such as in a CMMS. With a CMMS, you are able to track critical information in one place, as well as limit permissions and access to records, to ensure their integrity.  In order to implement a preventive maintenance program, a food or beverage company should take an inventory of all its critical equipment, including things like identification or model numbers, descriptions, maintenance schedules, and checklists or procedures required. In this way, you have daily, weekly, monthly and annual tasks scheduled and programmed for easy work order management.

Along with time-based maintenance tasks, companies should also consider a risk-assessment related to each piece of equipment. Critical machinery that must stay up and running all the time for production or safety purposes may require more regular maintenance, inspections, or back-up systems. For example, a simple part like a gasket could result in contamination and spoilage for a food manufacturer; therefore, this component should be frequently checked and replaced before it malfunctions.

Establish Procedures to Document Maintenance Procedures

Related to preventive maintenance, but also encompassing all maintenance activities, documented processes and procedures are critical to a well-running program. Food and beverage manufacturers should gather equipment manuals and suggested schedules, along with company-specific processes and requirements to compile a comprehensive set of maintenance procedures.

Typical documentation may include procedures for lubrication, tool reconciliation, repairs, emergencies, training, and audits. Ideally, all this documentation is consistently and readily available through a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) so that every technician has access when needed, especially for completing work orders.

Flooring Issues

Although equipment that is in direct contact with food or beverage products may seem like the highest risk areas for contamination, those in the industry would disagree. In fact, one of the areas for greatest contamination is actually floors and issues related to drainage systems. In fact, some companies cite that tests on floor drains resulted in the greatest number of pathogens and can be the root of contamination in the facility.

During maintenance inspections, floors should be checked for cracks, chips, and damage to coatings and transitions. Besides contamination from things like drains themselves, systemic problems can result in pooling water, slippery surfaces, or weakened construction.

Air Quality Issues

Managing an environment that supports good air quality is key to maintaining food safety within food and beverage production. Air often transports pathogens, as well as allergens such as mold, yeast, and dust. Both moisture and dust particles can contain microbes, allergens, oils, or other contaminants. 

Manufacturing facilities should work to control airflow within the plant, directing any potential airborne contamination away from final food products and away from equipment that requires air to function properly. For example, creating negative air pressures in areas that store raw meats can help ensure that the air and potential contaminants do not move into processing and packaging areas.

Facilities should regularly maintain and change filters in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations, as well as treating and testing air quality on a regular basis.

MRO Inventory Management

Another key area of a comprehensive maintenance program is managing maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) inventory. This may include tools required for service and repair, disposable items such as janitorial supplies, and spare parts needed to maintain critical assets. Companies must find a way to balance keeping enough MRO inventory on hand so that repairs can be made swiftly, yet not keep too many items, which increases cost and organization requirements.

A CMMS can easily integrate purchasing requirements into work orders. For example, if a critical spare part reaches a low level, a purchase order can be immediately initiated. This helps a company ensure that key parts are on hand, as well as avoid high rush shipping charges.

Sanitation After Maintenance

After maintenance tasks are performed, it’s particularly important for food manufacturers to engage in a thorough sanitation program to ensure that equipment will not contaminate products.

Manufacturers may want to establish a sanitation-after-maintenance or red-tag program in its operations. The information available should include the type of repair performed, parts and tools used, sanitation completed, and documentation and inspection record. Ideally, this program is integrated with a preventive maintenance work order system, which ensures that the tasks are completed before the work order is closed. A CMMS should then contain all historic documentation on this process as well.

Applying Innovation to Maintenance with Food and Beverage Manufacturing

Although food and beverage companies can be incredibly innovative when it comes to using technology to create value-added products and services, it is frequently stuck in paper-based, regulation-heavy manual processes when it comes to maintenance tasks. It’s time to make the switch to digital, which will make compliance with government and industry regulations easier and more efficient.

Food and beverage manufacturers need to embrace CMMS solutions that offer an easy-to-use interface for employees. Today, a great deal of information can be accessed and recorded through a smartphone or other mobile device, giving overworked maintenance staff a powerful tool to do much more work efficiently and accurately. Here are some examples:

Data Input

By giving maintenance staff the ability to scan equipment, take pictures of work, and input progress immediately on the shop floor, companies will reduce errors and improve productivity.

Historical Records

If maintenance technicians can access the history on a piece of equipment as well as manuals and checklists on a mobile device before beginning work, they will have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips to do the job more completely.

Augmented Reality

This technology is an excellent way to train inexperienced technicians on new tasks, providing live-streamed, overlaid instructions, as well as building a training library for the future.

Virtual Reality

Another technology that promises amazing training opportunities is virtual reality. Technicians can work on food and beverage equipment virtually to learn how to deconstruct, repair, and reassemble without disrupting a production line.

Sensor Technology

A wide variety of sensors that measure things like temperature, humidity, vibration, mileage, and fluid levels are available today. Technology in this category allows food and beverage manufacturers to monitor equipment around-the-clock inexpensively. As soon as a critical asset falls out of range, an alert is sent, so maintenance can prevent any further damage. This also eliminates the need for routine in-person checks of these measures.

Data Analysis

When quality information is entered into a CMMS, the backlog of data can be a valuable source of information in terms of measuring key performance indicators, ongoing performance of equipment, and when a rebuild or replacement may be warranted.

Conclusion

With today’s technology and plenty of examples of best practices, food and beverage manufacturers can create an equipment maintenance program that can better ensure food safety. In addition, many of these practices will also help companies operate more efficiently, improve productivity, reduce downtime, and control costs. That all potentially leads to greater profitability and long-term success of the entire organization.