What Maintenance Challenges are Unique to Food Manufacturing?

Rafe sits down with Simon Murray – Reliability Coach at Your Maintenance Coach to discuss all things regarding maintenance, reliability and asset management in the food industry. So what maintenance challenges are unique to food manufacturing? The perishable nature of the product and a “daily fresh” requirement means there are few windows available for planned maintenance. Manufacturing consolidation has also challenged distribution routes.

Rafe Britton: Maybe I can ask you about some of the unique challenges that face the food industry when it comes to maintenance and reliability. There are some maintenance and reliability challenges that are, I would say unique.

The challenge of perishable products

Simon Murray: Yeah. Okay. So the biggest thing that I see come through is particular to businesses that are producing stuff that doesn’t sit in a warehouse for, six, seven months. Lots of my clients are “daily fresh” – bakeries and dairy for example. They’re really driven by what the supermarkets demand. If we look at the other extreme of something like an airline or a mine or a gas plant (really asset intensive industries): when the maintenance is due on a piece of equipment, the business understands we’re going to shut down and we’re going to do that maintenance. An airline doesn’t tend to delay maintenance for a couple of months.

When you flip to the food industry and low-intensity manufacturing, do we supply all of our product to the supermarket tomorrow? Or do we stop for 12 hours and do maintenance? Guess what – the decision is to supply the supermarket.

And what that means is the maintenance team has to be very dynamic to deal with that, it’s not a 10,000 hour service. We’re not going to stop for that. You’ve meed to work out how you break that 10,000 hour service down into small one-hour chunks and fit it in. Maybe it’s on a Wednesday night shift where why we’re cleaning the machine, maybe it’s the weekend.

Second order effects of manufacturing consolidation

The example I often use – I spent a lot of time with baking bread. The big players used to have small bakeries and all the different regional towns. Over the years, that’s been consolidated into almost super plants in the capital cities. But what that means is your average delivery driver – one factory – for example a big bakery in Sydney. And we’re delivering out to Dubbo, which is a five-hour drive for the truck driver to get there.

To complete a return trip in legal hours, he’s got no window of the truck has to leave on time. So from a manufacturing perspective and a maintenance perspective, you have a 15 minute window to get that truck loaded. So if you have a 30 minute breakdown, that town doesn’t get any bread for the day.

These are the complexities – how do we keep our PMs up to scratch? How do we do our preventative maintenance and our inspections while at the same time, we’ve just got to keep everything running. 

Rafe Britton: Okay. That’s an insight that I consider actually was how the effects of consolidation on supply chain.

Second order effects of market consolidation

How has some of this also been driven by the economics of the industry? In Australia, there was a lot of news about five years ago, regarding the way that dairy farmers were being so squeezed on margins by the big supermarket chains. We effectively only had two supermarket options here and they dominated the industry. But what we were finding was that they have so much market power, and they were able to squeeze out a lot of these independent farmers.

So is that the case across the entire food industry or do they maybe have a few more options? 

Simon Murray: It’s certainly a challenge. Because our domestic markets in Australia is relatively tiny to the rest of the world. There’s actually very few manufacturers left here who only make their own brands. Most businesses have had to adapt to the supermarkets.

If you look at their sales, maybe 40 or even 50% of their sales is what they call their home-branded products. So it’s not the big name brands. That’s one thing that’s changed is most of the manufacturers who have adapted their actually got their own brand names, but they’re also making another brand on license.

The second point I’d make on that is even some of the major manufacturer of what we consider manufacturers or big global brands, even some of those don’t manufacture themselves anymore. So there is lots and lots, and certainly many of my clients are third party manufacturers.That would manufacture. Yes, we’re manufacturing directly for the supermarkets under their brand, but we also manufacture for this big global well-known brand name because they don’t have manufacturing set up in Australia anymore. And a lot of that has been driven through those pricing forces that you described.

Certainly there’s many global brands that have shut down their factories because they are focusing on branding and marketing rather than the manufacturing piece. However a local family business over here that’s grown over the years – they’re really good at that manufacturing. So let’s partner up with them and give them that work. Lots of it’s driven as you say, by those supermarkets. IIt’s just such a big chunk of the market for everybody.