Six Things Pet Food Processors Should Know Before Building a New Facility
Today’s pet food processors must be flexible to adapt to sudden economic disruptions and changing consumer demands, including the personalization of products. Industry 4.0/Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are essential for the easy transition to different product and packaging needs, without compromising food or and worker safety. In particular, increased levels of automation are critical for boosting operational efficiency, product quality, and profitability. Ensuring segregation of food products, temperature controls, and hygienic product flow is increasingly important for safety, especially as more processors add raw meat products to their offerings. With COVID-19, of course, new processing plants must also take into account worker safety and meet all CDC guidelines.
Before embarking on a new operation, pet food processors must consider many key factors.
1. Food safety overview.
Pet food is highly regulated in the U.S. and must comply with all federal and state requirements, including the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This includes meeting current good manufacturing practices (cGMPs) and developing food safety plans that detail their food safety measures, ranging from traceability of ingredients to manufacturing cleanliness to implementing a recall. These are best achieved using IoT technologies such as automation, robotics, and machine-to-machine communication.
“Pet foods for dogs and cats are subject to the same measures of compliance as those for food of human consumption,” says Amanda Flowers, manager of operations integration with Gray Solutions, a Gray company. “Depending on the location of production, several standards may apply to the pet food production. As compliance to a chosen standard heavily incorporates both operational and food safety measures, incorporation of IoT technologies (automation, robotics, machine-to-machine communication) aids in the simplification of processes and drives compliance for producers.”
2. Engineering/design considerations.
The first step in constructing a new processing plant is fully considering and understanding the flow of people and things through the facility.
“We need to initially consider the inherent, potential hazards that these facilities have,” says Amanda Arnold, assistant design manager with Gray. “With the challenges in mind, designers are able to use a number of tools to help mitigate those hazards, such as implementing hygienic zoning and accounting for the movement of people, products, and waste through the facility.”
This approach to design ensures maximum worker and product safety, including single-direction flow of materials, from raw ingredients to final product. Automation technologies, data acquisition and analytics, and segregation and hygiene strategies can then be installed, along with advanced air ventilation and filtration systems.
3. Compliance needs.
Complying with (or exceeding) federal and state requirements is easiest to achieve when processing facilities are specifically designed to make compliance as easy and streamlined as possible, thereby reducing errors and maximizing quality. Automation and IoT are critical for capturing real-time data that track key performance indicators. Linear flow is essential for establishing material segregation and hygienic zones, while monitoring temperature and humidity helps maintain optimum conditions and keep food ingredients safe. Operators are automatically notified of environmental variances through IoT, including alarms and alerts.
4. Traceability factors.
COVID-19 has proven the importance of having an agile supply chain. Traceability is essential for quality control in ingredients, FDA audits, and consumer satisfaction. Sophisticated software systems, which capture, record, and analyze ingredient data, can track ingredients at any point in the supply chain. Traceability data also improves supply chain efficiency and security by identifying choke points and other delays. As traceability becomes more important to the consumer, more companies are using cloud-based tracking systems that trace every ingredient back to the supplier—data which can be used to create positive consumer awareness.
“With ever-changing logistical challenges, today’s ingredient lot tracking systems must be developed with flexibility in mind,” says Drew Goodall, vice president of process integration with Gray Solutions, a Gray company. “Modern producers need agile systems that can be updated by manufacturing operations personnel without requiring interjection from control systems teams.”
Top-tier networks sync well with rapid changes in production schedules to meet supply chain challenges or changing consumer demands.
Goodall adds, “A well-designed traceability interface is just as critical for operations utilization as production line control systems.”
5. Equipment needs.
Safe and efficient food processing is all about the latest equipment and technology. Easy-to-clean equipment is critical, especially in hygiene zones or where equipment is processing raw meat. These machines must be easy to disassemble and clean to minimize production delays.
“Food safety, regulatory requirements, and efficient food processing are all about the latest equipment and technology used for manufacturing,” says Terry Voigt, process engineer with Anderson Dahlen, Inc., a Gray company. “It is critical to factor cleaning into how we engineer equipment, whether it’s clean-in-place (CIP), steam-in-place (SIP), or clean-out-of-place (COP). These machines must be disassembled and cleaned quickly and safely to minimize production delays, with food safety always at the top of mind.”
Automation also improves machine performance and maximizes throughput. Other IoT-enabled capabilities include artificial intelligence, machine-to-machine learning, data analytics, and predictive maintenance using the latest sensor technologies, all of which help achieve top OEE (overall equipment effectiveness).
“Conveyor systems, packaging equipment, and cutting machines are all essential in the meat production industry. Each of these systems benefits from automated controls that provide sensors which can be used to prevent cross-contamination during the sanitation process,” says Kris Rarden, a sales associate also with Anderson Dahlen, Inc.
Consumers increasingly seek to do business with companies that share their concerns for the environment. Sustainable ingredient sourcing is driving pet food product development and is very important for brand awareness and loyalty. Sustainable packaging is also in high demand—for example, Pet Food Processing reports that three-quarters of respondents in a recent survey indicated they would pay more for sustainable packaging. Some companies are also striving to achieve zero waste in their operations, meaning that all materials or resources that enter a facility are used in production, recycled, or otherwise utilized in a positive way, such as being composted or burned as fuel, with no waste taken to the landfill.
In order to establish a modern, efficient, and sustainable pet food processing facility, it is essential to fully understand what the processor wants to achieve. This may include planning for possible expansions in the future, so that the flow patterns established in the main plant will not be interrupted. A flexible design will help pet food processors meet fluctuating market and consumer demands, giving them a competitive edge in the increasingly crowded pet food marketplace.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.