Proactive maintenance and energy reduction strategies will help food and beverage manufacturers relieve mounting cost pressures

Posted on 17 Oct 2023 by Joe Bush

Food and beverage is the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector, and recent news of record export figures revealed in the Food & Drink Federation’s (FDF) Trade Snapshot report, is heartening.

However, it is not a sector without its challenges. Food and beverage manufacturers are faced with mounting cost pressures as a result of factors including rising vegetable oil and crop prices, because of the extended Southern Europe heatwave over the summer. Add to that, expensive borrowing due to the rapid increase in interest rates, soaring energy costs and labour shortages, and it could seem like it’s all doom and gloom.

There are solutions: to get a handle on costs and capitalise on growth opportunities, embracing specialised services and solutions that will help them navigate the challenges and combat the issues is crucial.

In a competitive industry where retaining market share is an ongoing battle, operational profits are of paramount importance. However, while the sector dominates the UK manufacturing landscape, it is one in which machinery and assets are often outdated. When machinery isn’t operating at optimum levels, not only is there a much higher risk of equipment failure, but energy consumption can be drastically affected. To fully maximise the growth potential, a proactive approach to energy reduction and efficient plant operations is needed.

Maintenance engineers should look to utilise specialist service providers to help them implement the right technologies. By doing so, this will enable them to detect potential maintenance issues before they become problematic and help avoid reactive and expensive unplanned maintenance down the line.

These could be condition monitoring elements like thermal imaging and vibration analysis, which can be used to detect anomalies, signalling a potential issue. Or effective lubrication strategies and oil analysis, which ensure the smooth working of asset components, and suitability for food processing machinery. These kinds of techniques should be included in any preventative maintenance strategy.

Getting a grip on energy consumption

The latest Food & Drink Federation’s State of Industry report, for Q2 2023 (Apr–Jun), highlighted energy as a major cost for many manufacturers.  A quarter of mid-size businesses and 17% of the smaller firms reported energy to be more than 20% of total operating costs.

Instead of navigating the volatile energy market and trying to game future market pricing, industry operators should look to achieve optimum plant efficiency. This will hold energy reduction benefits and direct focus to reducing energy levels through gaining better visibility of consumption. This is a far more effective approach to reducing costs, as well as presenting the opportunity to contribute towards sustainability goals. Energy reduction is usually a side effect of a proactive maintenance approach; the two go hand-in-hand.

Multi-site operations can benefit from sharing data and best practice

Food and beverage operators with multi-location sites can often struggle to achieve visibility of data on asset performance, parts procurement and spend, and energy consumption, with data in disparate sources. Accessing, analysing and disseminating this data can present a real drainer for operators with already stretched resources due to an industry-wide labour shortage.

When taking a proactive approach to maintenance and using data gathering and analysis tools that join the dots between the various data sources, this insight can be used to make operations more efficient through negating unplanned downtime, and help identify opportunities for energy reduction.

This kind of information can then facilitate best practice measures which can be shared across multi-site operations. Better visibility of group assets and performance negates lost time searching for information across multiple sites, and avoids missing warning signals of potential equipment failure. This can be hugely beneficial to operational profits for many businesses, but particularly those operating across multiple sites.

Specialist assessment of PPE can support the mission to drive down costs

Food processing requires the highest levels of hygiene, so PPE is a major expenditure area for any manufacturer in this space, and one where players should look to make smart savings. With PPE items like disposable gloves being vital, having proper assessment of consumption and requirements can yield significant savings for a company.

If less durable options are selected to save on cost, many more pairs of gloves may be used within an eight-hour shift, which can also increase risk of contamination because of the more frequent changes. Using a higher volume of lower quality gloves can be a false economy and, in many cases, while using thicker ones may be slightly more expensive, they can still be the cheaper option as they are more likely to stand the test of time over a shift. In addition, some sustainability objectives can be met through reducing the amount of gloves going into landfill.

Specialist PPE providers like RS Safety Solutions will be able to execute comprehensive site surveys and help food and beverage manufacturers find the best products for the job to meet requirements, budgets and regulatory compliance obligations.

Operators must be committed to investment in industrial technology

In this industry, while embracing maintenance solutions as part of a proactive strategy is recognised as key to achieving operational efficiency, efforts can often be restricted by lack of budget. This is something which has been exacerbated by  cost pressures facing the industry.

The FDF’s State of Industry report did reveal food and beverage manufacturers remain committed to growth: almost half surveyed plan to increase their capital investment expenditure in the next 12 months. However, at the smaller end of the business scale, while half of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) plan to increase capital expenditure, the other half plans to cut investment, indicating difficulty in accessing finance and being blighted by ongoing cost pressures.

All players in this market are under serious pressure to retain market share. Finding ways to implement maintenance solutions and strategies that will reduce unplanned downtime, extend the life of assets and save energy is no longer an option but a necessity for those looking to not just survive, but thrive and grow.

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