Global snack food sales totaled a staggering $374 billion between 2013 and 2014. US snack manufacturing alone is a $35 billion industry, and even with today’s health-conscious consumers, industry growth averages more than 4% annually. While snack food manufacturers, and the products they make, come in all shapes and sizes, one particular treat, potato chips, represents more than 26% of overall industry revenue (source).
Producing these popular salty snacks requires a lot of technology, and that tech faces some unique challenges that can wreak havoc on your average computer. For our continuing series, we spoke with one of our clients, a global leader in potato chip production, about the most common causes of line downtime and how they’re working to combat them.
- Avoiding a Mess: The Unique Challenges of Food Manufacturing: Read Now
- Avoiding a Mess Part 2: Snack Foods – Dust of a Different Kind
- Avoiding a Mess Part 3: Bottled, Canned and Jarred: Read Now
- Avoiding a Mess Part 4: Cheese and Other Dairy Products: Read Now
Challenge #1: Airborne Seasonings
It’s no secret that dust can cause a wide range of problems for computer systems, but we talk to clients every day who remind us that dust comes in many forms. A big part of what makes potato chips so popular is the seemingly endless number of different flavors. In most cases these flavorings are added after the cooking process in the form of powdered seasonings. While modern food manufacturing facilities are kept to the strictest standards of cleanliness, there’s often simply no way to effectively contain all of the seasonings that are used to flavor the huge volume of snacks manufactured every day. In the case of our client, the flavorings being applied to their chips with spray nozzles or deposited in rotating drums, were entering the vents in their existing computer systems, building up on internal components and causing system failures and downtime due to shorting and overheating. IT teams were being forced to regularly take systems off the line, open them and clean them out, taking them away from revenue-generating responsibilities.
Solution: Ventless Enclosures
The biggest change that any manufacturer can make to help cut downtime is eliminating points of failure. The two most common failure points for computer hardware are traditional hard drives and fans. Not only do fanless and ventless enclosures eliminate component vulnerabilities on the manufacturing floor, they’re also far easier to clean and maintain. By pairing fanless PCs with solid state storage, our potato chip manufacturing client was able to create a reliable computing solution with no moving parts and eliminate vulnerability to airborne spices and seasonings.
Challenge #2: High Heat
The vast majority of snack food and baked goods manufacturers have to contend with extreme temperature environments of one kind or another. Whether it’s conveyor ovens, huge frying tanks, hot air dryers, production coolers or flash freezers, both high and low temperatures can make reliable computing difficult for even the toughest hardware, and nearly impossible for consumer-grade systems. For our potato chip manufacturer, their quality control system necessitated an industrial automation computer to be mounted near the exit of a conveyor oven. Not only was it subject to airborne oil particles, but also needed to operate in constant temperatures in excess of 130°F (54°C).
Solution: Wide Temp Components
The fact is, the majority of standard computing hardware is still designed to operate in temperature-controlled environments. The internal components of most consumer-grade PCs aren’t engineered to hold up to prolonged operation in extreme temperatures, with reliable operating ranges in the area of 32°F to 110°F. Industrial computer components on the other hand are specifically designed to withstand extreme temperatures, with ranges commonly listed in the -40°F to 160°F (-40°~70°C) range. These more durable components mean more reliable computers that can be depended on to operate without downtime in even the harshest environments.
Our potato chip manufacturing client chose our AU140 Wide Temperature Industrial Control Computer for its fanless design, assortment of industrial I/O and operating temperature range of -4°F~140°F. Since implementing these systems throughout their facility, they’ve slashed IT downtime and maintenance needs while saving valuable space on their production line thanks to the AU140’s small form factor design.
This is just one example of how modern food manufacturing companies are changing the way they think about industrial computing. Check back next week when we explore the unique challenges in the bottled, canned and jarred food products industry.