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Uncle Ben's of Australia's Wodonga plant manufactures a wide variety of pet food products on a continuous basis, operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for periods of 12 days at a time.
Analysis of the results of the benchmarking program undertaken by the company identified reduction in semi-solid waste for a process line as one of the best initial opportunities to improve its environmental performance and its economic efficiency.
The waste targeted in this exercise was emulsion lost to drain during a process stoppage. Whenever the process (generally involving meat with binders that pass through a heat exchanger to set the chunk) stops, the emulsion has to be flushed from the heat exchangers to prevent the product setting within the pipe work. The waste associated with stoppages - less than 1 per cent of total production - was costing Uncle Ben's around $120,000 annually. Two measures were taken to reduce emulsion loss.
The first measure applied at the process line start-up. The line used to be heated with water to achieve the desired temperature through the contherms (heat exchangers) prior to pumping meat emulsion. This action would contaminate the emulsion with water, requiring the contaminated emulsion to be sent to the drain.
The new measure, using computer software, changed the heating control so as to drain water from the line and significantly alter the heating process. The revised heating control allowed heat to be switched on in sequence as the emulsion reached each area. This revised process, based on calculation of volumes within pipe work and machines, and of the quantity of emulsion that passed through the flow meter, reduced start-up waste by 60 per cent.
The second measure applied to production stoppages during which the emulsion contained within the pipe work must be removed to prevent internal setting of the product. The requirement used to be met by flushing water through the pipe at high volume. The product then had to be scrapped to the drain, given the destructive impact of the uncontrolled rate of water flush. The new measure was installation of a control valve to purge the emulsion using a controlled water flow. Sixty per cent of the purged product is now recovered.
Process engineers were assigned tasks to reduce waste in their ownership areas; this project was studied, resourced and implemented by one process engineer. The project concepts were discussed with senior engineers and a project was written with installation costs versus projected earnings and submitted to management. The project took several days to approve and several weeks to implement.
The change was met with some initial scepticism by operators, who were in favour of waste reduction yet concerned about altering a key process so significantly. Each element of the change was implemented separately to ensure product safety was maintained. The changes have now been implemented for several months and the system is operating smoothly.
The total waste reduction achieved was approximately 60 per cent. Further work is directed to reduction of a further 10 per cent. The total cost of implementation was $50,000. The returns achieved through direct savings and indirect savings (such as efficiency gains and sludge reduction) account for $110,000 annually.
Uncle Ben's of Australia is pursuing a target of at least 50 per cent waste reduction within the process lines. The target is to be achieved through the focused attention of manufacturing associates such as engineers, production and reliability members. The best approach to waste reduction is to involve the people who work in the target areas, as they are more willing to make changes work when they contribute to designing the measures to be undertaken.
This case study was prepared by the Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development, Victoria. Environment Australia would like to thank them for allowing us to display their case study on our web site.