How to Upgrade Your Bulk Material Handling Operation and Improve Efficiency

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Investing in a new bulk material handling plant will reduce labor, lower energy usage, improve yields and reduce scrap. Still, upgrading an existing facility could also significantly improve efficiency and strengthen your position in a competitive market.

bulk material handlingPhoto by Beninho Riobó via Wikimedia Commons. No changes were made.

Choosing either to expand or update the automation efforts of an existing plant could change perceptions and greatly improve processes. Chuck Kerwin, general manager of AZO Inc., discussed additional factors to keep in mind when considering operation expansion.

chuck kerwin azo inc.Chuck Kerwin, general manager of AZO Inc., speaking during the company’s 40th Anniversary Open House event.

Older manufacturing plants are often challenged to stay efficient when operating costs are high. What are some examples that would warrant an operation either to expand or update their manufacturing?

CK: If you're in the manufacturing business, it's all about selling everything you produce and never stocking out — that's one successful strategy.

For new products, think in terms of what is trending. What is “in”? What do people like? You can’t predict this. By nature, it’s fickle. If you are lucky enough to produce that “hot” product, you have to seize the moment. In the past, there have been a lot of products that were really cool and caught the public’s fancy, but manufacturers dropped the ball by not producing enough product to meet the demand. If that happens, you miss that buzz and can’t capitalize on the product’s popularity. That is truly a lost opportunity!

Lots of people will try something new once — only some of those folks will buy that product again and again. So in building a brand, you want as many people as possible to try it once, so you get as large a “retainer” as possible. The bigger the crowd trying it, the bigger your loyal customer base will ultimately be. You don't want to limit that first-time buyer by not having enough product on the shelf.

In life there are risks that you can control and there are risks that you can’t control. Product supply is a risk that is very much under a manufacturer’s control, and if you get that wrong, it’s a huge problem. You can't control the market, but you sure as hell can control your own production.

bulk material handling

In general, why might businesses be hesitant to expand?

CK: People are reluctant to change a process if it’s not broken. The process “works” right? Why change it? That strategy worked really well for the thousands of local video rental stores! Expectations change when processes improve — when something becomes easier, tastes better or lasts longer. Things improve all around us all the time. There are always new ways of doing things that are different than the way they’ve been done in the past.

In the food industry, there are additives and enzymes that are being used to improve baked goods. If you learn something new by producing a new product, then apply that new thing to an old product. People should always be looking for ways to improve their products. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Change could improve taste, lower cost, extend shelf life, etc. Until you try it, you never know what is possible. Change is not bad, I think that's important to keep in mind.

Are there any distinct examples of conversations you’ve had about additives and enzymes with those in the food industry?

CK: I was talking to a baker who is in the gluten-free business. They do gluten-free baking exclusively, and they use a lot of enzymes to help ferment the dough. The enzymes speed up the fermentation process which is quite slow without gluten.

He said enzymes could be used in classic American white bread to give the bread a longer shelf life. This would take pressure off production so they wouldn't have to run the bakeries seven days a week. Here is a case where something that was developed for a new product, could be used with an old, existing product. People are reluctant to make that kind of a change because it's new — it’s different.

Their argument is “Why change white bread? We’ve been making it the same way for 60 years.” Well, that question should be turned around. The question should be, “Why are we still making it the same old way?”

cyclone screenerCyclone Screener E650 in a conveying line

In our last piece we discussed the specifics of upgrading your bulk bag unloading capability. What about your screening capability? What sticks out when it’s time to upgrade or expand in that area?

CK: That's essentially when you're not hitting the throughput you need. The mixers have a known demand and so the screeners have to supply the flour on time. There’s always a safety factor built into the screen throughput, and you can run the screener faster to some degree to improve throughput. But at some point you just have to look at it and say, “Maybe we just need a bigger screener.” That’s why we have different-sized screeners — just let us know what you need.

To learn more about the variety of AZO’s robust cyclone screeners and other equipment that would handle your ingredients effectively, contact our devoted team of sales engineers. For any bulk material handling needs, check out our configurator.

Whether scaling up entirely or looking to dip your toes in automation, AZO has many years of experience in bringing innovative German designs to American shores. We developed the original cyclone screener, and we haven’t stopped innovating the ingredient automation industry since.

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