Americans consumed almost 450 million lb of breakfast sausage and ham in 2012, equating to nearly $1.5 billion in sales for sausage producers. While it might be true that most people don’t want to see the production process behind this hearty centerpiece of breakfast, this growing consumer base wants to know there are keen-eyed, well-informed operators on the plant floor ensuring the integrity and quality of the product.
The Jimmy Dean brand, part of the Hillshire Brands portfolio, sells more refrigerated breakfast sausage than the next top four producers combined (Figure 1). Hillshire Brands is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tyson Foods. To maintain such a leading position, we must not only offer a consistently high-quality and uniform product, but must do everything possible to keep costs low and throughput high, maintaining a competitive price point among competition eager to cut into our market share.
Too much chub
The Hillshire Brands facility in Newbern, Tennessee, produces more than 150 million lb of sausage annually. The Jimmy Dean 1-lb fresh sausage rolls, affectionately called “chubs,” account for more than two-thirds of this production total. The facility dedicates 11 machines to grinding, seasoning, filling and packing chubs of more than 300 different SKUs. Plastic-wrapped sausage chubs are sold by the pound, so getting just the right amount of sausage in each roll is crucial. At the end of each line, a check weigher assesses and removes chubs outside the acceptable weight variance. Off-weight chubs are manually sliced open and repackaged at the appropriate weight, a costly process as a portion of meat is not recoverable once repacking is initiated.
Because the product is priced per package, any amount of meat included beyond the required weight results in lost revenue. At the same time, if a chub is underweight, customer satisfaction is at risk, as customers are not getting what they pay for. Additionally, the Federal Meat Inspection Act requires that packages of meat products bear an accurate statement of the quantity of their contents in terms of weight, measure or numerical count. Every state in the country has similar or additional regulations. If a weights-and-measures inspection finds packages mislabeled, the food cannot be sold and fines can be incurred, all of which is damaging both to a company’s reputation and the bottom line.
Also read: Get in touch with HMIs and machines
In October 2012, it was identified that operators at the Newbern plant were experiencing unacceptable variances in chub weight, giving away and throwing out too much product. Unfortunately, at the time, operators did not have access to enough control-system data to understand the actual amount or cause of giveaway. By April 2013, a full solution was implemented.
Plant engineers at Newbern saw an opportunity to reduce weight variance if they could better understand the cause of the problem, so they brought their problem to corporate engineering for help. I had already led the implementation of a manufacturing intelligence strategy and information system at plants in Florence, Alabama, and Kansas City, Kansas. After listening to concerns from my engineers in Tennessee, I brought in a team from Grantek Systems Integration to implement a manufacturing intelligence strategy in Newbern.