Based on economic data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, NY Times writers Goodman & Russell cite: “for the first time since the financial crisis a decade ago, all of the world’s major economies are growing.” The U.S. economy is still the largest and most important in the world, and with unemployment at a 17-year low, soaring consumer confidence, and with an ample, well-educated workforce, the expectations for a significant turnaround in 2018 are solid.
We are blessed in the U.S. as our country has abundant natural resources, a diverse energy supply, and an effective physical infrastructure where goods can be manufactured and transported for domestic and international markets. To be competitive, most manufacturing plants focus on continuous improvements to three main areas: productivity, product quality, and safety. Improvements are often measured by key performance indicators (KPIs), such as “zero accidents”, “no defects”, or “80% operational utilization.”
So, what is your “factory focus” for 2018 with regards to productivity, quality, and safety?
Many improvements can be achieved in this area by using less labor, more automation, and lowering waste generation. Proper bulk solids handling plays a large role in the success for each of these approaches. For instance, does your plant have operators continually beating on hoppers and chutes to fight flow problems? If so, it is likely you have bins and hoppers that were not designed for reliable material discharge, or chutes that are allowing spillage, dusting, and plugging. It is hard to imagine that every day around the world new bins, hoppers, and feeders are being engineered, fabricated, and installed without consideration of a material’s flowability and handling characteristics, other than the obvious input of bulk density or nearly useless angle of repose.
Proven engineering technology has been available for over 50 years to design this vital storage and transport equipment, so, why does this keep happening where plants are accepting of equipment designs that knowingly will yield poor productivity at the appearance of a cheaper up-front-cost? Consider the total cost of ownership that considers not only the capital costs, but also the operating costs that can be substantial and can readily outweigh the initial project cost by a few magnitudes!
So, for 2018, I recommend beating on hoppers as an activity of the past! You likely cannot afford the extra labor, costly waste, or have your brand new automated system send out Rosy the Robot to break a bridge or rathole.
Many bulk solids are subject to quality issues, like segregation, caking, or attrition. What are you doing in 2018 to prevent quality degradation or protect the uniformity of your products? Powder and bulk solids blends can be highly susceptible to segregation, and as a result can separate into distinct pockets of fines and coarse particles during handling in bins and bulk packages. Is your blender/mixer doing an adequate job to yield product uniformity? Or, are they being blamed for poor product quality, when in fact, it is your post-blend handling system that may be to blame?
Are your powder or granules caking or experiencing attrition (generation of fines) in bags, boxes, or packages? Would a powder flow aid, such as a silicate, phosphate, or stearate be helpful, or could an innovative package be used to reduce or prevent caking or particle attrition?
Though safety is often not considered a major factor to the “bottom line” as productivity and product quality, it can have a major cost. What is your “factory focus” in 2018 regarding safety improvements to reduce, if not eliminate, hazards to workers yielding lost time, injuries to muscles/eyes/tissues, or even death? Have you performed a safety audit to review hazards from dust explosions or flash fires, potential silo failures where storage equipment has visible signs of distress, or where environmental impacts could result from poorly maintained equipment like dust collectors?
Ideally your “factory focus” in 2018 will make a positive impact to productivity, quality, and safety improvements, but even tackling one of these focus areas will be worthwhile to the “bottom line.” Perhaps you can make time to visit the biennial International Powder and Bulk Solids Conference and Exhibition in Chicago this April. This could be the catalyst to the power of E4, where you can educate, evaluate, engineer, and then execute on your 2018 “factory focus” plan!
Eric Maynard is director and senior consultant, Jenike & Johanson, Tyngsboro, MA.