As more food and beverage processing moves from mechanical to automated, it’s important to hire the right people who can operate and troubleshoot from the plant floor. Once you have qualified technical staff in place, transferring knowledge about your automation and controls systems to them is crucial.
At Stellar, we often help food manufacturers configure new facilities, so we understand the process and what it takes to make it go smoothly. When it comes to training your plant personnel on the automation and controls, follow these tips for an efficient startup at your next facility.
Get the Right People Involved Early
It’s surprising how quickly some will make decisions about plant floor equipment and controls without thinking of the people who will be using it day after day. Involve operators and plant personnel from the beginning. Not only do they have firsthand experience and a valuable perspective to offer, but this will also help make the training and knowledge transfer process easier at startup.
Plus, looping your staff into these decisions will make them feel heard and that their feedback is valued. This builds trust and boosts morale. If they’re involved in the process, they are less likely to grumble over smaller issues in the future because they had ownership in the process. And who doesn’t want an employee who feels invested in their job?
Use Simulations to Train Operators
Conducting simulations is a great way to get operators comfortable with the new plant floor before they ever set foot there.
The simulation can be configured to replicate the operating settings for a particular plant, allowing your staff to become familiar with the equipment and process before startup. (We often set up these simulations for clients — it’s a relatively simple process.) Simulations validate the software to be used and ensure sequencing, ingredient recipes and other processes are set up correctly before production begins.
It may seem cumbersome to set aside time for simulation, but the better trained everyone is before launch, the faster you will get product to market. Investing in simulation and training directly correlates to a faster facility startup. A typical startup takes about six weeks, but proper training and simulation can speed up that timeframe.
Buy-In Saves Time and Money
Some owners hesitate to invest in educating their plant personnel about the design of the automation and controls systems, because they feel it’s time wasted with little to no return on investment. However, the opposite is true. If something malfunctions at 2 a.m., the team needs to have intricate knowledge of the system to quickly fix problems. Otherwise, calling in additional support could take hours of costly downtime.
Plus, when your operators are invested in the design process from an early stage, they feel ownership. They can address small malfunctions before they become bigger problems. The more ownership and buy-in, the faster the startup, the less hours of downtime and the greater long-term return on investment for your facility.
Rao Kolla is a senior controls engineer at Stellar.
Stellar is a fully integrated firm focused on planning, design, pre-construction, construction, refrigeration, mechanical & utility, building envelope, and total operations & maintenance services worldwide. Visit the company's blog at www.stellarfoodforthought.net or learn about its projects at stellar.net