Peanut Butter Plant Expansion
Once Again Nut Butter (OANB) is a recognized leader in the manufacture of high-quality organic nut butters. The company has developed a strategy to increase their capacity, reduce cost, and improve the quality of production of their peanut butter operation in a multiple-phase expansion over 20 years. The first phase includes a new 40,000 square foot building, 3,500-pound-per-hour roaster and complementary blanchers, milling, and bulk filling equipment with the flexibility to easily expand capacity and change the product mix.
The nut butter industry also had a serious food safety concern: peanut allergies. A must-have was isolating peanut processing from the almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds that the company uses to make other nut butters, eventually having separate manufacturing for each nut butter.
Up until working with Optimation, OANB’s team was executing projects themselves and experiencing challenges with coordination while responding to changes in a multi-phase improvement plan across various suppliers They realized hiring a firm was the most efficient way of handling installation.
A Once Again Nut Butter employee who had worked with Optimation before, recommended Optimation as a good option to provide engineering and skilled trades services. Bob Gelser, General Manager of OANB, had worked with a national firm for a concept approach and wasn’t happy. He wanted the new vendor to be local and have all the required engineering and skilled trades under roof, and be able to provide long-term support. He’d had some experience with Optimation on smaller projects and was interested in Optimation’s bid on the project.
Optimation started with preliminary engineering – layouts, the process flow, sizing equipment for the size of the building, extra equipment such as chutes and hoppers, etc. Once Again Nut Butter hired a peanut butter process expert who collaborated with Optimation. The expert would come up with ideas for large equipment needed, and Optimation would fill in the gaps with supplementary equipment and utility requirements such as compressed air systems and hot water.
Optimation completed detailed engineering, which was only 20% complete at the end of the preliminary engineering project. Process engineers created a spec document, which included requirements for each part of the plant. The process design was integrated with the building design. Gelser wanted to make sure the plant operators were on board and informed throughout the process, and so Optimation held multiple meetings with high operator participation. The team also created an equipment list – roughly 400 purchased and fabricated items.
Optimation skilled tradesmen fabricated ducts, chutes, mezzanines, platforms, hoppers, storage racks and shelving, and various process equipment to complement the large purchased equipment. Journeymen millwrights and electricians installed both the purchased and fabricated equipment and utilities. Optimation also provided construction management to oversee the installation, which took four months to complete.
Optimation provided controls for all of the equipment, including startup and debug and continued maintenance, as well as controls support during product trials and ongoing maintenance. PLCs and HMIs provided for monitoring of the process equipment.
As is the case with any project, the project team had to adjust to surprises from the building side. Food industry vendors traditionally don’t provide accurate drawings for equipment, and the equipment doesn’t come with electric disconnects or control panels. Often, equipment was coming in with just wires. For a company with deep controls engineering experience, this is actually good news, as it allowed the team to put in any controls desired. Optimation also had to overcome a learning curve in the peanut butter industry, but the partnership with peanut butter consultant Troy provided relief and understanding for the future.
Since project completion, OANB has quadrupled its peanut butter manufacturing capability, benefits from reduced costs via scale-up, reduced operator labor content, and is better positioned for future challenges.
Optimation provided an “expandable” facility that can add a packaging line and again double the production capacity. OANB could put in another roaster and expand capacity even further.
Once Again Nut Butter was able to move and isolate the peanut butter manufacture from the existing building that manufactures almond butter, cashew butter and sesame seed (tahini) butter to meet a customer request for peanut-free manufacturing facility.
I recognized that Optimation had a lot of expertise there and a lot of transplanted ex-Kodak people that really knew a lot about all sorts of manufacturing, manufacturing processes and could do equipment installs and refurbishing. They fill a void because it’s as close to having that expertise under your roof as it can be without actually hiring people full time.