Software Helps Meat Processor Save $2 Million in Maintenance Costs

Nov. 16, 2019
West Liberty Foods shifted maintenance and other operations from reactive to proactive with help from Leading2Lean’s CloudDispatch computerized maintenance management software.

Plant managers who still rely on paper-based systems to track maintenance issues might be inspired to switch to a digital tracking and reporting process when they hear the story of West Liberty Foods

The Iowa-based company reported saving $2 million dollars on maintenance costs and achieving 89% utilization of its maintenance workforce by adopting Leading2Lean’s Lean Execution System, CloudDispatch. In at least one of its four processing plants, operational availability has risen to 96% since it implemented the software, a nearly 10% improvement. The company can now also track where it spends money on materials and employee time.

Founded in 1996, West Liberty Foods produces prepared beef, turkey, chicken, and pork products mainly as white labels for large national foodservice and grocery retailer customers. The company operates four processing plants and a cold storage warehouse. Adhering to the highest food safety standards and regulatory reporting requirements while consistently delivering products on time are essential practices, which means the company’s production lines must be extremely reliable.

Prior to the company’s adoption of CloudDispatch, maintenance technicians and plant management took notes by hand, recorded paperwork, and input data manually into the existing operations system. But they had a difficult time recalling and analyzing that data to make decisions. If the team wanted reports, they had to request them from the IT department.

This approach made it difficult for West Liberty Foods to get a full view of what was happening in its plants or see vital data in time to react to a problem. Between recording the information and running the reports, it took three to four days on average before the team could learn what was happening in a plant. With manual entry of line and machine abnormality data, important information would sometimes be lost or left unrecorded. 

An integrated system

West Liberty Food’s leadership team decided to seek software that would provide the right data to the right people at the right time—while production was in process. The goal was to provide plant managers with plant floor clarity to enable the maintenance team to become more effective and proactive rather than respond to the same equipment failures over and over.

After assessing several computerized maintenance management software (CMMS), West Liberty Foods selected Leading2Lean’s CloudDispatch software to digitize its maintenance functions. Leading2Lean’s software not only allowed line operators to initiate dispatches in the same software that tracked their resolution, it also provided maintenance leadership new insights into how it could effectively increase operational availability and manage assets.

In the facility where West Liberty Foods first deployed CloudDispatch, machine uptime (operational availability) was at 86.6%. After two years, the same facility led the company at 96.3%. One of the driving factors was the visibility the software gave the company into its manufacturing process, so that team members could drill down to the details of an issue. Maintenance teams were then able to implement a preventive and predictive maintenance schedule to prevent the same problems from happening again. Even more important, the software’s intuitive user interface made it easy for technicians to learn how to solve problems.

The software’s scheduler allows first-line supervisors to better manage their maintenance technicians’ time. It also enables West Liberty Foods to standardize work and reporting company-wide, so leadership and maintenance staff can determine where to focus efforts. Managers can see what’s happening with all machines across the company’s four locations. Seeing which mechanics are engaged or not engaged, and what equipment is down opened the eyes of the maintenance team and senior management.

Streamlining tasks

Like all food manufacturers, West Liberty Foods imposes sanitation prerequisites to enter a production area. Maintenance technicians must follow a careful protocol, dress in protective equipment, and perform work on complex food manufacturing equipment.

In the past, if they found a component that needed replacing, technicians would need to leave the room, remove their gear, obtain the component from the spares department, and then start the process again. Using CloudDispatch means technicians can now order spares while on the floor and have them delivered. “Keeping the technician on the job saves a lot of time for us,” says Chad Williams, corporate maintenance manager for West Liberty Foods. 

“Digitizing maintenance helps our maintenance teams maintain a world-class standard,” Williams adds. “Everyone has real-time visibility into what’s happening at our plants. If we have a problem, we can quickly get to the root cause of it. This has not only saved us money, but it has also improved our processes and made us more productive with the resources we have.”

The software continues to deliver a solid return on investment and spark new ideas for improving operations. It helped West Liberty Foods reduce the cost of spares, for example, by revealing where ongoing machine abnormalities occur so that maintenance technicians can engage in preventive maintenance. Because CloudDispatch maintains digital records of abnormality trends and resolutions, technicians can easily access machine history, which is an important benefit in their highly regulated manufacturing environment.

Visibility benefits everyone

Employees who were worried about visibility into their daily task management became advocates once they experienced firsthand the insights real-time data provided. “They have come to see it as an indispensable tool in their work,” Williams says. 

The greater transparency, accountability, and engagement that CloudDispatch introduced, Williams says, has become part of West Liberty Foods’ company culture. Even employees who have little knowledge of computer systems can now quickly interact with the software.

Leading2Lean’s software also helped improve compliance with strict company guidelines and procedures as well as USDA regulations around the handling of perishable food items. “We use specific chemicals, ammonia refrigeration, and isolation as part of our food safety process,” Williams says. “The USDA requires that we have a clearly defined process that we follow consistently. Leading2Lean’s software allows for easy and clear visibility into this process, which has been great in working with the USDA.”

About the Author

Jeanne Schweder | Contributing Editor, Automation World

Jeanne Schweder has been writing about automation and manufacturing for more than 25 years. As a contributor to Automation World and its sister publications since 2012, she has interviewed hundreds of manufacturers, machine builders, system integrators, and automation suppliers. Her work has appeared in nearly every industry publication. A former newspaper editor, Jeanne has also worked in public relations at major corporations and advertising agencies.

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