Case Study: Surlean Foods

Aug. 11, 2016
Industrial Hardware for Weighing and Packaging in Custom-Food Manufacturing

Custom-food manufacturer upgrading and innovating

Construction workers, wheelbarrows, and hard hats mark the entryway of the almost completed eight million dollar renovation of Surlean Foods Dallas-based food processing facility. The smell of recently hung drywall, fresh paint, and new furnishings lingers in the reception area, hinting at the new equipment and upgrades hiding elsewhere throughout the facility. Established in 1979, Surlean Foods formed in response to the growing demand for beef products within the foodservice segment. Surlean Foods has roots dating back to 1963 when Al Leonard founded L&H Packing, a beef slaughtering company. Since then, Surlean Foods has grown to become a leading custom-food manufacturer with experience in sourcing, developing, and producing products for the fast food and fast casual restaurant markets. Today, Surlean Foods, based in San Antonio, Texas, is owned and operated by the Leonard Holding Company, now a third generation family-owned business. With expansion plans announced in early 2016, Surlean Foods’ has renovated parts of its 90,000 square-foot production facility in Dallas, Texas. In addition to giving the office areas a fresh look, significant investment was made to improve plant floor operations, as well the construction of a new R&D kitchen to allow Surlean Foods to better develop, analyze, and test customer recipes for their custom foods business. Upon entering the manufacturing floor, three large conveyers at the end of each processing line dominate the landscape. On each conveyer, rows of four-wide beef patties steadily stream downward towards the workers waiting to package the fresh product. Other areas of the facility feature high-heat cook rooms, flash freezer and cold storage areas, and rooms to process other food products including cheese, sauces, soups, and sides. Like any modern day food processing facility, the capturing of critical processing data is crucial. To meet customers’ complex custom-batch processing requirements, Surlean Foods works with noax industrial touchscreen computers to support their business operations.

Repair, replace, and repeat

Prior to discovering noax, Surlean Foods worked with laptop PCs on the plant floor. Situated on mobile carts designed for quick transportation throughout the facility, the laptops generated daily reports and allowed for basic data entry in Surlean Foods’ production areas. With constant exposure to the high-heat cook rooms, airborne dust from pre-blended spice mixes, and frequent shock and vibration, the consumer-grade laptops were tasked with performing in an environment beyond their capacity. As a result, the laptop screens, internal components, and keyboards required constant cleaning and maintenance, which was both time-consuming and tedious. Despite best efforts, the laptops were frequently damaged, ineffective, and in need of repairs or replaced. To safeguard operations, the company purchased multiple new laptops twice a year. Once one failed, Surlean Foods configured a new one and swapped the devices. According to Surlean Foods’ Director of IT Services, “We were spending a lot. While the laptops we were purchasing were inexpensive, at the rate we were replacing them, we weren’t saving any money.”

Eliminate frequent purchasing

After years of frustration and many laptop purchases later, Surlean Foods decided it was time for a change. Coupled with a substantial increase in sales volume and the need to support multiple facilities, Surlean Foods began the process to upgrade their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system and realized it would be an opportune “noax PCs are extremely user-friendly and can withstand our sanitation process.” noax industrial PCs at Surlean Foods’ Dallas, Texas manufacturing facility Custom-food manufacturer upgrading and innovating Custom-manufactured beef patties are being prepared for packaging time for new computer hardware too. Surlean Foods focused on finding a versatile industrial PC (IPC) that could withstand their various production environments, as well as their sanitation process, thus eliminating the time needed to remove the laptops from the production areas prior to sanitation. Surlean Foods’ Director of IT Services began evaluating industrial touchscreen PC manufacturers and received a recommendation from a colleague for noax Technologies after visiting their booth at the 2013 Process Expo in Chicago. After initial research on the noax website and submitting a contact form, Surlean Foods engaged with a noax Account Executive. After sharing project requirements and completing a web conference, Surlean Foods gained understanding of noax products and the various configurations offered. Surlean Foods’ Director of IT Services decided that the S12 IPC, from the Steel Series product line, was the ideal solution. Featuring an IP65 (NEMA 4) protection rating and a user-friendly 12-inch touchscreen display, the S12 offers the perfect combination of size and functionality for Surlean Foods’ needs. Shortly thereafter, noax prepared a demo unit and sent it for testing at the Surlean Foods facility. After receiving the demo, Surlean Foods was able to evaluate the internal construction and quality of the S12 while loading software to test prior to putting into production for live-testing. “Configuring the unit was as easy as it was with the laptops – we didn’t have to do anything special,” shared the IT Technician. According to the Director of IT, “The trial period was a big selling point. Some of the benefits of the noax equipment were not evident until we actually saw the unit in person. It made the purchase decision really easy for me.” While testing the noax unit, Surlean Foods compared noax to others in the marketplace, but did not find a product that could compare to the ruggedness and reputation for long-term reliability noax offers.

Positive impact

In late 2015, Surlean Foods began rolling out noax S12 PCs on their packaging lines. As products are ready for packaging, they pass through conveyors which are connected to weighing scales and printers. The scales are linked to Surlean Foods’ upgraded Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system; a software solution designed for process based manufacturing industries. The Windows-based program allows for easy user interaction on the plant floor. Surlean Foods’ scales are connected to the noax IPCs which shares the weighing data in real-time with the control room. Thanks to the IP65 rating, the noax IPCs withstand Surlean Foods’ daily sanitation processes and post-production environment. The upgraded noax hardware guarantees the capturing of critical production data and delivers it to plant-floor operators, and is shareable with various facility locations. Thanks to these upgrades, Surlean Foods can now offer a higher level of traceability of their products, as well as improve their supply chain and increase customer satisfaction.

Commitment to quality

With a commitment to their customers, Surlean Foods established themselves as a leader in quality assurance for the custom-food manufacturing segment. A unique manufacturing process and robust culinary research and development center coupled with noax industrial computers allows Surlean Foods to provide high-quality custom beef, chicken, and pork products, sauces, soups and sides. The proprietary development of mainboards and strict quality management policy guarantees that noax hardware will live up to the demands of Surlean Foods’ manufacturing environments. As a customer, Surlean Foods knows they are using a product that has no compromise.