Hot Diggity Dog! Advanced Industrial Automation Improves Compliance, Reduces Waste

Hot Diggity Dog! Advanced Industrial Automation Improves Compliance, Reduces Waste

This piece was originally published in the August 2017 issue of electroindustry.

Mary Burgoon, Market Development Manager, Rockwell Automation

Ms. Burgoon is responsible for leading the development and implementation of strategies and programs that address customer challenges with innovative industry solutions.

Since the invention of the corn dog in 1930, Americans have fostered a genuine love for food on a stick. Hillshire Brands, a leader in packaged meat and bakery production owned by Tyson Foods, is at the forefront of these innovative food products.

The Hillshire plant in Haltom City, Texas, produces 58 varieties of meals on a stick. The products are cooked, put through the “sticking” process, dipped in batter, fried, and then frozen in a continuous-process line. The products are then packaged before they are sent to a connected mixing center for distribution. The Haltom City plant rolls out a whopping 2.8 million corn dogs each day.

Any food supplier has to keep food safety top of mind, especially with the 2015 implementation of new regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which is overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FSMA requires food suppliers in the United States to focus on preventing contamination rather than responding to it. Additionally, with raw-materials costs for food products on the rise, suppliers need to find ways to ensure product quality while also maintaining plant efficiency and yield.

The Challenge

Faced with new FSMA requirements, Hillshire also realized a business need to improve production monitoring and efficiency. A single day of refrigeration-system downtime can cost the company $120,000 in raw-material losses, before labor costs are included. The plant’s old utility system that monitored refrigeration was outdated and obsolete. Operators faced temperature deviations without knowing the risks to food safety and product quality or having access to real-time updates.

Yet another challenge arose from the large number of product variations and changeovers on the plant floor each day. Changes in product variations impacted other variables, including fry times, cooking temperatures, and raw-materials combinations and amounts.

“We were seeing the plant get out of balance as product flowed at uneven or unforeseen rates from our meat area to the kitchen to the packaging area,” said Harvey Williams, manager for Hillshire’s Haltom City plant.

Quality deviations and wasted product can occur if process variables are not changed for a new recipe or if the downstream area of production is not prepared for an increased or reduced timeframe that comes with a new recipe.

During one recent deviation in the hot dog cooking area, Mr. Williams was alerted to a cooker fault after a shift concluded. To get to the root problem, he looped in two value-stream managers and the quality assurance manager. They had to look through manually entered operator data on water temperature from the entire shift to determine when the cooker faulted and decide how much and which product needed to be thrown out. Hillshire needed a solution to reduce the variability in the production process while still complying with the FSMA.

The lack of visibility and real-time reporting during production led to an increased amount of inedible product and posed potential food safety compliance risks.

“With our inedible rates reaching over 1.6 percent, we needed a solution beyond end-of-shift Excel® reports that told us how much waste occurred,” Mr. Williams said. “We needed something that could give our value-stream managers a view into process variability across the plant to reduce the amount of inedible, wasted product.”

The Solution

Mr. Williams turned to Rockwell Automation for a manufacturing intelligence solution. Similar software was in use at several other Hillshire plants. He selected a software suite that integrated the control system, software, and use of the EtherNet/IP™ network to provide the necessary monitoring and tracking for the plant’s utility system. The solution was scalable enough to offer plant-wide insight on issues that occur in each area of production during changeovers to improve efficiency and product quality.

Historian software automatically identifies, gathers, and stores production data from the control system. It aggregates this data with information from the enterprise resource planning system and other plant databases and systems, correlates it, and presents production information to operations, so variances are easily identified and corrected in real time.

For example, the system has been set up to pull specific information from a fryer; recording the temperature at various levels and locations within the fryer ensures that all products are cooked evenly. This information is displayed in a dashboard so an operator can view all the active fryers at once or drill down into one specific fryer if an alert is noted. If a new fryer is added to the line, it can be added to the dashboard in a matter of minutes, copying over the existing tags and the related key performance indicators (KPIs) developed for the other fryers.


The Haltom City plant can monitor approximately 1,500 data points across cooking, sticking, battering, frying, freezing, and packaging. Additionally, the team has extended this solution with tablets running a KPI mobile app. Operators and value-stream managers on the floor can monitor any area of production—packaging status, cook temperature, and frying capacity—in the palms of their hands.

Armed with anytime access to real-time and historical production data and trends, operators can see where there are problems, where problems might arise, and where additional capacity exists to increase production or run an alternative product.

When new regulations under the FSMA were fully implemented in 2015, the software was essential in improving traceability and reporting for the FDA. The increase in data collected, reported, and shared helps the plant track exact serial numbers, dates, and time-stamped details on which stock-keeping units (SKU) numbers came off each specific line. If the plant ever has a problem with food safety, alerts are in place that allow managers to immediately pull up data to check how many cases may have been affected and their specific product serial numbers. Mobilizing the solution unties area managers from the machine or control-room monitors, allowing them to better manage their zones and collaborate across production zones.

Mr. Williams credits Rockwell Automation for improving production meeting quality standards.

“Our value-stream managers no longer have to wait for Excel-style, manual reporting at the end of each shift to make production decisions,” Mr. Williams said. “Managers can show summarized, contextualized information on the tablet directly to the operators on the plant floor. Those teams can now immediately see how their actions are affecting quality-assurance goals. Understanding these cause–effect relationships has been revolutionary for our teams. We are seeing functions work more collaboratively toward higher-level plant goals rather than focusing on the individual goals that only impact their area of production.”

This deeper insight has helped Hillshire decrease inedible product and waste goals at the plant to 0.8 percent, which translates into savings of nearly 5.5 million corn dogs annually.

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