Malt-O-Meal integrates safety, assessment process

Malt-O-Meal implements an integrated safety system and standard assessment process to help protect workers and enhance its commitment to sustainability. The food manufacturer used a safety PLC, adjustable speed ac, motor starters, energy management software, and an industrial Ethernet network to help reduce downtime and cut costs.

By Mark T. Hoske July 18, 2012

Malt-O-Meal is in almost every home, cafeteria, convenience store, and hotel breakfast buffet around the globe. For breakfast or as a side with dinner, the comforting flavors of your favorite cereal can provide simple pleasure.

The family-owned Malt-O-Meal Company, headquartered in Minneapolis, has supplied the cereal for more than 92 years. With plants in Northfield, Minn.; St. Ansgar, Iowa; Tremonton, Utah; and Asheboro, N.C., the company now produces more than 40 brands of hot and cold cereal, including the namesake brand of Malt-O-Meal Hot Wheat cereal that gave the company its start in 1919.

From that point on, the company has emphasized low-cost innovation across all aspects of its business, with close attention to national brand quality and everyday savings for consumers. One out of every nine bowls of cereal served each day in the U.S. is made by Malt-O-Meal.

To produce most of its cereal brands, the company uses a series of cooking, forming, puffing, drying, and coating steps. After processing, everything is sent through packaging and palletizing procedures before being sent to distribution centers across the country.

Challenge: Sustainability, safety

As the company has grown and expanded, Malt-O-Meal’s fundamental values have not changed. "We’re dedicated to being good corporate citizens," said Scott Kluegel, manager, corporate electrical engineering, Malt-O-Meal Co. "For Malt-O-Meal, that means not only offering quality products at a good value, but also driving all forms of sustainability in our operations-from environmentally friendly packaging to focusing on both worker and product safety."

As a component of driving the highest level of safety throughout its manufacturing operations, Kluegel and his team began to implement changes to their safety control system in 2005. They were motivated by recent updates to the National Fire Protection Association-79 electrical standard for industrial machinery, which required a separate safety system outside the standard programmable automation controller the company had been using previously.

"When we implemented the first solution, we used a relay-based system," explained Kluegel. "But after the system was in place, we stepped back and asked, ‘Is this the most efficient way to solve this problem?’"

The relay-based system was cumbersome to install and expensive, due to the wiring-intensive architecture. In addition, the solution was somewhat challenging to troubleshoot and maintain, forcing operators to decipher a series of 12 light-based warnings.

"As we started to assess more cost-effective, straightforward solutions, we also looked at our process for assessing the risk levels of the equipment in our plant," said Kluegel. "Our existing method was somewhat dependent on the discretion of the person doing the review. We wanted to make sure we were all using an identical, consistent methodology that would provide a higher level of assurance for the safety of our employees."

Solution: Integrated safety

To update its safety system and risk-assessment process, the Malt-O-Meal team turned to its 30-year automation provider for "in-depth safety knowledge and resources they were able to provide" for the upgrade project, said Kluegel.

For the control system design and implementation, the Malt-O-Meal team partnered with the automation company, a distributor, and Wunderlich-Malec Engineering, a systems integrator. They selected an integrated safety system that allows for safety and standard control on one platform, and provides an easy path for standardization. Malt-O-Meal is installing the new system on "each line as the opportunity presents itself, as our standard maintenance practices and upgrade schedules allow," explained Kluegel.

Malt-O-Meal also is updating its motor control solution to an intelligent motor control solution with integrated safety, including adjustable frequency ac drives, ac drives with a safe-off function, and standardized motor starters, all with EtherNet/IP (ODVA) industrial Ethernet network communications. To standardize the risk-assessment process, the Malt-O-Meal team worked directly with the machine safety consulting team at the automation vendor. "The machine safety consulting team met with our team several times to share their experience and best practices," said Kluegel. "We worked with them to customize their standard assessment process to address our specific production environment and safety requirements while driving proactive safety solutions."

Certainly, one of the most important keys to the success of safety-driven improvements at Malt-O-Meal is support at all levels of the business.

"Regardless of whether it’s related to food or personnel, safety is our number one priority," said Kluegel. "Our culture of safety starts with our CEO Chris Neugent and continues throughout the company. Knowing that helped us make sure our priorities were focused in the right places."

The Malt-O-Meal team is now sharing its risk-assessment criteria and process with its OEM partners as best practices. This new process also offers improved collaboration between operations, maintenance, and engineering for better consistency and increased safety overall.

With the new system, plant operators and maintenance engineers have vastly improved insight into machine operating information, which has helped ease troubleshooting. "With the relay-based system, we had to rely on a series of lights to identify and solve issues," said Kluegel. "With the new machine, all alerts and operational data are plainly available on the operator interface, which significantly reduces the amount of time it takes to diagnose and fix any problems that arise."

The Malt-O-Meal team believes the new safety solution will also help reduce costs, as compared to the relay-based system. "We’re waiting for a greenfield project to measure the actual dollar savings, but we’re confident we’ll see reduced wiring costs and, since everything is running on EtherNet/IP, faster installation time versus the old system," said Kluegel.

The Malt-O-Meal team is already looking ahead to other areas of sustainability they can support in their manufacturing environment. They have started using energy management software to get a baseline on current energy consumption and help identify areas for possible improvements.

Ultimately, creating an environment of collaboration has been a major contributor to Malt-O-Meal’s safety successes.

"We gathered a great group of internal experts and partnered with leading external resources to make sure we were doing this the right way, right from the start," said Kluegel, "as we look to continuously improve our manufacturing processes and deliver the best value possible for our customers. We definitely plan to continue those relationships in the future."

– Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager CFE Media, Control Engineering and Plant Engineering, 

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.