Regardless of advancements in technology, food companies still rely on relationships with outside experts to diagnose and respond to production problems. Having partners they can trust also boosts their confidence when exploring new ventures and testing out ideas. “No matter how much automation you've created and invested in, at the end of the day, you're still a people organization,” says Brian Mumford, Chief Operating Officer of ProForm Fabrication. We spoke with Mumford to learn how trusted relationships and custom fabrication helps food companies and OEMs discover solutions to current industry challenges. 

ProForm Fabrication custom manufactures components like stainless steel assemblies, weldments, and piping to solve production challenges in a range of industries. ProForm has the knowledge and experience to partner with OEMs, plants, and engineering firms to support equipment design, customization, and manufacturing. “We’re what I like to call the chief collaborator,” Mumford says. 

The company was born out of the acquisition of Millerbernd Systems back in April. Millerbernd brought over its employees and its 85 years of heritage. “As a result,” Mumford says, “the expertise in terms of project management, fabrication, and knowledge in sanitary stainless steel manufacturing has been passed along from one organization to the next.”

Taking a risk for innovation

It’s not always easy to exchange a proven, reliable method for the promises of “a particular idea, design, or newly engineered solution.” This is especially true for facilities that operate day and night through multiple shifts — there’s a lot at stake if an innovative decision doesn’t work out. “On the one hand, it's an investment. On the other hand, it's a risk,” Mumford says. “The question is, will it work?”

Maintenance challenges are often the catalyst for change, especially if the plant’s maintenance staff is overworked and the cost of replacement parts and labor eats up the budget. “These people all have different capabilities and different focuses,” Mumford says, “so the maintenance day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month of the equipment, systems, and parts they install is always a prevalent concern.” The goal in that selection process is to avoid frequent downtime that stops production and causes profit loss. “With these facilities, it's all about time: ‘When are we going to shut down? How long are we going to be down? How much can we get done within that period?’” 

Because time is money, plants tend to look for the easiest, fastest solution that minimizes maintenance. “They're all looking for someone to essentially come into their plant and solve problems on the spot,” Mumford says. “Every one of these processing facilities would like to do away with maintenance, meaning that equipment is made so well that you never have to service it, you just run it.” 

Zero maintenance is not currently feasible, but many of the issues that exist in conventional equipment are correctable with the new-and-improved products and technologies on the market. Not investing in these improvements can mean falling behind the competition. “No one wants to be the first to try something new,” Mumford says. “But they also don't want to be the plant that’s been shut down for a month because they can't effectively do what they used to do with old technology.”

The customization advantage

ProForm has tried-and-true blueprints ready to go for customers who would rather stick to a guaranteed solution. But for those willing to experiment, the company can help them explore cost-effective, practical possibilities.

“What makes us unique is that our history in contract manufacturing has crossed several different industry lines, including agricultural, pharmaceutical, energy, and automotive,” Mumford says. “We’ve accumulated concentrated knowledge in the sanitary stainless field, particularly within the processing industry.”

Drawing from their vast experience, ProForm can borrow ideas across industry segments to solve processing issues. Conveyors in bakeries, for example, have become specialized for the market and vary greatly from those used in meat production. But bakeries may still find ideas for improvement from meat industry equipment, and vice versa. (Readers of this blog may recognize this idea as the same one behind PROCESS EXPO’s focus on horizontal.)

Thinking outside the box can also mean finding solutions in vastly different industries. For example, Mumford says the food industry can learn a lot from the automotive industry in terms of speeding up processing operations while lowering costs. “One of the things automotive has done very well is making vehicles lighter, faster, and with fewer components, and doing so in a way that’s affordable.” 

The automotive industry faced challenges with safety requirements in the 70s, and the outcome at the time was that vehicles became too expensive for average customers. “But if you think about what our automobiles are like today, there are more safety features in them than we realize. And yet, for most people, they're very affordable.” Mumford says that’s thanks to a supplier network and diversification of manufacturing techniques. “The automotive industry focused on areas in which they, or their partners in the market, could ‘value engineer,’ so to speak. And, of course, do so within a volume scheme that drove down the price.” 

Similarly, food manufacturing has its own set of safety restrictions that determine what materials are permissible and how to minimize the risk of product contamination. So the challenge is to find a way to increase throughput while complying with the regulatory requirements. 

That’s something with which ProForm can help. “A lot of times we work directly with a manufacturer or an engineering firm to accomplish that. This keeps the thinking, vetting, and understanding from residing among just one or two individuals, so that designs can be conceptually tested for viability and usefulness.” 

Although they’ve exhibited at PROCESS EXPO before as Millerbernd, this will be ProForm’s first year at the show under the new name. “We’re rolling out our new brand, so to speak, and this is an opportunity to show everybody that ProForm Fabrication has the same expertise and the same people that Millerbernd Systems had,” Mumford says. “However, it's a company that's coming back into the market more stable with more investment behind it. And it’s expanding its offerings, consistency, flexibility, and reliability to partners throughout the industry, working with them to solve their complex problems.”

To learn more about ProForm’s fabrication services and capabilities, visit Booth #657 at PROCESS EXPO.