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Sunday, February 25, 2024
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Leaner Times for Food Processors May Call for Stretching the Life of Existing Equipment

By Bob Grote, chief executive officer, Grote Company

Food processors may be making do with what they have in a time of uncertainty 

The first quarter of 2023 is already over. We’ve been on quite a ride these last few years. While the volatility we may have anticipated coming into the new year hasn’t panned out the way we might have expected it to, there are always forces dictating how we think and plan for the future.

The recession that many predicted was coming may not make an appearance, at least in the U.S. Some believe that we were already in a recession when the first two quarters of 2022 showed negative growth. Regardless, there’s no doubt that a recession is underway in the UK and Europe. With the war in Ukraine appearing as though it may not end anytime soon and inflation remaining quite sticky, among other factors at work, chances are the recession there may drag on.

Companies want to make investments – but may be taking a step back.

Food processors may be cautious about making new investments

If anything, all the recession talk has many in the food processing industry watching their levels of investment. For some, this means making do with what they have by optimizing the equipment investments they’ve made in less volatile times. It’s about the lifecycle of the machinery they purchase.

The need for skilled workers prevails, as many workers who left during COVID shutdowns may not return to the industry. Meanwhile, there continues to be a shortage of younger workers joining the industry. 

When new equipment isn’t in the budget, but the need to optimize remains, learning how to extend the life of what’s already in place and optimizing it to run at its baseline – even years after installation – can help processors stretch their investment.

How to increase the performance of existing equipment

One way we see this playing out is that customers may be looking beyond their initial equipment purchases to understand how they can get a longer life from their machines. They may be interested in training, for example, so they can learn how to maintain their equipment and operate it at its peak efficiency.

Beyond that, they may want to invest in parts to have on hand so they can replace things when they wear out, or better yet, on a preventive maintenance schedule.  Even further, they may want to consider purchasing service warranties or having a partner in place to handle anything their internal team may not be equipped to address.

Given all of this, how can processors increase the performance of their existing equipment, especially if they have fewer skilled technicians on staff to manage this undertaking? Here are a few ideas:

Buy extended warranties and service at the time of purchase: Equipment sellers offer extended warranties and service agreements at the time of the sale. If a processor plans to stretch a machine’s life, it may want to consider purchasing these options.
Follow preventative maintenance schedules: Keeping up with suggested equipment maintenance will go a long way toward making it last longer. Just like a car, food processing machinery needs to be maintained to operate at maximum efficiency. Neglect may shorten its life.
Perform regular health assessments: By periodically checking on the machinery’s health, issues may be able to be addressed – and prevented.
Replace consumables and other parts on schedule: Consumables are items used in equipment repair, maintenance, or operation. Keep up with replacing those as recommended by the manufacturer to get a longer life out of the machine.
Watch the data to identify and address any issues quickly: Predictive maintenance is growing in use. By using software to collect, review, and act on the data when you see an alert or trend, you can help keep machinery in the best working condition possible.
Modify and upgrade the equipment: Work with the equipment provider to see if solutions are available to modify or upgrade existing equipment instead of replacing the entire machine.
Rebuild the equipment: Another option to consider is rebuilding a piece of failing equipment. It may be possible to reconstruct the machine so that it can operate longer.
Supplement with outside maintenance as needed: If the need to hire skilled technicians to help exists, some equipment providers offer a partnership option to supplement maintenance and other skilled labor.

Help customers make the most of what they have

The economy is cyclical. There will always be ups and downs.

When the path ahead is unclear, being there for customers by helping them make the most of what they already have can make a difference.

This quote rings true: “Be a beacon of certainty within the world of the uncertain.”

If you can do that, they’ll remember – and the relationship will last far beyond the next period of economic uncertainty. 

Bob Grote, chief executive officer of Grote Company which celebrated 50 years in business in 2022, is an engineer by schooling, a salesman by nature, and a businessman by practice. He joined Grote Company in 2000, became CEO in 2008, and now spends his time developing industry partnerships and seeking the latest food technologies. He currently serves as Director at Large of the FPSA (Food Processing Suppliers Association) and sits on industry and local profit and non-profit boards.

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