This article was published in the December 2022 issue of Pet Food Processing. Read it and other articles from this issue in our December digital edition.

As pet food and treat operations evolve, there are more turnkey solutions available to help processors build more efficient and productive facilities.

Greg Jacob, senior vice president, handling and sterilizing group for Covington, La.-based Allpax, a ProMach product brand, noted the trend in turnkey pet food retort rooms began decades ago and has become much more prevalent in recent years due to multiple key factors that are important to factory operations and product trends. For one, automated retort lines dramatically reduce the labor required to run an operation, which historically has high employee turnover and is a major challenge today.

“Turnkey retort lines provide contact with one project manager versus several vendors, and a single site FAT (Factory Acceptance Testing) providing a thorough shake-down of the line, which results in a rapid startup to commercial production,” Jacob said. “With turnkey systems, there is commonality in spare parts, documentation, PLC code and only one phone number to reach support technicians, which lowers the cost of ownership and increases the level of customer support. Finally, retorts are very flexible assets that support the growing number of container formats in today’s market.”

Jim Gaydusek, vice president of sales for Cozzini, Elk Grove Village, Ill., noted the pet food industry has started to emulate the human food industry as far as putting systems together so turnkey solutions are not much different.  

“Really, there’s not a whole lot of difference than making a hot dog for a human to consume than making a pâté or some kind of pet food — the real difference is the ingredients, but the equipment doesn’t care if the end user is on two legs or four,” he said. “We see a lot of pet food customers using meats and proteins certified for the human industry. Depending on who the manufacturer is, the level of high-quality meats going into these products are quite often suitable for use at a human dinner table.”

Tyler Cundiff, president, food and beverage group, Gray, Lexington, Ken., noted the want and need of turnkey services by pet food processors is certainly a trend that has been evolving over the past six to seven years. However, it is difficult to characterize turnkey solutions in a single dimension. 

“In general, a turnkey service means that a single service provider will provide integrated design, procurement, project management, installation and commissioning for a specific scope of work on a project,” said Tyler Cundiff, Gray.

“‘Turnkey’ can mean a lot of different things to different people in this industry, and we recognize it’s very important to identify some key project priorities with our customers before we can identify the most flexible solution and what version of turnkey is most appropriate,” he said. “In general, a turnkey service means that a single service provider will provide integrated design, procurement, project management, installation and commissioning for a specific scope of work on a project.”

One thing processors should know is that the quality and capability of a turnkey method greatly depends on the scope of the project, capability of the partner, and their ability to self-perform a majority of the integrated services. 

“Some turnkey projects can include the supply of a unit operation or systems skid that is part of a larger project, while other turnkey delivery models include a single prime partner on the project that is contracted to provide all services for the full investment of the project,” Cundiff said. “This is sometimes also called EPC delivery.”

Gray specializes in custom designed and built sanitary stainless processing equipment. 

“Within our state-of-the-art and expanded manufacturing facilities, we machine, fabricate, assemble and FAT equipment under our own roof,” Cundiff said. “For both food and pet food customers, we build unique, custom large systems skids where the quality is fully controlled. Due to our broader spectrum of turnkey services, we have the ability to provide value-add services on equipment orders that include installations, automation, control panels and robotics applications.”

Gray offered its turnkey solutions to Instinct Pet Food on the establishment of its Center of Excellence in NebraskaInstinct Pet Food selected Gray to design and build its 235,000-square-foot manufacturing facility for freeze-dried raw pet food located in Nebraska.  | Source: Gray 

The company’s manufacturing operations are intentionally designed to be flexible to meet the needs of pet food companies.

“This allows us to provide customized solutions that range from the design and build of turnkey systems to the manufacturing of individual component parts and assemblies,” Cundiff said.   


New and improved

In the industry, integrated end-to-end solutions are offered by many firms. Over the past several years, Gray has responded to its customers’ needs by growing a family of companies that provide a comprehensive menu of services through which the company can address almost any aspect of a project by utilizing in-house resources. 

“We are then able to offer these services on a discrete basis or on a turnkey, fully integrated basis,” Cundiff said. “This allows our customers to move beyond just an integrated project delivery to a flexible project delivery. At Gray, we call this our EPMC capability. This means we engineer, procure, manufacture and construct any or all portions of pet food processing projects.”

The revolutionary concept of this is that the company has added sanitary stainless specialty equipment and skid manufacturing operations to its in-house service offerings. This component, along with Gray’s deep digital, automation and robotics capabilities coupled with a traditional EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) company, is setting the bar for how turnkey projects can be executed in the future.


Advanced capabilities

For Gray, the company’s turnkey solutions can integrate nearly all aspects of a project. All construction areas are harmonized within common systems and processes. 

“The services’ value is clear, but the value is most recognized in the cohesiveness of the project team,” Cundiff said. “When you have a civil engineer, controls software programmer, construction project manager, process machine designer, architect, packaging engineer and field superintendent all working together on their third, fourth or fifth project together, advantages are more than apparent.”

Cozzini offers a full turnkey package when it comes to engineering and developing a process.

“Whatever the customer needs or wants, they sit with our control group, and we provide it all as a turnkey service,” said Jim Gaydusek, Cozzini.

“We have full staff and engineers available in all disciplines — mechanical, design, electrical, project management,” Gaydusek said. “The biggest thing is we are a fully integrated control group, and we do our own designs and layouts of control systems. Whatever the customer needs or wants, they sit with our control group, and we provide it all as a turnkey service.”

With ProMach’s brand depth, Allpax can now expand turnkey scope upstream and downstream of the retort room, starting in the processing kitchen all the way to the palletizer/stretch wrapper. ProMach can take integration ownership of specific cells within the line or a solution from end to end of the entire line.

“One key recent delivery component that has become more of a standard with turnkey retort rooms is the incorporation of steam and water recovery systems being designed, fabricated and integrated by Allpax to reduce energy requirements and enhance plant sustainability efforts,” Jacob said. “Key enhancements include line validation and integrated total dynamic OEE measurement with preventative and predictive maintenance software packages that drive higher line efficiency for ongoing operations through the collected data, providing visibility across the line.”


Labor challenges

With labor shortages predicted to be an ongoing challenge and shrinking internal engineering support, factories face challenges to support continued growth.

“Investing in the latest technology and partnering with OEM suppliers that provide outstanding support and integrated lines provides the best opportunity to leverage engineering expertise through the entire line and will provide the highest line efficiency, fastest ROI and positioning for future continued growth,” Jacob said.

Allpax, a ProMach brand, offers turnkey retort solutions to help processors boost efficiency and productivityAllpax is a single-source supplier to pet food processors for retorts integrated with high-speed material handling designed, built and supported from one location. | Source: Allpax, a ProMach brand 

Like most industries today, trying to make up for the loss of workers that disappeared during the pandemic is a challenge that many pet food companies face.

“Companies have had a hard time getting people to man the workforce,” Gaydusek said. “Automation is very key to making that work. We call them dumb positions — not a reference at all to the worker, but it involves moving a pallet from point A to point B, which can be done without the use of a person, and allows that human to do something that is comparable to their skill level. It is a much more efficient use of time and energy, not to mention reducing the payroll.”

Cozzini offers turnkey solutions for one- or two-piece systems, complete with computer logic that can handle formulas and bring the proper ingredients to mixing stations at the proper time and in the proper sequence.

“We can also program in the number of steps in recipes,” Gaydusek said. “Operators don’t need to rely on their memories to make sure the sequence is correct. We can do anywhere from very small to very large. We also have systems for a smaller operator as well. It’s all about efficiencies. The more you can measure, the more accurate you can be.”

Due to the explosive demand of pet food products and the global breadth of those demands, coupled with escalating cost pressures, pet food processors must leverage all synergies and innovations that are available to them. If innovations are leveraged properly with an outcome-based focus on the right priorities and with the right partners, pet food companies can unlock significant potential to increase throughputs, reduce costs, maximize labor resources, and improve employee experience and safety to ensure all regulatory requirements of today and tomorrow.

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