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Reverse engineering for food processing plant
Designing a plant layout for food processing facility sees some of the most unique challenges in meeting stringent regulations of both food and manufacturing. One of the usual challenges lies in designing the layout in huge build area (at times spread over more than several 1000 square feet area), demanding to be used in an effective manner.

When it comes to renovation, barriers ranging from regulatory aspects to designs, including the layout, infrastructure amendments, new equipment accommodation, getting rid of old ones and redesigning each segment are often encountered. Plant design engineers have found reverse engineering as an incredible tool for upgrading the plant as per regulations; especially for the plants designed before the computer era.

In addition to designs challenges, food processing plants are often exposed to physical and chemical abuse, and will also endure the risks of ever present biological contamination. In order to minimize contamination, plant design engineer require setting up the layout accordingly, say for example; a waste water conduit cannot be placed near the final packaging station. The design of layout need to abide the standards set by FDA, USDA, FSMA, HACCP, SQF and BRC for planning and designs. This is where reverse engineering is helpful. It enables plant owners to record the existing data through laser scanning and subsequently generate detailed 3D CAD models that will help configure the old designs as per the new standards and regulations.

How does reverse engineering work for food processing plants?

Most food processing plants are in existence since pre-computer era and need vigilant up-gradations owing to environmental changes. In order to continue using existing facilities, some fundamental design uplifts are required to suit the regulations. Reverse engineering as such helps in capturing the as-built condition of the plant through laser scanning and developing 3D CAD models using tools like SOLIDWORKS. With accurate and accessible plant data, it becomes easier for the engineering teams to take informed decisions by simply interrogating the virtual model.

The major goal of reverse engineering is to get the exact as-built data of the plant condition to obtain 3D CAD models and later generate accurate 2D drafts with P&IDs out of it. Once the data is made available, the entire plant design can be imagined and design engineer can exactly inspect the areas needing upgrades.

The other biggest challenge for plant design engineers involved in food processing is the time constraint and the need to manage each work station efficiently, so that there is least man-material movement. Since most of these plants are built at least two decades back, they have to handle the equipment with care. Peculiar arrangements, specifically for a food processing plant, require adequate data before making any changes. Some of these aspects are:

Accounting for inflammable items:While renovating the ceiling and other built-up in the facility, cook side of the plant needs to be dealt with care. The plant design engineer dedicatedly has to account for inflammable entities therein.

Installing new equipment for RTE: Complying with the automation need, ready-to-eat – RTE food processing plants need new equipment, and automation packaging and filling lines have to be installed in accordance with the smoke house, blast house, slicing rooms and packaged food room with other equipment and machinery of the plant. This continuous automation lines require a continuous space and strategic placement, as it doesn’t allow any interference by other segments in plant.

Need for QA/QC: QA/QC aspects are considerably high in a food processing plant and have to be looked after with keen dedication. This will account for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point plans (HACCP plans) along with appropriate illumination for QC stations, electricity, forklift etc.

Sanitation aspects: Cleanliness and sanitation goes hand in hand. A plant design engineer ensures that various contradictory segments in the plant are not laid side-by-side. Say for instance, to maintain sanitation waste water conduit and refrigeration unit are never placed next to each other.

When all these aspects are to be implemented together, it needs a thorough look around approach at the existing designs and layout. Reverse engineering does this exact thing, it provides an opportunity to develop an as-built CAD model of the plant facility, allowing plant engineer to work in a digital environment including all the data. As such, any change made can be easily tracked; and its effect on rest of the layout can be studied.

Besides the specific needs, every food plant also includes Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs), for safety. Amongst these, GMPs are the practices that control operational facility for safety purpose and forms the top tier need. Reverse engineering essentially mitigates this effect and aids the engineer in studying and analyzing the plant condition.

Why only reverse engineering?

But then again, there arises a question to why resort to reverse engineering only over other manual measurement methods. To answer this, there sure is a scope of later, but it will have inaccuracies and human factor contributing to inconsistencies. Manual measurement also fails to get the designs of plant in as-is condition, when it comes to curvature, and it requires developing the designs from scratch once again.

On the other hand, reverse engineering is an accurate way out, bypassing the mistakes originating from human factor, inappropriate measuring instruments and a quicker alternative. Most industry leading design engineers rely on the data obtained from scanning and reverse engineered model.

As much as it is said, the up-gradations in the existing food processing plants have to be done with utmost vigilance for food packaging and processing. While harmful emissions are the controlling factor in oil and gas refinery plant, hygiene and abiding the regulations decide the operating quality of food processing plant. 3D CAD models and drawings of the plants obtained in as-built conditions through reverse engineering refines existing infrastructure and bring about regulatory upgrades in the layout.