Key Strategies for a Successful Vertical StartupTaking a manufacturing plant from construction completion to commercial operation is an exciting step for any plant operator. In order to maximize efficiency from the get-go, you want your new plant to operate at 100 percent and achieve full performance from the start. But achieving successful start-up is no easy task, and it requires an upfront investment of resources — financial and otherwise.

Owners often focus on keeping capital costs low, and rightfully so. But a 1 percent loss in efficiency can cost more in cost-of-goods sold than spending a little bit extra on capital — an objective that commonly gets overlooked.

If you do the financial analysis on cash-flow, a 10 percent overrun on capital will cost almost half of what a 1 percent loss in efficiency will cost in 10 years. There’s a lot of money left on the table because start-ups aren’t effectively planned and staffed, and there’s not enough focus on everything it takes to start up the equipment.

In the food and consumer products industry, where first-to-market is important and churn is heavy, the frequency at which startups occur is likely the highest in any industry. After working on the development and implementation of a number of startup plans, we’ve witnessed just how effective these plans can be at cutting production time in half to reach your target goal.

The value and results that come from having a comprehensive and rigorous start-up plan covers both the human and the equipment sides. Here are seven areas that are key components of start-up success:

  1. Define Success Criteria and Goals – First and foremost, set clear objectives and identify work areas.
  2. Start-up Risk Assessment – Perform a thorough startup risk assessment and establish key focus areas.
  3. Start-up Strategy Development – Develop a detailed startup strategy that fits the project goals.
  4. Early Learning Plan – Identify subject-matter experts who can help implement a start-up plan; involve them early in the project to build mastery and ownership.
  5. Training Plan – Establish an effective training plan that transfers information from subject-matter experts to the operators who run the equipment.
  6. Material Utilization Plan – Plan the incoming and outgoing materials from startup across the entire range of possibilities to avoid starved and blocked conditions that will slow down the learning and hurt performance.
  7. Problem Solving Integration – Implement an effective trouble-shooting and problem-solving plan during start-up.

If you’d like to learn more on this topic, feel free to send me an email or connect with me through LinkedIn. If you’re headed to the Food Automation & Manufacturing Conference in Fort Lauderdale in a few weeks, my colleague Jon Wright and I will be co-presenting “Keys to Start-up Success” at 11: 25 a.m. on Tuesday, April 8. We’ll share the virtues of early intervention and the importance of well-established commissioning plans in achieving start-ups of manufacturing installations. We’ll also share three case studies that examine the cost of inefficiencies and how that compares with capital investment.

Update 10/22/14: If you missed my presentation in April, I'll be presenting again at PACK EXPO International in Chicago on Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 10:00 a.m. I hope you'll join me!

Rob Rainbolt is the engineering manager for Burns & McDonnell’s Food & Consumer Products Group. He leads the multidisciplinary team in supporting our integrated design-build project execution approach. In addition to engineering leadership, Rob coaches the client-focused teams as they plan for successful startup execution across all market segments.

Photo Credit: FutUndBeidl via Compfight cc