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CPGSuite MES Improves Quality, Boosts Production

Manufacturing Execution System is the Secret Sauce for Mullins Food Products in Improving Batch Quality, Boosting Production

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  • Batch recipe deviations and inventory inaccuracies hindered Mullins Foods’ ability to meet growing demand


  • CPGSuite MES System - • Software automates the measurement of ingredients in inventory and production, manages production through automated work flows, and shares information with the ERP system so every batch is on spec
  • Accurate data with an integrated control and information system, shared between plant-floor and enterprise ERP systems provides insight into further areas for improvement


  • Reduced necessity to make adjustments to product batches to nearly zero
  • Dramatically cut quality check time by minimizing batch variability
  • Streamlined ingredient ordering, storage and tracking processes, reducing costs

Batch by Batch: A Tavern’s Signature Sauce to Quick-Service Leader

On the west side of Chicago in 1934, Harry and Mabel Mullins began bottling their homemade barbecue sauce to satisfy fans of their tavern. Demand continued to grow and, a few years later, the sauce was made available in local grocery stores. From humble beginnings, Mullins Food Products was born.

Today, Mullins produces and packages more than 250 various sauces each year for global quick-service restaurants, as well as bulk and portion packages to food companies. Growing from 4-gallon batches in the 1930s to 650-gallon batches today, Mullins is committed to quality in each batch. However, the challenge became greater as demand required increasing production capacity and processing accuracy.

To meet growing demand, the company would have to invest in an expensive physical expansion or produce growth through operational efficiencies. Choosing the latter, Mullins turned to Rockwell Automation to help meet production volume while ensuring the signature quality their customers expect.

Process Challenges Impeding Productivity Gains

With the escalation of orders showing no sign of slowing, Mullins had to address various production bottlenecks around the plant. The first stage in the production line is the tank farm that fields the deliveries of ingredients. Deliveries were not defined to a set schedule, but dictated by production and tank capacity. Manual processes and record keeping were causing inaccurate receipt, inventory and consumption volumes that required cycle counts in bulk-ingredient tank farms. Daily physical liquid ingredient counts revealed inaccuracies, requiring significant inventory adjustments.

“We might not have room in a tank for a delivery,” said Shannon Smith, vice president of customer relations, Mullins Food Products. “We would then have to ask the tanker driver to wait until production used more product, causing us to incur charges for the delay.”

Inside the plant, measurement also remained an issue. Manually opened and closed valves introduced liquid ingredients to cooking kettles. The flow-metering system relied on additional validation to ensure accuracy of liquid in a batch. Even a fractional error could mean a large variance in a batch. Adjustments, such as adding salt or vinegar, were needed to bring a batch within specification. Required adjustments consumed time and  capacity that could have been used to start a new batch.

To maintain quality, every batch is tested in the Mullins quality assurance lab. Typically, the test would take as long as 25 minutes to complete, delaying continued use of a kettle in the process. “Testing batches in this manner was necessary to maintain our highest quality standards, but it also created downtime,” said Smith.

Recording raw-material consumptions was also a labor-intensive and manual process. Consumption was recorded at each compounding area manually using the bill of materials spreadsheet. Because this information was manually compiled, it required data input into the ERP system, creating an information delay of up to 24 hours. Other departments, such as scheduling, purchasing, accounting and warehousing, had to wait for the information. The orders of operations, existence of allergens and sanitation requirements were not consolidated to a single source, which created inefficiencies in production.

“We needed a solution that would address our manufacturing and supply-chain challenges, and integrate with our ERP system,” said Smith.

Mixing in CPGSuite MES and a Dash of Automation

To gain operational efficiencies without expanding their production facility, Mullins turned to manufacturing execution system (MES) software, specifically the Rockwell Software® CPGSuite® system. The system was implemented across sauce production lines. Select manual tasks were automated and built onto the control system. The CPGSuite software synchronizes the production process from raw-material receipt to the creation of the finished sauce. Through a process order, all production is controlled from start to finish where all work centers are given quantity specifications, ingredients and any special instructions for each sauce.

Flow meters and an HMI control panel were installed in the tank farm to streamline the daily intake of ingredients. Automated sensors were placed in the tank farms for accurate measurement. With a single and real-time view of resources, from current schedule fulfillment to ingredient usage, Mullins can schedule production and purchase ingredients based on the real-time inventory levels. Additionally, with an automated hard stop in all tanks, overflows are avoided entirely.

Manual open and close valves were automated for precise measurement as bulk liquid ingredients pass from the tank farms to production. Another HMI control panel near the kettles identifies ingredients and requires operators to follow specific work flows adhering to the recipe. To further control quality, thin-client technology is used for scanning incoming raw materials. Variances are identified and communicated to the necessary areas downstream in real time.

The CPGSuite software collects all process data during the execution of a process order. Data is collected and stored in a common model relative to the production order from the control system, as well as manually entered data. This contextual information provides the basis for production reporting and post-production, root-cause analysis.

Additionally, information on raw-material usage, quantity and adjusted batches is sent directly to Mullins’ ERP system so operations can eliminate transcription errors, and focus on other production challenges and value-added activities.

Each Batch Right the First Time to Boost Output

Mullins rolled out the CPGSuite software to each of its four production areas. Some of the production facilities have more complicated recipes, such as the salad dressing line. “We were confident with the installations, and each performed above expectation,” said Smith. 

“Delivery of liquid materials is a much better coordinated process now,” added Smith. “We can accept a delivery in its entirety, and not require a tanker to wait.” Automated measurement allows for calculation of loss factors for delivered materials and reduces costs.

The introduction of additional automation along with CPGSuite MES software work flows and automated data collection has reduced the number of batch adjustments to close to zero. “We aren’t reliant on manual processes,” added Smith. “We’ve actually refined nearly all of our formulations, our recipes, now that we are able to consistently hit targeted spec ranges for each batch.”

“We’ve assembled a project team to focus on how to use all this data we now can access,” Smith continued. “Now that we have analytics on the time required to run each sauce, we can further enhance our pricing, identify shift differentials and leverage best practices across all shifts. We finally have the information to know these are the questions we need to ask and answer.” Additionally, the new system provides the company with data compiled and validated by the control system for use in regulatory compliance reports.

Mullins has seen success with the application of the CPGSuite software to their sauce production lines, and has moved toward gaining efficiencies in other areas of the plant. “Traditionally, our bottlenecks were in processing, but now it’s packaging that is drawing our attention,” said Smith. “Integrating our packaging area with this solution might be a future project.”

The results mentioned above are specific to Mullins Food Products’ use of Rockwell Automation products and services in conjunction with other products. Specific results may vary for other customers.

Trademark Information:       

CPGSuite and Rockwell Software are trademarks of Rockwell Automation Inc.


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