As a division of PepsiCo Inc., Quaker Oats operates one of the world’s largest cereal mills in downtown Cedar Rapids, IA. Inside this production facility – which was originally built in 1873 – more than 1,000 workers manufacture Quaker-branded oatmeal, grits, snacks, and cold cereals.
In the past, when a Quaker Oats production line went down, line operators had to use plant phones to call mechanics who were equipped with pagers. “When a line breaks down, at minimum, it could take six minutes to even get someone on the phone,” says Brooks Dechant, business unit leader at Quaker Oats. “When we’re talking about downtime, six minutes is very costly – not to mention the time it takes for a mechanic to arrive and get the line up and running again after they receive the call that it’s down.”
Due to the lack of ability to communicate effectively between groups, it wasn’t uncommon for maintenance supervisors to discover that their lines were down after a few hours had gone by.
To improve uptime and internal communication, Quaker Oats needed to upgrade its obsolete paging system. After investigating, however, the internal team realized that an infrastructure refresh would be costly. Instead of spending money to upgrade outdated technology, they decided it was time to invest in new technology to replace the paging system.
After learning about CEC’s in-house technology and integration capabilities, Quaker Oats decided to work with CEC to implement a new two-way communications solution. CEC’s team of RF experts helped Quaker Oats determine how many channels and zones they needed, as well as how to implement a slow rollout to help workers get used to using the two-way communications system.
CEC also visited Quaker Oats to conduct coverage testing, including setting up a demo repeater on the roof of the 13-story building. After it was determined that the 1.9 million-square-foot plant could be covered effectively, CEC met with the company’s security, operations, and production teams to learn more about what they needed and expected from a two-way communications system.
To give leadership a realistic idea of how a new two-way communications solution would behave in Quaker Oats’ environment, a proof of concept was conducted inside Lab46: CEC’s in-house technology demonstration space. In this state-of-the-art lab, customized programming parameters were established so Quaker Oats personnel could see exactly how the system would work in their own manufacturing plant.
With its new Motorola MOTOTRBO Capacity Plus System in place – including five repeaters and nearly 150 radios so far – Quaker Oats has now:
- Eliminated antiquated communication methods that involved pagers and plant phones. Employees can now have direct conversations with individual radio users or a specific group of users (production, maintenance, or security).
- Reduced response time. When line operators call for maintenance, the calls are answered and the right people are dispatched to the job right away. This represents a near six-minute improvement in response time, as well as major cost savings by getting lines up and running faster.
- An emergency channel that can be used to communicate across all talk groups with the highest priority during a fire, security breach, or other incident.
- Digital radios that can receive texts and emails in addition to voice communication.
- A system that can easily scale to 1,000+ users, offering five times the capacity of an analog system and up to three times the capacity of an analog trunking system.
- The ability to integrate its existing fire alarm, security, and building automation systems with the radios in the future.
- The ability to coordinate and direct employees to exactly where they need to be – quickly.
“It’s all about downtime and response time from our maintenance department. This two-way communications system gives us immediate response when lines are down. Whatever infrastructure we purchased, we knew it would determine how far we could grow with the system over time. This was all brand new to us. It was crucial to have CEC help us through that process.”