Traceability, Not Just a Buzzword
I think we all understand the basic fundamentals of food traceability. In its most generic term, traceability is defined as:
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The ability to track any food through all stages of production, processing and distribution (including importation and at retail). Traceability should mean that movements can be traced one step backwards and one step forward at any point in the supply chain.
Sounds pretty simple right? And as you might already know, for reasons such as: food safety, regulatory compliance, or to meet standards imposed by progressive retailers; food processors have been doing this for years. But the food industry is like any other manufacturing industry, so improving productivity, efficiency, and responsiveness while gaining insight into data coming out of your business all boil up to being more competitive and improving profitability.
The difference is today–for a processor to remain competitive–the old methods of manually tracking production, inventory and order fulfilment with pen, paper and clip boards simply does not cut it. This trend has been driving rapid adoption of computer software solutions that facilitate traceability.
Traceability can be achieved by an assortment of different technologies
- Pure traceability software vendors that specialize in tracking what comes in, what was processed and where it went. These vendors typically target smaller, low-volume processors and are fairly economic in nature. An example would be bioLinks
- The next level is what I call vendors that provide more feature-rich solutions MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) which are: computerized systems used in manufacturing, to track and document the transformation of raw materials to finished goods. Used in conjunction with a capable WMS (Warehouse Management System) with provide end-to-end plant tracking of production and inventory. These systems coupled with a decent accounting package is typically what most small to medium size processors require. An example here would be Carlisle’s Symphony Plant Productivity and Traceability system. It is an integrated MES and WMS system for food companies. You bring the account package, it does the rest.
- Finally, the most complete and comprehensive solutions out there are referred to as ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems. Enterprise resource planning: is business process management software that allows an organization to use a system of integrated applications to manage the business and automate many back office functions related to technology, services and human resources. This is solution most large food enterprises turn to due to its completeness of features, ability to scale and comprehensive reporting capabilities. It is usually the more expensive solution, however there are now interesting and affordable ERP offerings for the food industry such as SYSPRO Canada.
The common elements that enable these computerized software solutions leverage to achieve traceability is their ability to collect the necessary ordering, production, inventory and sales data then report on it in such a way that Recall Reports by: Batch, PLU, Date and more can quickly and easily be generated to rapidly isolate affected product.
So there is a theme here, technology, automation and integration. Does this sound like yesterday’s food industry? It sure doesn’t, but to compete today, it is the ‘new normal’.
Like any new paradigm, this shift is also driving opportunities in the way of jobs.
As the food industry evolves, there is an increasing need for skilled employees in the workforce. Processors are now integrating traditional machinery with data tracking software. For example:
- Wireless mobile computers on the plant running production or inventory software
- Scales that are integrated with scanners and software for automating product identification and package labeling
- Equipment that tracks production throughput and up-time all in real-time
So the food companies of today are not simply looking for hard working general laborers, they are looking for employees that are skilled in:
- Machinery maintenance
- Plant management
- Q/A and using new software tools some companies now have their own software teams
- Computer, software and networking skills some companies have dedicated IT departments!
- OEE Overall Equipment Effectiveness
- Experience in reporting tools, spreadsheets and even business intelligence (BI) software as insight fuels better business decisions
- And much more…
Furthermore, a common theme I hear at every industry food event is company management stating their biggest challenge is to find and retain good, skilled employees. There is a real demand folks and it seem your high school guidance counselor is not pointing kids to the food industry as a target market, yet. They should.
Hence I am happy to continue to support FoodGrads and their mission as there is real market demand and there are real and meaningful jobs to be had!
Written by: Wayne Slater
Wayne is the co-author of Food Traceability for Dummies, has been helping organizations solve their businesses challenges through the application of technology solutions and business process analysis for more than 20 years. As the VP of Channel Sales at SYSPRO Canada, Wayne is dedicated to helping food companies to meet their supply-chain and regulatory requirements, streamline productivity, and improve profitability.
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