Food and beverage is seeing a number of approaches to digital transformation. Jason Chester, Director of Global Channel Programs, InfinityQS discusses how the industry can be enhance with the right approaches to processing the data.
Cloud-based software-as-a-service quality management solutions make this shift easier than ever, offering rapid and simple deployment, low up-front costs, and flexible scalability. Food manufacturers can gain access to critical insights whenever and wherever they are needed most in order to maintain product quality, ensure compliance, and drive continuous improvement across their organisations.
Centralising data improves visibility and collaboration
In a traditional manufacturing environment, quality and process data are often locked away in paper files, Excel spreadsheets, or legacy on-premises software. These prevent manufacturers from monitoring enterprise-wide quality performance and inhibit data sharing with external parties across the supply chain. Cloud solutions provide a single, unified data repository where food manufacturers can standardise and centralise quality data – from all processes, production lines, and sites in their enterprise.
The resulting ‘big picture’ view of quality enables food companies to perform enterprise-wide analyses to pinpoint problem areas, identify best practices, and prioritise resources. Ongoing regulatory compliance can be verified and accountability for all checks can be easily enforced. Ultimately, this can improve quality and compliance across the entire organisation.
Additionally, viewing supplier data in real time to prevent food safety issues becomes possible, and manufacturers can ensure that incoming ingredients meet quality standards before they are shipped. Only the highest-quality ingredients get accepted and incorporated into products, helping uphold firms’ overall brand standards. Supplier performance is also easy to monitor and therefore enables any disruptions to be more easily prevented or managed if or when they arise.
Responding proactively on the plant floor
A preventative approach to quality and safety just isn’t possible when using manual methods for data collection and analysis. Operators spend valuable time recording data with a pencil and paper, then sift through page after page of control charts – and this is on top of all their other daily responsibilities. It’s easy to see how mistakes could be made and production issues could be missed.
Quality teams are also at a disadvantage: many of them need to review historical data about products that have already come off the production line. In other words, they act one step behind, meaning that their work is often carried out too late. Some problems may not be identified until the final inspection, assuming that their even caught at all. Manufacturers end up dealing with defective products, wasted resources, and damaging recalls.
Cloud-based statistical process control (SPC) software can automatically collect measurement values from a variety of data sources, and then monitor processes in real time. When the software detects specification or statistical violations, automated alarms instantly alert key personnel. This allows them to take immediate action to correct any issues.
Further safeguards can be placed using workflows – namely prescriptive guides for responding to quality issues that are predefined in the cloud-based quality solution. Employees can respond consistently to problems and then document the corrective actions for analysis across the entire company. This in turn allows manufacturers to spot any trends and prevent reoccurring issues on a wider level.
Routine keeps everyone on the same page
Routine sampling and quality checks are critical for food safety and compliance with regulatory and industry-specific standards. But how can manufacturers ensure required checks are completed according to schedule? In times when the plant floor is busy, it can be easy for operators to get side-tracked tackling other issues.
With cloud-based quality systems, timed data collections can be set up which send automated notifications to remind operators when it’s time to perform HACCP, CCP, and other critical quality and safety checks. Operators can stay focused on production, without having to watch the clock or worry about missing a check. Plant supervisors also get alerts if a data collection is missed – no matter where they are working – so they can keep everyone on top of compliance.
Auditing just became that much easier
Auditing is already a time-consuming and resource-intensive process, adding another layer of stress and complexity to the already-complex nature of food production. Those that rely on paper records and spreadsheets usually struggle to piece together and produce auditor-requested information. Failed audits can have major consequences for organisations, which is why they must be carried out perfectly every time.
When quality records and other compliance documentation are digitised, they become quickly accessible via the cloud. Data from specific timeframes can be easily pulled and reports now take just minutes to complete – for regulatory, third-party certification, or internal audits – rather than the days or weeks it would typically take following a complicated trail of paper.
Improving traceability and mitigate recall response
Recalls are another big source of stress for food manufacturers. After all, food quality or safety incidents that result in a recall not only hurt profits and brand reputation but also put the health and lives of consumers at risk. Fortunately, recalls can be mitigated or avoided through better traceability.
With the ability to trace raw ingredient lot codes through the manufacturing process and supply chain, and centralising that data within a singular cloud repository, manufacturers can create an overall timeline between incoming ingredients and outgoing products. This information is critical for preventing and responding to product recalls. If a safety issue is found within a specific ingredient lot, manufacturers can quickly identify output lots where those ingredients were used, prevent those finished lots from being released, or (in the worst-case scenario) remove those lots from store shelves in a swift, targeted recall.
A new digital age
It’s clear to see that the industry at large is heading towards a new digital age. Food manufacturers shouldn’t wait to take the first steps, and cloud-based quality can get them on the right path. While any big change comes with hesitancy, a tactical approach can help ease any fears.
Some manufacturers have started with small-scale projects, deploying the cloud-based quality solution to monitor a single process or production line. Leadership teams can see how quality in the cloud benefits everyone at all levels of their organisation – and then deploy the solution on a wider scale. It is a great way to successfully introduce new digital technology and lay the foundation for future transformation.