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Q&A: Addressing Traceability Challenges with ERP

Food safety and traceability are a constant concern for food manufacturers. Food Manufacturing spoke with Tom Muth of Epicor Software Corporation about these challenges and how ERP software can help processors improve food safety and traceability.

Interview with Tom Muth, Senior Manager of Product Marketing and Process Manufacturing, Epicor Software Corporation

Food Manufacturing spoke with Tom Muth of Epicor Software Corporation about the challenges processors face regarding food safety and traceability, and how ERP software can help mitigate these issues.

Q: What unique challenges do food manufacturers face regarding documenting food safety and traceability efforts?

A: Food safety is seen as the single most important issue among manufacturers, and the demands to document information relating to food sourcing, material flow, traceability and more present an ongoing challenge. These complex demands have a real cost, one very critical to bottom-line profitability as major food retailers take on a larger role in controlling. Forward and backward traceability of processed products, batches and lots requires detailed tracking from the point of materials receipt throughout production and delivery to customer shelves. Food manufacturers also require strict ingredient and environmental control throughout the manufacturing process, driving the need for food manufacturers to have the flexibility and details recorded across lots, batches, co- and bi-products. Lastly, food manufacturers are increasing the value of traceability responsiveness to quickly and efficiently respond to recall events or customer inquirers within minutes versus days.

Q: How can ERP systems help food producers meet these challenges?

A: ERP systems are providing the means to meet these challenges while improving internal business processes. By providing a framework to meet regulatory compliance demands, ensure product safety and control costs, ERP is proving increasingly essential as a tool in the food manufacturer’s arsenal for traceability. The ERP role is automating traceability of ingredients from origin to the final customer, as well as speeding and simplifying the audit process. A holistic electronic quality management approach is essential for meeting the challenges associated with traceability and quality. With ERP systems such as Epicor Tropos, quality workflows are integrated from the time of a sales order, to purchasing, to production, into inventory and finally to dispatch. ERP maintains quality specifications, sampling regimes and QA test results from order to dispatch and also may dynamically link to material lot and product release controls to help control quality and ensure full traceability.

Q: What are some best practices food companies should put in place regarding their supply chain management to help their business succeed?

A: Food manufacturers can help improve their bottom line by having standardized procedures for order management and delivery fulfillment. Another is to have standardized workflow and procedures for production planning and execution, and to ensure their operations are integrated and coordinated with customer service, logistics and delivery to improve process visibility and improve efficiencies. By doing these best practices, food manufacturers can better manage items throughout the whole value chain: improve controlling and planning stock, production, packaging, and distribution; and improve the collaboration between departments to optimize production capacity, perishability, warehousing and cash flow.   

Q: What are the latest trends with process manufacturing that food manufacturers can take advantage of to lower operational costs?

A: Some of the latest trends with process manufacturing that food manufacturers can take advantage of to lower operational costs include:

  • Optimizing materials consumption (reducing waste)
  • Extending shelf life of final products by speeding throughput
  • Lowering energy costs through real-time visibility
  • Benchmarking energy usage  

Q: What should food manufacturers consider before implementing an ERP system?

A: Food manufactures should consider an ERP system that has been designed for their unique business requirements for the food industry and representative success in their particular segment. Effective food ERP solutions such as Epicor Tropos are designed for process manufacturing and have a built-in process model and recipe and materials management support aimed at driving efficiencies and improving margins specifically for food and beverage industries. The ERP system should also be able to monitor and manage the variable nature of yields and product quality, shelf life and accurately forecast, optimize scheduling, manage materials, labeling and transportation in order to properly fulfill order to promise with a short notice. Lastly, an ERP package designed for food manufacturers will also have industry-specific functionality designed to minimize customization and include support for date code management, rebates and commissions, consignment costing, day one for day one order and delivery, multiple product attributes and grades, retailer-specific packing, and catch weight labeling.