Many food producers have long shied away from implementing production software with track-and-trace capabilities — thinking it was too time-consuming an undertaking and too big of an investment. Instead, they’ve opted for paper-based production management systems. But these systems can’t capture real-time information. And, like any other system that relies on human input, they can be prone to error.
Now, new Manufacturing Execution System (MES) applications can provide a simpler and less expensive approach to track and trace. They can help you:
- Spot quality issues before they leave your plant
- Demonstrate regulatory compliance on demand
- Adjust operations on the fly in response to supply-chain disruptions
What Are MES Applications?
While a traditional MES system is typically a multi-site enterprise solution, individual MES applications can be deployed at the machine or work-area level to address unique needs.
The applications have minimal infrastructure requirements, because you can deploy them on top of your existing framework. They also use guided and graphical configuration to ease implementation compared to a traditional MES system, which can require expertise from several disciplines. And over time, you can scale an MES application up to a larger, integrated MES system as you realize ROI.
Different fit-for-purpose MES applications also allow you to address different operations challenges.
For example, a production-management application can visualize and manage your entire order process, from initialization to shipment. This can help you keep production running smoothly while meeting quality and cost targets. The application can manage your bill of material, download and verify equipment configurations for each order, provide work instructions, enforce workflows, confirm that production follows the proper route and assign serial numbers to products.
A production-management application can also record every production step for quality, compliance and continuous-improvement purposes. You can use this data to monitor your KPIs or analyze your order processes. Or, looking at a report for a specific product, you can see all the steps it has gone through in production, what materials were consumed and all the collected data associated with it.
MES-Based Track And Trace
The ability to track, at any time and in any plant, what you’re making and how you’re making it can bring big business benefits that reverberate beyond the plant floor.
For example, an MES application with traceability can give you the data you need to not only identify a quality issue but also why it occurred and its possible impact. This can help you spot issues before products leave your plant, as well as minimize or perhaps even negate the impact of recalls. That, in turn, can help you improve brand loyalty.
An MES application can also help you improve productivity and more efficiently demonstrate compliance with regulatory requirements. Paper-based data collection can be time- and labor-intensive. But an MES application can automate your data collection and reporting — and reduce the risk of error in the process.
The ability to create enforceable workflows — and verify that workers follow them — can also help you error-proof your production processes and reduce variance. This can help you better meet your quality, cost and delivery goals.
Enforceable workflows also create another means of data collection. You can use them to record data such as timestamps and electronic signatures for processes, materials, equipment, tools, operators and test results. This can help you more easily achieve and demonstrate regulatory compliance.
Achieving Compliance And Boosting Production
Food companies around the world are using MES to meet more rigorous track-and-trace requirements while maintaining — or even improving — productivity.
That was the case for a leading infant-formula maker in China. The company used an MES in a new plant to comply with more a stringent traceability regulation, increase productivity by 3 percent and decrease labor costs by 7 percent.
After contamination issues arose in the country, the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) revised regulations in product traceability that made track-and-trace systems mandatory. The formula maker built its new plant to meet these requirements. But the plant’s manual data-collection processes slowed production, with quality checks and record keeping becoming a bottleneck.
The company made the decision to switch to an MES to centralize and standardize recipe management, improve information integration and create more timely reports.
The MES integrated with the plant’s control system and ERP system to track, record and share production data in real time. And it integrated quality management and business analytics with paperless shop-floor and repair execution. Standardized workflows and library suites for common functions also helped achieve quality and regulatory compliance.
The paperless track-and-trace system automatically collects data during the production process to keep accurate inventory records and meet regulations. This allows workers to follow the real-time journey of raw milk as it’s processed into finished formula. And it captures all supply-chain data required by the CFDA.
In addition to improved productivity and reduced labor costs, better visibility into the system has also helped mitigate production issues. Deviations from performance targets can be quickly spotted because production data is captured in context. If deviations do occur, the underlying problems can be easily identified, proper personnel can be alerted and issues can be quickly fixed. Batches produced in the plant are also consistent because recipe management has been centralized and standardized.
A Smart Starting Point
MES applications can help you simplify and save when bringing track and trace to your operations.
But it’s also important to keep the big picture in mind. MES applications allow you to start an MES deployment in a small and targeted way, such as by meeting quality or compliance goals. You can then build on that deployment over time by using other applications to improve your OEE or warehouse management. And ultimately, you can scale up to a full-scale MES deployment to optimize all aspects of your operations.
Todd Montpas is Product Manager for Information Software at Rockwell Automation.