The modern food industry has become one of the most sophisticated industries, feeding billions worldwide and driving technological advancement. These companies define our lives, from our favorite family dinners to dramatic social movements yet we only see what’s in front of us. Much goes on behind the scenes as they compete in a crowded and volatile market. They face changing regulatory requirements, huge risk, delicate supply networks, complex distribution channels, and a market where nearly half of the world’s population accesses the Internet and a quarter of consumers post negative comments on social media after a poor customer experience.
That’s why the journey from farm to table for something as simple as a chicken sandwich has become quite complex. So complex, in fact, that companies in food-related industries are making fundamental shifts in their business models. Decades-old systems are getting replaced by modern versions of the enterprise software traditionally used in manufacturing automotives, missile systems, consumer electronics, and medical devices — product lifecycle management, or PLM. In recent years, PLM software has seen unprecedented growth in nearly every segment of food-related industries.
So while few people may be able to tell the whole story of a chicken sandwich, companies rely on PLM deployments to keep record of every related product and process. From ideation to commercialization, PLM manages bills of materials, tracks ingredients, secures IP, calculates compliance, corrects quality issues, facilitates collaboration, designs next-gen innovations and more.
PLM’s Many Roles in your Chicken Sandwich
If PLM could tell us how the sandwich was made, what might it say? Let’s explore some ways businesses use PLM today to improve not just the products we eat, but also the products that help make the products we eat. Names of these companies are withheld to protect their competitive advantages.
Let’s start from the beginning — growing quality grains to feed the chickens. Agriculture has seen tremendous innovation that has led to precision agriculture, farm planning, field mapping and tractor guidance. With better farming comes a well-fed chicken, enabled in large part by on-board global positioning systems (GPS) that help plant corn seeds at the right distance and depth. A global developer of GPS and other sensors that indicate when to water and how much, uses PLM to maximize product manufacturability and lifespan, which is critical for such products used in rugged terrain. PLM drives the lean manufacturing processes that incorporate risk mitigation into the design process. It enforces a data-driven, composite risk score that measures each component. The system flags high-risk components early in the development process and requires engineers to justify its use or redesign a safer component into the product. As a result, the company lowers redesign costs and produces well-built agricultural systems and sensors capable of long life cycles.
Soon the chickens are ready to be processed. PLM is a key business initiative for companies during this stage, especially given strict safety guidelines. One such company is a European-based manufacturer of integrated poultry processing equipment that requires personnel in service, innovation, manufacturing and sales to use PLM. It runs a strategic program to track customers’ machine configurations over time. With this visibility, the manufacturer is able to resolve customer issues faster and incorporate customer insight into each product revision. PLM directly supports the company’s commitment to high yields, reliable performance and low total cost of ownership.
Popular Consumer Brands
Next, the poultry processing equipment is purchased and used by some of the world’s most recognized food brands which prepare the chicken to meet customer, restaurant and retailer requirements. They consider brand reputation their most valuable asset, so they rely on PLM to protect it by ensuring high quality, innovative products. PLM helps them strike a balance between ingredient transparency and recipe lockdown.
One of the world’s most recognized producers of chicken, beef, pork and prepared foods uses PLM to drive its core strategy: revolutionize the conversion of raw materials into high-margin products. But that was not the original objective. In fact, this company implemented PLM to get new products, including chicken breasts, to market faster and optimize R&D processes. However, it soon realized PLM’s benefits extended to better ingredient traceability, enhanced auditing capabilities and improved relationships with suppliers. Suddenly it could easily determine physical and chemical properties of each ingredient and material and find where it was used, surfacing Country of Origin details. PLM cut the time to create specifications in half. Products were safer thanks to better traceability; PLM tracked allergen lists by ingredient for receiving departments to prevent cross-contamination during storage. Even audits ran more efficiently because automated workflows ensured appropriate reviews took place and recorded them.
Now let’s consider the retailers. Perhaps you bought your chicken sandwich at a quick serve restaurant (QSR), one of the newer industry segments to invest in PLM. QSRs are under constant pressure to entice customers, improve productivity, and lower costs in an industry with extremely tight margins and fierce competition. Every penny counts. Many choose PLM to reduce costs and capture market share through diversification and innovation.
An example is a popular coffee franchise based in North America, which recently began offering hot sandwiches and in-store nutrition information to outmatch its competition. It quickly realized its old way of doing business — re-entering data, checking in/out locked spreadsheets and searching through emails — could not support the new level of transparency or passion for innovation its leaders desired. PLM now helps this company consolidate product information into a single product record and enforce an automated, closed-loop quality management system to trace specifications from supplied ingredients to finished products. PLM gives the company full visibility to now develop clear nutrition guides for customers.
Local Grocery Stores
Perhaps you make the sandwich yourself and you visit a grocery store to purchase the ingredients. Chances are that retailer also uses PLM, especially if it offers its own line of private-label goods. One grocery retailer recently found why it pays to have PLM when a recall was issued for peanut butter laced with salmonella. The company was able to identify all the products that used the infected peanuts from the responsible supplier in just minutes and then pull the recalled products from the shelves within 24 hours.
And Everything Else
Finally, you sit down to enjoy that sandwich. Want a bun and some barbeque sauce? There are PLM stories behind those products too. A design firm created the labels for its clients with PLM. Food processors validated their equipment was safe with a third party testing organization using PLM. Did you bake the chicken breast, use cooking utensils to prepare your meal and enjoy a beverage too? Yes, there are PLM stories there as well. Even in the napkin.
So where does the story end? As the complexity of our modern food industry grows, so does the journey of each product. Meanwhile, advancements in software technology such as cloud, analytics, and mobile, make PLM software more affordable, business-relevant, easy-to-use, secure and quick to deploy for the food-related industries. Companies will continue to innovate and rely on PLM to simplify every facet of the product development process — down to the tiniest detail.