In years past FDA regulations were guidelines, but now the government agency has mandatory recall authority: the ability to deny entry to food that poses potential safety risks; suspend facility registrations; and the authority to require expanded record-keeping.
The stakes are now higher. “Tighter control, documentation, and tracking of every ingredient and process used throughout the enterprise is now required,” notes Reid Paquin, industry analyst, food and beverage/CPG at GE Digital in a recent blog post.
Standardizing data types and automating data acquisition have been key strategy initiatives for food and beverage companies for the last two decades. As mergers and acquisitions multiplied in the first decade of the 2000s, manufacturing execution systems (MES) emerged as a key ingredient for quality, traceability and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) initiatives.
In a recent Aberdeen group study on the food and beverage industry, standardized key performance indicators (KPIs) measured across the enterprise ranked first at 77% among leading companies. Sixty-one percent of respondents ranked “automatically capturing manufacturing data” as important.
The report also states that this high level of automation — automatic data capture — allows manufacturers to improve the validity of collected data, more effectively use historical data for current decision making, and deliver data in real-time to decision makers.
Of course, automated data collection and safety regulations are being felt outside the U.S., with safety drivers like hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls (HARPC).
One company addressing these concerns is Thailand-based F&N Dairies, a food company that produces more than 24 million cases of products a year. Recently, F&N Dairies upgraded its Process Nexus II system at its Rojana plant to help expand reporting capabilities throughout the enterprise and increase operational efficiencies.
The Process Nexus II process and data acquisition software system uses Wonderware by Schneider Electric's MES solution, InTouch SCADA system and QI Analyst Statistical Process Control (SPC) for real-time communication to the plant floor.
“Imagine manufacturing 3 million cans per day. How do you control each can’s net weight to ensure it is properly filled with little to no overfill?” says Somchai Khwahan, production manager at F&N Dairies. “This was an issue our team faced daily, and eventually the paper-based record keeping processes were not able to keep up with our rapid production.”
This modernization project removed 40 paper-based reports detailing raw material receiving, processing control sheets, filling, packaging and cleaning operation control sheets.
“Process Nexus II has helped to solve this problem by reducing quality traceability process time to only one minute,” says Watcharapong Boonnam, quality assurance manager at F&N. Without Process Nexus II, it would take us more than four hours to complete one traceability report.”
Also included in the Nexus II platform is a Wonderware Historian that allows F&N Dairies to retrieve secured production data and deliver it to desktop or mobile devices. The historian and SCADA system work together to identify critical process data for reporting purposes.
“We are now able to collect product traceability information for both the upstream and downstream functions of our process in real-time,” says Sitthichai Sribunyapirat, F&N production manager.
In the coming years, data acquisition will be a fascinating trend to watch as tougher safety regulations emerge and as food producers start to recognize how robust data platforms can pave the way for big jumps in operational efficiencies.