Meeting Regulations is Good Business

Aug. 1, 2005
Companies have discovered that track-and-trace tools not only will help them stay out of trouble, but that they also help improve business performance.

“The driving force for implementing tracking and traceability is the U.S. Bioterrorism Act of 2002.” So say a group of industry veterans. But, they say that their customers are finding that implementing these applications requires more thought than copying a program from a CD-ROM and running it. Those that do think the applications through for the entire business process are finding that track-and-trace technologies not only will help them stay out of regulatory purgatory, but they also are discovering tremendous business benefits.

Bill Arnold, partner business manager at Omron Electronics LLC, in Schaumburg, Ill., says, “I’m concerned that too many companies in the food and beverage industry are ignoring the coming regulations resulting from the U.S. Bioterrorism Act of 2002.” Some manufacturers in that industry must have a strategy and begin to show compliance by the end of 2005, and the remainder must be ready by the end of 2006, Arnold believes.

“The intent is to provide rapid tracing response both back and forward to protect the regulated supply from bioterrorism,” asserts Arnold. “We’re going to have to be able to find and provide information for recall of products from a specific shift within four to six hours of a notice. The backward and forward aspects means that if you are shipping to retailers, then you need to know to whom the shipment went, and likewise be able to trace the product through suppliers all the way back to the farm.”

The problem does not stop with this legislation. Arnold notes that several states in the United States are requiring an “electronic pedigree” on prescription drugs so that they know that what they are paying for through programs such as Medicaid are what was actually dispensed.

Claus Madsen Abildgren, marketing manager for production management at Lake Forest, Calif.-based Wonderware, a business unit of London-based Invensys, concurs that regulations such as those promulgated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with the U.S. Bioterrorism Act and various international food safety standards, are driving traceability applications and implementations. “It will take three to five years before this impacts the entire market,” predicts

Abildgren. “It took at least that long to make all the investments in applications after the FDA Electronic Signature regulations were passed. But even more important to manufacturers is the use of this information once it’s collected in order to improve operations. If you have all this actual data about how you are making products, you can study the data for use in making better products. This real-time information even allows companies to react quickly to price pressures in the market and even to bring out new products more quickly.”

Granular Information

Adds Charley Rastle, food industry manager at Milwaukee-based Rockwell Automation Inc., “Companies have thought about track-and-trace for a long time, but the Bioterrorism Act and its coming regulations are adding new urgency. Not many companies are implementing solutions now, but they must do so soon.”

A lot of food plants could meet the regulations with paper systems, but those systems are not all that accurate or granular, according to Rastle. “For example, say there is a problem with a batch of chocolate chip cookies,” he says. “There is a need to know where the flour came from for the batch. With a paper system, someone may only be able to tell within a week or so, necessitating a recall of many more products than if they knew within hours of when that lot of flour was used.”

Rastle emphasizes the need for companies to thoroughly review their unique requirements and processes before proceeding. Rastle says he worked recently with managers at a specialty food processing company that wanted an automated data collection system. But after looking at the whole process, they decided to also track labor while they were at it.

“They used the information to reduce the labor cost of processing and got the return on investment they were looking for,” he says. “But then when they linked the information into their enterprise business systems, they found a way to improve processes through the entire supply chain.”

Product recall management solutions that lead to business improvements are exemplified by one recent project in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. Jeff Baxter, senior systems engineer for Albany, Ore., systems integrator Progressive Software Solutions Inc., describes the project his company is implementing for a manufacturing company. The customer had no cohesive way of tracking the genealogy of its products. If a problem with a finished part was discovered, the company would have to search through as many as 20 different databases in many different formats—both paper and digital.

Knowing that the implementation would have to be done in several stages, Progressive began with implementation of a common database application and format using InTrack from Wonderware in one key area of manufacturing. In some cases, Progressive engineers digitally imported existing data into the new database. In other cases, manual input was required.

As the implementation moved from department to department, engineers encountered another problem when they reached the assembly department. That department had a database in Microsoft Access that contained the serial numbers of all the units that had been shipped. Unfortunately, according to Baxter, the database did not include product genealogy information to make it useful in a potential recall. Product genealogy, as the name implies, contains all the antecedents of the particular product—raw materials, components, suppliers, dates received and used, and the like. So Progressive built a mechanism to integrate all of that data.

After the database was constructed, managers and manufacturing professionals wanted to use all that information in order to better perform their jobs. Progressive turned its attention to that challenge. The problem was that this new database still could not store all of the company’s manufacturing data. There needed to be a way to bring in information from all databases automatically to meet the individual needs of the different users.

Bring It Together

Several off-the-shelf report writers exist, but each requires extensive set-up programming and continuing maintenance. At this point, Progressive used Incuity from DataWorks, of Mission Viejo, Calif. This product enables data modeling, plus data collection from disparate sources compiled into an individualized information container.

The results of the project so far have not only enabled the customer to improve its product traceability, but it has also provided information to every manufacturing department to help them improve their decisions and work processes.

Imagine keeping track of all the hamburger patties sold by McDonald’s Corp., the Oak Brook, Ill.-based fast food giant. The impact of a product recall of hamburger sold to that company could be huge. Even in Sweden and Finland, that amounts to over 1 million hamburger patties a day. The McDonald’s supply chain standards are so developed and strict that the company can trace any individual beef patty to a supplier’s specific batch. To become a supplier to McDonald’s, a company must grade highly in each of three areas—cleanliness, consistency and traceability.

Farlo Hamburgers of Linkoping, Sweden was founded expressly to supply hamburger patties to McDonald’s in Sweden and Finland. As it planned its production processes, Farlo knew it had to incorporate traceability along with being a low-cost supplier. As the company began production, McDonald’s required extensive documentation of quality and traceability of each item. At the beginning, meeting this requirement with manual systems was both costly and inefficient.

B/S Elcontrol AB, an Alvangen, Sweden, systems integrator, used software from Sydney, Australia-based Citect to implement a traceability system for Farlo. Citect’s claim to allow version updates without risk to production or quality was cited as a reason for being selected for the project. Traceability in the system was achieved through using events from other applications to trigger a Citect snapshot of process data, with subsequent logging to the manufacturing execution system (MES) database.

While the MES is responsible for stock overview, traceability, fat content registration and the recipe for the pre-blend, the Citect system monitors the production machines and plant temperatures. The production machine monitoring includes mixing of the beef, forming the hamburger patties, monitoring the recipe for the final mixture and sending batch information back to the MES for traceability.

Order and receiving information is handled through the MES system, while the Citect system interfaces between it and production. The production system automatically blends batches of minced beef in order to maintain the required fat content with a deviation from standard of less than 1 percent. It then transfers the batch results including fat content and quantity to the MES.

Automotive Tracking

Track-and-trace applications provide tremendous benefits in the automotive industry as well. One of the best-known principles of automotive manufacturing developed by Japanese manufacturers is Kanban—the principle that suppliers should only deliver those materials needed for immediate production on the assembly line—and in the same order of production as the cars coming down the assembly line. There should be no build-up of component parts inventory, requiring both space and investment dollars.

A major automotive Tier One supplier was building a greenfield production site and not only needed a system to support Kanban shipping to its customers, but it needed to get that system up and running quickly.

In order to meet regulatory and customer quality requirements, it needed an error-proof method for following a unit through multiple stages of assembly and testing, and creating a comprehensive history for each unit produced. Capturing all of this real-time data flawlessly and sequentially would be a difficult enough task in and of itself, but to add to the complexity of the application, the lead time between manufacturing and delivery is just 120 minutes. For each assembly delivered late or out of sequence, the supplier is penalized $6,000. With production running at one unit per minute, the company needed to avoid potential penalties totaling $360,000 per hour.

Charlottesville, Va.-based GE Fanuc Automation Inc. implemented a system using its Proficy Tracker product to monitor the progress of each serialized item that moves through the production process. The system provides the detailed, continuous flow of information needed for optimizing the manufacturing process, while enabling the manufacturer to manage inventory levels and locations, and route materials efficiently and effectively to maintain the build sequence.

The total system includes automated routing, option build data, tracking from station to station, counting produced and rejected units, monitoring re-work, collecting product and process data, shipping management, document management and error proof stock picking.

Evaluating the system after production startup, the manufacturer has exceeded its goals for cost avoidance on late and out-of-sequence deliveries. And in fact, according to GE Fanuc, the company has never shipped out of sequence under the production management.

Tracking Fish

Rügen Island, located on Germany’s Baltic Coast, is the home of one of Europe’s largest fish-packing companies, which is aptly named Rügen Fisch (German for “fish”). During the past half-century, the company has grown to offer approximately 150 different varieties of canned fish, from herring to mackerel, sardines, salmon and more, packed in an array of sauces and condiments.

At the fast-growing company, managers at Rügen Fisch saw they could not control the flow of incoming materials that included not only the raw fish, but also seasoning ingredients and packaging materials. Increased demand meant that the variety of materials and finished products were increasing. Manual input to the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system was increasingly inaccurate. Finally, they had to implement the Hazardous Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) program of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in order to export.

Rügen Fisch worked together with the system integrator Marine- und Automatisierungstechnik Rostock GmbH (MAR) to develop a concept for the new plant’s information system.

The system designed and implemented by MAR included Wonderware components InTouch for human-machine interface, InTrack for resource tracking and IndustrialSQLServer as the real-time plant historian.

Customer order information is entered into the ERP system via InTouch workstations. The data on finished-goods inventories are matched to bulk order requirements. If the inventory for a particular product is projected to be too low, the system calculates what raw materials and supplies will be needed to sufficiently rebuild the product inventory, and messages indicating the necessary materials are then sent to Rügen Fisch’s suppliers.

This bill of materials information is then passed to the resource tracking software for scheduling production lines and daily work orders. To improve traceability, the InTrack software also collects data on every can produced, building a unique product genealogy. All data is archived in the IndustrialSQL Server historian to ensure that product information is available for process optimization and/or troubleshooting efforts whenever required.

Every package is printed with a lot identification number, which is the master record identifier that indicates the raw fish batch and who packed each lot. This information is gathered and archived. Each can, box and pallet of finished goods has its own set of records, helping Rügen Fisch maintain a complete product genealogy. If there were ever a question about a batch of fish, management could trace the problem all the way back to the individual container of raw fish and who supplied it.

Rügen Fisch reports that the system has allowed it to increase revenue without adding additional labor, while also increasing the number of orders of a higher variety of products. Inventory of all types of materials has been reduced.

From food and beverage manufacturers to automotive suppliers, engineers and managers are finding that track-and-trace tools can help them minimize costly recalls, prepare for meeting bioterrorism regulations, and, incidentally, help them meet business goals, too.

For more information, search keywords “tracking” and “traceability” at www.automationworld.com.

See sidebar to this article: Tracking and Tracing Technology Drives Food Industry Efficiencies