Food and beverage processors know the stakes are high when it comes to quality and safety. Get it right, and they earn lifelong loyal customers. Get it wrong, and they face damaging recalls or regulatory fines, or perhaps put consumer health in jeopardy.
Given these risks, many processors are exploring new strategies and tools to support their quality and safety efforts. Fortunately, the most powerful resource is already at their disposal: data.
Quality data generated on the plant floor can help processors keep products and processes in spec, continuously enhance quality and reduce risk, and improve performance across their organization. But this is only possible when data are accessible and actionable.
Unfortunately, many food and beverage manufacturers keep their quality data locked away in paper checklists, spreadsheets, or siloed databases — leaving all those valuable insights untapped. But they can harness the full value of their data by digitizing it in the cloud.
The power of cloud-based quality management
The cloud transforms how manufacturers collect, store, analyze and use quality data. With cloud-based quality management software, data from all processes, lines and sites — and even data from suppliers — are unified in a centralized repository. The data and resulting analyses become instantly accessible and easily consumable for everyone at all levels of the organization.
By bringing quality data online, process manufacturers gain valuable advantages. The following benefits, in particular, help drive high levels of quality and safety across their operations and supply chains:
1. Proactive quality monitoring on the plant floor
Old paper-based methods of quality control prevent operators and quality teams from proactively addressing issues on the plant floor. After being recorded with paper and pencil, critical quality data are then manually re-entered into spreadsheets for analysis. By the time results are reviewed and a possible issue found, it is too late to mitigate the damage. The result is wasted resources, lowered profits and unsafe products potentially reaching consumers.
Cloud-based quality management software offers the visibility process manufacturers need to break out of firefighting mode. Rather than reacting to one problem after another, they can work on preventing problems from getting out of hand or even happening in the first place.
Here’s how it works: The software collects and analyzes data from production processes in real time. When it detects a quality or safety issue — or when data starts to trend in the wrong direction — the software immediately alerts the appropriate operators or quality personnel. They can make adjustments or corrections early on, ensuring products and processes stay in spec. This proactive approach is the key to reducing waste, protecting profits and keeping defective products from ever making it out the door.
And because all that information is instantly available via the cloud, plant leaders and quality managers can stay on top of what is happening without being physically present on the plant floor. Whether they are in a back office, on the road or otherwise working remotely, they have all the information needed to ensure operations run smoothly.
2. Enterprise-wide visibility for continuous improvement
With paper-based systems — or even legacy on-site software — quality data is siloed between disparate production sites in an enterprise. Data practices can also differ from site to site. Overall, this makes comparative analysis nearly impossible.
But that all changes when data from every process, every line and every site are standardized and aggregated in the cloud. This single source of truth can guide decisions about enterprise-wide quality improvements, safety measures and more.
For example, modern cloud solutions offer data visualizations and advanced analysis tools that help executives and quality pros compare performance across all sites. They can spot problem areas in need of immediate attention, better prioritize resources and identify best practices to standardize across their organization.
3. Simplified compliance and stress-free audit
Food and beverage manufacturers must comply with national and international regulations, as well as various industry standards. Meeting those strict requirements — and all the documentation, reporting and auditing involved — can take up serious time and resources. Cloud-based quality systems make it easier than ever to maintain compliance and make audits a breeze.
Compliance checks can be scheduled in the software system. If a required quality check or data sampling is missed, automated notifications remind operators and alert supervisors. This keeps everyone on top of critical quality and safety checks.
Historical data is organized and stored in the centralized cloud repository mentioned earlier. Plant managers can easily generate reports to verify ongoing compliance. And in the event of an audit, they can compile and present requested data in minutes — rather than the days or even weeks it has historically taken to sift through mountains of paper files and spreadsheets. With the cloud, everything manufacturers need to maintain compliance is right at their fingertips.
4. Real-time visibility into supplier data
Safe, high-quality food products start with safe, high-quality ingredients. The cloud helps ensure that incoming raw ingredients are up to quality standards — before they are accepted and incorporated into final products.
How? Food and beverage processors can require their suppliers to digitally collect and share quality data through a cloud-based system. They can view this data in real time to monitor the quality of raw ingredients coming from suppliers around the world. They gain oversight over third-party quality inspections and, as a result, ensure only the highest quality ingredients get used in their products. On top of that, food and beverage processors can review the capabilities and performance of various suppliers over time to determine the best suppliers to work with.
Overall, visibility upstream helps prevent quality issues, disruptions and complaints further down the supply chain.
Cloud-based quality in action
A great story that demonstrates these benefits comes from King & Prince Seafood — a seafood product manufacturer with high quality standards and a strong commitment to customer satisfaction. King & Prince implemented a cloud-based quality management solution to gain full visibility into quality within all three of its United States plants and across its supply chain.
Upstream, suppliers digitize and share their quality data through the cloud. With real-time access to this data, King & Prince works with only the most reliable suppliers and uses the highest quality fish and other ingredients in its final seafood products.
Within its plants, King & Prince uses the software to proactively monitor more than 100 processes. Operators can immediately detect variations and adjust processes in real time to prevent defects. Any real-time information employees need — microbiology tests, chemical tests, raw material tests, operational data or QA-finished product data — can be instantly and easily found in the cloud repository.
Overall, King & Prince now ensures only the highest quality products move downstream. It has successfully reduced customer complaints to less than one per million pounds sold, year over year.
How to get the move started
Considering the advantages that come from digitizing quality management, why is paper still so prevalent among food and beverage processors? Quality teams ready to embrace a more modern system may find it difficult to get buy-in. Leadership tends to look at digital quality transformation as a risky, high-cost investment. And employees worry about learning a new system and how that might disrupt their daily tasks.
The cloud eases all these fears. Cloud-based, software-as-a-service (SaaS) quality systems are cost-effective and low risk. They offer monthly subscription-based models and require no expensive hardware or infrastructure. All that is really needed is a device with internet access. These solutions also offer easy deployment, rapid scalability and extremely user-friendly interfaces. There is little disruption to operations during implementation and employees can hit the ground running.
One way to get the ball rolling is with a phased approach. Start with a small-scale deployment focused on a single process that will generate a quick win — a low-effort, high-return project. This will demonstrate the value of the cloud to stakeholders, get plant employees comfortable using a new solution and lay the foundation for wider deployment across the enterprise.
It is the first step to a food and beverage supply chain where high levels of quality and safety are not only expected, but easier to achieve than you think.
As vice president of product management, Eric Weisbrod oversees the creation and sharing of Enact strategy, roadmaps and functionality with the InfinityQS marketing, sales and services teams, as well as with channel partners and service providers around the globe. Eric joined InfinityQS as an application engineer in November 2006. He earned a bachelor of science and master of science in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where his graduate work focused on finite element analysis for the semiconductor industry.