One of the key challenges in the meat sector is the fact that markets are becoming incredibly competitive, particularly for space on crowded retail shelves. As a result, many companies are looking to economies of scale to meet demand and remain cost-competitive. This can lead to highly complex production, processing and packing operations with numerous suppliers and end customers. At the same time, product quality and consistency must be maintained and cannot be compromised. Nevertheless, this focus on quality cannot be at the expense of speed, particularly in such competitive markets, so it is equally important that production line throughput and efficiencies are maximized. The use of a bespoke industry-specific IT system can help meat companies effectively deal with all these challenges.
IT system helps meat companies deal with challenges
Aside from the fact that poor quality goods can tarnish brand image and reputation and damage relationships with both end consumers and customers, many food products will have to satisfy different regulations and legislation, which can also vary from country to country. Nevertheless, this focus on quality cannot be at the expense of speed, particularly in such competitive markets, so it is equally important that production line throughput and efficiencies are maximized. The use of a bespoke industry-specific IT system can help meat companies effectively deal with all these challenges. Such a system enables businesses to control and automate the flow of information and materials throughout the entire supply chain, covering everything from the receiving of raw materials, through production and packing, to storage and onward delivery to the customer. In this way, processes and supply chains can be cross-linked to maximize efficiencies and eliminate errors. An IT system can be used to ensure both recipe consistency and optimal use of ingredients, so that the quality is maintained while costs are effectively controlled. The software can stipulate the exact recipe for every product, which can also include technical instructions for the equipment being used. For each finished product, the system then generates a label with all batch and ingredient information, which can also form an important part of a company’s traceability operation.
“The use of a bespoke industry-specific IT system can help meat companies”
Streamline storage, order picking & delivery
At the other end of the line, an effective inventory management system can be devised to facilitate and streamline storage, order picking and delivery. The software controls all processes for stock entry and removal. Using information such as sell-by date and lot number, loading bays and storage racks are filled and emptied on a first-in, first-out principle. For hand picking, orders can be sent directly to pickers’ hand held devices and once items have been removed, the relevant pallet or storage box is scanned to confirm that the correct items have been picked. The system can even be used to plan the most effective schedule and route for product deliveries. The combination of national and international food legislation plus the rigorous standards imposed by the retail sector – not to mention the financial implications and damage to brand reputation of any quality complaint – have led many companies to focus on the need for full traceability throughout its supply chain. The latest sophisticated IT systems mean problems with a finished product can be traced back to the precise production batch, with the supplier of individual ingredients also identified. Systems are also now available that are compatible with apps such as fTrace, where consumers can use their smartphones to scan a product and gain information about how it was produced. One example is pre-packed meat which can be traced back to the original farm and individual ear tag.
“IT systems therefore help to maximize efficiencies”
Production & packing line
On the production and packing line itself, effective planning, control and monitoring of equipment on the line can help to ensure consistently high levels of overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). Software is used to generate real-time information on the performance of each machine – this can calculate capacity utilization and identify areas for improvement; line stoppages can be assessed for signs of bottlenecks and fast and targeted troubleshooting can take place in order to minimize unplanned downtime. And while each of these examples operates very effectively on their own, even greater benefits are achieved by incorporating them all into a fully integrated system that links every area of production and supply to deliver optimized information and material flow that increases both efficiency and transparency. IT systems therefore help to maximize efficiencies and ensure consistent product quality and food safety – which in turn means companies are able to keep a tight control on costs, maintain brand reputation and offer reassurance to their customers and end-consumers. And all of this can make a significant contribution where it really counts – on the bottom line.