Article
15 October 2019

Food traceability software: digitalized reports in one click

Food traceability is key to ensuring the safety of the food we consume. Industry stakeholders understand their responsibility towards implementing appropriate controls in order to respond to requests for traceability reports, often going beyond the required regulatory obligations. The task can often be long and tedious because of the complexity of the production process, the multiplicity of actors, and the variety of data to collect. Léa Relkin, InUse’s Chief Operations Officer, explains how the digitization of a dairy producer’s factory has enabled the company to adhere to their responsibility through the systematic and immediate production of traceability reports. 

 
What were the challenges for your client?

Hellenic Dairies Group produces yogurt and other products originating from milk processing in Greece and other European countries. The quality and safety of their dairy products is the number one concern for the company and they have been implementing a systematic collection of production data for quite some time. Some of this data focused on the input and output of raw materials, tests on food quality, and final production batches was stored in an ERP system. On the other hand, process supervision / control data like milk transfers (to tanks), quantities, and regular cleaning reports were only kept in paper form. Also, technical data related to equipment status, machine breakdown, temperature curves and so on were not being collected but simply monitored by workers on the floor. Under these conditions producing a traceability report could take up to several days to complete and would need the time and input of some 5 people. In addition, the collection and archiving of manual data also took a significant part of the time of a large number of operators. Needless to say, the risks directly related to a manual operation include errors, omissions, and accidental loss or destruction of documents. The challenge was clearly to simplify and automate the production of reports.

 

How did this project develop?

In mid 2018, we initiated an audit of traceability requirements that included existing data, those data sources to be connected, the equipment and their PLCs. Special care was taken about Clean-in-Place (CIP), required to be carried out by operators in compliance with regulations and planned processes. In addition to the compliance capably run by the machines, we established indicators on key CIP parameters like temperature, conductivity, and flow. We created this along with our partner ICE Water, (note: see our article on CIP Optimization). We discovered that no new sensors needed to be installed onto the machines and now  existing machines send data to the cloud, where our connected service tracks the complete history of Hellenic Dairies batches that are produced. For example, the trail of the milk used in our products can now be followed from its transportation via trucks to the finished goods warehouse. This also includes a quality analyses and the conformity of CIP which directly impacts the produce. Simplifying further the process, we use ergonomic and innovative graphical representations to offer the production manager a quick view of matter flow (especially via Sankey diagrams – see below). Within just two months generating traceability reports was automatic and immediate!

 

How complex is this kind of project?

First of all, the real-time collection of heterogeneous data in a single and homogeneous database must be carried out. The diversity of the data is due to the many different data sources including quality results available once a day, transfer orders made several times per hour, sensor data per second, machine status changes without proper sampling and other sources. The consolidation of these data requires razor-sharp analysis as well as a good knowledge and understanding of the client’s business.

It then requires the reconstruction of the process to trace the path of the material. Indeed, the different sources of production data at the plant do not seem to be related to each other. This is where the ERP comes in and confirms receipt of transmitted data, the inventory data and archives the quality results. In term of controls and supervision it deals exclusively with transfer orders at the plant’s process level. Finally, the management of batches in the packaging area is independent. The real challenge then is to re-consolidate these data on the basis of their timestamps and the description of the business processes in force in the plant. This method has the advantage of being much more flexible and faster than having to model all the processes of the plant.

 

What are the next steps?

The traceability process will be extended throughout the initial plant and then implemented at 4 other Hellenic Dairies sites. In addition, data analysis over time will help to improve the process and be even more pro-active (foreseeing a food safety issue before it occurs). At InUse, we will continue to grow our digital “food traceability” system towards an even more robust approach, with lower risk and more productivity gains for our clients. For sure, heterogeneous data aggregation opens up innovative opportunities such as early detection of material loss, a huge stake for industry, especially in the very competitive food sector, where waste has to be eliminated.

Léa Relkin
Chief Operations Officer