Mobile & Wireless: Collecting data in the food supply chain
Last January, the President signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law. One of the requirements of the act is that food manufacturers determine the critical points in their supply chains where food can become contaminated. And, once they identify those areas, they have to define procedures to prevent that from happening.
How are manufacturers coping with the new requirements? One way, according to June Ruby, a manufacturing principle with Motorola Solutions, is to use data capture technologies like 1D and 2D barcodes, to track their manufacturing processes. “The industry is utilizing the same methods they’ve been using in lean manufacturing, which is to standardize the workflows and then ensure that their personnel follow those workflows,” says Ruby.
For example, reusable containers in a manufacturing process are a source of potential contamination if they’re not put through the proper sterilization procedures. “The best practice we see is for a manufacturer to document the procedure as a standard workflow, put that in a manufacturing or warehouse management system, and present that to the employee on a mobile device,” Ruby says.
Once the employee dials into a mobile device, the workflow comes up onto the computer and the employee is required to validate each step with a barcode scan at the point the work is complete. “Once the work is complete, you have documented that the workflow was in force, who did it, and the time, date and location that each step was completed,” says Ruby.
Similarly, manufacturers are turning to data capture technologies to automate tracking and tracing records that allow a manufacturer to follow food throughout the supply chain, another requirement of the Act. “The best practices we’re seeing are to start the process when raw materials arrive at the gate, including the lot and batch of the materials that become raw materials in a recipe,” Ruby says.
The same systems are then being used to introduce raw materials into the shop floor batch along with capturing process variables, such as the oven temperature, the mix time or any other factor that may influence the quality of the product. “If the work-in-process needs to be transported to a refrigerator, if it needs a proofing area, if it goes into a tote or container, you can document each of those movements and track that work-in-process batch,” Ruby says. “When we get to a finished product, we have a complete electronic history of what went into that product.”
Today, Ruby says this is a 1D barcode story. “However, we’re beginning to see more 2D symbology because the tag has room for more data that a 1D code,” she says. “And RFID is certainly ramping up, especially for tracking reusable containers in a facility or through a closed loop supply chain.”