How to link plant automation with barcodes containing data and one day blockchain will revolutionize factory inventory tracking
Managing inventory and warehouses for feed mills is typically labor intensive and riddled with opportunities for human error. But it doesn’t have to, thanks to advances in electronic inventory monitoring, barcodes and scanners.
Integrating these tools with plant automation gives feed manufacturers full control over physical and electronic movement and material tracking, while communicating with a ERP system to follow gross, work in progress (WIP), and finished good dollar amounts.
The interconnected warehouse model is being adopted across the industry and its evolution shows no signs of stopping. Find out how these five factors will forever change the way feed mill inventory is tracked and managed for years to come.
Automated ingredient inventory tracking
Automated inventory tracking is a relatively new offering for the pet food manufacturing industry. Early automation software focused on eliminating manual controls for weighing, mixing, and routing; traceability was not the intention.
Automation systems today encompass the end-to-end plant, providing traceability with reporting and documentation from the time incoming raw materials enter a feed plant’s receiving, through to WIP inventory, to finished goods and even after shipment from the feed mill.
“Plant automation provides the ability to see in near real time what is at hand – not only what is on the shelf in the warehouse and ingredient bins, but also WIP – in the buckets or bins before it goes into a finished product,” said Jeff Martin, business development, Repeat Body. “This level of inventory management allows operators to know in advance that ingredients are running out or that the set of scheduled cycles cannot be covered by the amount of product available.”
A better knowledge of stocks makes it possible to better manage peaks and troughs in supply and to achieve production objectives.
Automated traceability ushers in a new era of increased data collection with information-rich codes that hold more data than traditional barcodes. Using high-speed scanners in conjunction with multiple 2D barcodes or QR codes allows feed mills to trace materials at the rate of a modern feed mill while reducing processing errors. writing.
“This allows us to track additional information such as expiry codes,” said Pete Ensch, CEO, WEM Automation. “It can also provide next-level track and trace by adding an individual, unique identifier to a specific item. For example, we can now track a specific bag, such as bag #86 out of 90 bags. This level of granularity can be used to boost system intelligence and alert operators to locate a specific bag from the previous batch as it expires early.
Electronic ingredient tracking with data-rich codes can also help improve process monitoring and alarming. For example, it can prevent human error when different bags of ingredients look identical to the naked eye.
“Operators may mistake one green bag for another, but the barcode system will detect it and prevent an error from occurring,” Ensch said.
Total manufacturing system integration
The most advanced manufacturing companies today use an MES – or manufacturing execution system – to help track and trace inventory.
“Every industry has a slightly different definition of MES, but it’s all software that monitors, controls, and tracks the various processes in your plant that convert raw materials into finished goods and then create an ‘as made’ record of the outgoing product. “said Ensch.
These processes include the manufacturing process itself, as well as quality, resource planning (equipment and people), inventory control (availability, allocations and usages) and traceability. MES links all data together for a given batch and production cycle.
Full manufacturing system integration may also involve linking data from multiple feed mill locations.
“For batch tracking and inventory functions, CNX is designed to manage not just a single installation, but also as a many-to-one solution with central management,” explained Martin de Repete. “It can sync records across as many as 50 installations and, with reconciliation features, it tracks every batch received, bag used or even bucket spilled at sites around the world.”
Increased regulatory and consumer demand for traceability
Increased traceability requirements are expected to expand from a government regulatory perspective and a consumer perspective. Ultimately, greater upstream traceability will be necessary to link the agronomic part to the milling for non-conventional products, such as non-GMO and organic.
“Consumers today, and certainly Millennials and Gen Z, want to know where their food comes from, and farm-to-table automation is the only way to meet that expectation. It can be done now, but not easily or smoothly,” Ensch said.
According to Martin, speed can be a food manufacturer’s biggest advantage when looking for a contamination problem.
“Time is critical and cannot be recovered once it is over,” he said. “Being able to determine precisely where to act is crucial, but doing it immediately can save lives. Done right with automation, users can click a mouse to get full batch tracking and traceability reporting. »
Additionally, automation provides the ability to perform mock callbacks, so companies can train their employees to identify each order produced from a specific ingredient.
Martin described blockchain technology as “traceability on steroids” because data is unalterable once established.
Blockchain technology is well suited to handle the volume and complexity of data involved and could one day be part of the solution to fully realize farm-to-table traceability. But this comes at a cost – for consumers and manufacturers.
“To date, most blockchain efforts have focused on the supply chain leading up to the factory (agricultural tracing) and downstream from the factory (delivery of finished product),” Martin said. “All the data needed for the food production environment for traceability is already in place and can be integrated when the use cases are ready.”
However, Ensch explained that the biggest challenge with blockchain is the significant infrastructure cost to develop and maintain a blockchain system to tie all data together in a standard format.
“Standardization of data formats across different parts of the supply chain is one aspect that prevents blockchain from scaling,” Ensch said. “The agronomy industry has done a good job of this, but data interfacing standards are crumbling at various handshakes in the rest of the food chain.”
Inventory tracking and tracing tools are advancing rapidly. The increased use of asset trackers such as RFID and information-rich barcodes, as well as upstream inventory monitoring such as on-farm bin level sensors, will bring the animal feed industry to the next level of total system integration and real-time data analysis.
Announcing the Feed Mill of the Future digital supplement
WATT’s pet food brands Feed Strategy and Feed & Grain magazines are joining forces to launch the monthly digital supplement Feed Mill of the Future. Each edition aims to provide feed industry players with forward-looking content, market insights and a spotlight on cutting-edge technologies that are shaping the global feed industry of tomorrow.
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