InfinityQS in the Food & Beverage Industry: #1 A Good Match

Members of the Food & Beverage industry: this is the first entry in a blog series that has been created just for you. My quality colleagues and I, here at InfinityQS, invite you to read these blogs over the next few weeks—about quality in your manufacturing space, about the pain you feel in mastering your quality issues…and how we are here to help.
 
I’ve been thinking about the Food & Beverage industry a lot lately. Mostly because of pushes to make sure the industry adopts statistical process control (SPC) into their everyday operations. But also, because our software is so perfectly suited to the industry. To me, it seems like a match made in heaven.
 
So, with this blog I intend to discuss how and why InfinityQS software fits the Food & Beverage industry—by walking through what’s important to organizations in that industry, and by breaking down how we can help.
Food & Beverage manufacturing

The Need

Food & Beverage companies typically have a need for a quality solution because of several factors, including: regulatory requirements, customer demands, and interests in product consistency, quality, and safety.
 
Any one of these is motivation to seek out a quality solution like those we offer at InfinityQS. Our software products are designed to provide insights that will identify problems and provide the information necessary to solve them. In this way, InfinityQS products not only help solve problems, but they help to reduce costs and provide a fast return on your software investment. Typically, the first place we recommend for insights, identification of problems, and a return on investment is net contents.
 

Net Contents

Looking at net contents—the amount of product placed in a package for sale—is a good place to start. Evaluating Net Contents provides critical information that Food & Beverage manufacturers can act upon that positively affect brand loyalty through product consistency. And it’s a great place to start for positively affecting the manufacturer’s bottom line.
 
If your packaging states that it contains 16 ounces of product, then it better have at least 16 ounces of product in the package. But manufacturing processes are complex and notoriously variable. It is nearly impossible to ensure that precisely 16 ounces of product is placed in every single one of the thousands of packages that are filled every hour on high-speed production lines.
 
Because of manufacturing variations, it is not uncommon for companies to fill packages a little bit more than what the label states, just to be safe. As a consumer, don’t be surprised if your 16-ounce package contains a bit more than 16 ounces. While consumers are not likely to complain, overfill is expensive for manufacturers. To control overfill and ensure packages are filled properly, Food & Beverage manufacturers check net contents frequently.
 
Therefore, as a food manufacturer, you need a quality system that can provide insights concerning:
  • The consistency of the net contents over time
  • Differences in fills from one machine to another
  • Differences in fills from one product to another
  • Differences in net contents from one plant to another
  • Exactly how much product you’re giving away
Fill Line 

Less Giveaway

I’ve worked with lots of Food & Beverage professionals over the years, and they all want to do the right thing: Give their customers their money’s worth and ensure their food products are safe. They never want to be known as the company that short-changed someone. By focusing efforts on net contents, Food & Beverage manufacturers can ensure product consistency and brand loyalty while minimizing product giveaway.
 

Define the Giveaway

A deep dive into net contents data analysis provides actionable information for Food & Beverage companies. Inefficient production lines are highlighted, product codes that need the most help are identified, and opportunities for cost-containment and quality improvement are quickly identified.
 
In my experience, I’ve never worked with a company on their net contents data when someone didn’t exclaim, “We had no idea that was happening.”
 
The information generated from net contents data can be used to dramatically reduce costs. I worked with a North American dairy company for just a single day, and we were able to identify annual savings of $3 million in raw material costs alone. Working with a beverage manufacturer in Europe over several weeks, we uncovered more than $20 million in annual savings in product fill volumes.
 
Efforts to improve net contents invariably leads to improving fill consistencies. Improving product consistency means that consumers have an expectation of quality for your products. And if that expectation is met with every purchase, it engenders loyalty on the part of us as consumers.
Reduce Giveaway

A Little Bit Goes a Long Way

One final word on net contents. Imagine you have better consistency. Imagine the hundreds of thousands of cans of liquid, or the tens of thousands of packages of food product that you produce every day. Saving a tenth of an ounce in each package adds up quickly—savings that can run into the millions of dollars each year. The return on investment for organizations that invest in a quality solution, particularly in the Food & Beverage industry, is very fast…and very real.
 
So, after the exciting improvements that invariably happen when evaluating net contents, there is a fair amount of excitement about other possibilities within their organization. After the savings have added up, these folks usually say, “Okay, where else can we apply this? Where else can we convert data into information and make a difference for the company?”
 

Suppliers

Supplied products, that’s where. Time to scrutinize the weights and quality of items you’re receiving from suppliers. Net contents analytics can serve as indicators of how well your entire manufacturing process is performing—a measure of finished product quality that is soon to leave via the back door. But what’s coming in your front door? For most Food & Beverage organizations, the production process starts with supplied materials. Expect that incoming ingredients coming in the front door will have a big impact on your finished products.
 
I’ve been surprised with, typically, how little effort is expended to thoroughly evaluate the quality and net contents of incoming goods. This is where many of our clients have been able to make big improvements in overall product quality. Information gleaned from incoming raw materials and ingredients can help make manufacturing processes more efficient while helping make finished goods less costly and more consistent.
Food & Beverage manufacturing

Upstream

Once data has been analyzed at the end of your processes with net contents, it’s a good idea to look upstream. Generally, information found at the end of production lines points to areas upstream that need improvement. The incremental processing steps that precede final packaging can have a big influence on quality. By collecting and analyzing upstream data, then combining that information with what is learned with net contents and supplier data, you gain greater insights into manufacturing quality across your entire production facility.
 
When you’re collecting data from the front door all the way to the back door, and at the steps in between, the things you’ll find will amaze you. The data you collect can be transformed into valuable information that can tell you which production lines are more efficient, and those that need help. You’ll be able to prioritize quality and engineering efforts to make the greatest improvements in the least amount of time. And if you gather data at multiple facilities, those analytics can provide meaningful information about quality across all facilities.
 
But to get those insights and information, you’ve got to collect data. Any real improvement starts with intelligent data collection.
 

Keep It Safe

You can’t sell foods that aren’t safe, no matter how consistent they might be. From sanitation and metal detection data to 5S or Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP) checks, food manufacturers gather lots of food safety data each day.
 
Operators, lab technicians, quality professionals, engineers, and others are responsible for these various checks at multiple times during every shift. Shop floor operators typically bear the lion’s share of data collection duties. As you can imagine, operators are already extremely busy running their production lines and making sure the final product is the best it can be.
Safety in Manufacturing 
So, piling more work on operators’ to-do lists can prove challenging. But InfinityQS software products were built for simplifying tasks on the shop floor and in the laboratory. InfinityQS software helps make difficult data collection tasks simple. Our software supports data collection from handheld data collection devices, scales, high-speed checkweighers, scanners, and virtually any machine you might find in a lab or on the shop floor. Our software can even be configured to fully automate data collection, further simplifying operators’ and lab technicians’ work.
 
Additionally, InfinityQS software helps ease data collection burdens by reminding users when checks are required. The result? No more trying to remember when to collect data. No more wondering if required checks have been performed. And no more missed checks.
 
For example, just before a required metal detector validation, our software pops up a reminder window that advises users when the validation data must be entered, serving as a “heads up” for when data collections are due. Operators and lab techs love these reminders because they don’t have to keep looking at their watches, and they don’t have to worry about whether critical safety tasks have been missed.  
 

Accountability

When required data collections aren’t performed, InfinityQS software will send emails to supervisors, engineers, or managers (or whoever needs to know) that something has fallen through the cracks. These accountability emails allow an organization to react quickly to a missed quality or food safety check.
 
By doing so, it can reduce costs associated with re-inspection, product holds, and discarded product. It’s also great because we can feel safe knowing that manufacturers are able to attend to issues immediately, preventing the potential for food safety issues to negatively affect consumers.  
Reporting to Management

High-Level Information

So, when you look at these first few “phases” of SPC in Food & Beverage that we’ve been talking about—net contents, looking upstream, and food safety checks—all are really, at their core, about data collection that generates process- or plant-level information. That information is extremely helpful for plants—but it’s just scratching the surface. Don’t get me wrong, process- or plant-level information can help transform a facility’s performance, but the scale of improvement can be much larger.
 
Many manufacturing organizations we work with have more than one plant. Some clients have hundreds of plants around the globe, with representation on every continent. They want to ensure that their products are consistent, regardless of the production line, plant, city, region, or country in which they are made. But how can data from hundreds of plants be monitored? And how can that data provide valuable high-level information to managers whose responsibility extends across lots of plants?
 
The fourth phase of SPC in Food & Beverage manufacturing is providing important information to upper-level management. Those people who have been tasked with ensuring division-level quality and adherence to regulations need higher-level information. They need it to ensure that the collective business—the division, or overall corporation—is as efficient and effective as possible.
Production Line

Roll It Up to Look at the Big Picture of Quality

VPs, managers, directors, and the like have a stake in how the whole business is run. These people want and need information that can give them a glimpse into the broader view of quality. InfinityQS software enables these folks to discover the greatest opportunities for improvement across all plants. Our software can roll up data across multiple plants, across regions, and continents …with just the click of a button. And those informational data roll-ups can be performed even for products that have very different features and specification limits.
 
Information gained from rolling up data across the entire organization is incredibly valuable—it’s a window into which plants or regions are inefficient, where to direct precious resources for fixing or preventing problems, and where best practices can be deployed.
 
Advancements in technology and cloud computing have made it an exciting time to be leading the charge for quality. InfinityQS’ Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings were built to make it easy for managers to summarize and roll-up data so that they get the quality intelligence information they need to not only generate great returns on investment, but also to transform quality performance across the globe.
 

Closing

As Food & Beverage manufacturing continues to expand, and as more ingredient suppliers are sourced from far-away lands, there’s never been a better time to focus on quality across your enterprise. As we continue our discussions about modern needs of the Food & Beverage industry, please return to this blog on the InfinityQS website to see the next entry in this series that is designed just for you.
 
Other blogs in the series:
 
Douglas C. Fair
By Douglas C. Fair
Chief Operating Officer
See Full Bio

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