Quality must now go beyond simply obtaining a certificate of analysis from a supplier—it requires real-time visibility into all operations across the supply chain. Moreover, suppliers must become an extension of the enterprise—no longer are manufacturers out to find the cheapest supplier or pin one against the other to get the lowest price.
But, visibility doesn’t end with suppliers. Even if a manufacturer monitors its suppliers’ operations and the quality of incoming components, it still receives only a certain level of information. True supply chain-wide visibility includes post-production processes—from inventory management, to order fulfillment, to shipping, to delivery, to stocking stores’ shelves or restaurants’ kitchens. What happens to the product on the truck during shipment? How long does it take to load onto that truck? What is the shipping temperature? How long was the product exposed to that temperature? There are numerous variables to monitor.
For instance, Grade A milk must, by law, maintain a temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below to prevent bacteria growth. Although the milk may have met quality checks in the manufacturers’ warehouse, there’s no telling what will happen in transit. If the manufacturer could continue to monitor the temperature of the milk after it leaves its facility, it could easily pull tainted batches before they go on sale at the grocery store or become part of a restaurant’s next recipe.
Quality Management Technology for Visibility
GFSI touts the equivalence and convergence between effective food safety management systems in reducing food safety risks. Indeed, many food companies have invested in various technologies to obtain better quality control. Yet, the food manufacturer, its suppliers, contractors, equipment providers, and other partners often each have their own software systems for managing quality and monitoring processes. With siloed systems, there is little more a manufacturer can do to control quality beyond its four walls. For maximum supply chain-wide visibility, the most promising technology is an advanced enterprise quality management solution.
Leveraging statistical process control methodologies, an enterprise quality management solution allows food manufacturers to integrate every product line, plant, supplier, partner, C-level office, and other pieces of the global value chain into a centralized quality program. By collecting and standardizing manufacturing data and rolling it up into a single repository, such a solution helps manufacturers proactively monitor, analyze, and report on real-time and historical process data.
On the shop floor, operators can monitor the data collected in real time to immediately correct out-of-spec processes, and predict and prevent issues before they occur. Then, at the executive level, quality professionals can analyze enterprise-wide data in aggregate to obtain actionable insight, or Manufacturing Intelligence, which allows them to identify areas for improvement and to make better business decisions. Is there an opportunity to correct an overfill issue at a particular plant? Is one facility producing an abnormal amount of scrap? Has one plant developed a best practice that can be applied to other facilities? These findings can lead to cost savings and new operational efficiencies.
Furthermore, by integrating suppliers and other third parties, food manufacturers can verify that ingredients and other components meet their quality standards before they are incorporated into their products. So, a hamburger manufacturer can ensure the freshness of the beef it receives from its supplier before accepting a shipment. And, a fast food chain can monitor the burgers during transportation to make sure they maintain the proper temperature. This level of traceability closes gaps in the supply chain and offers a holistic view of all processes.
While driving farm-to-fork quality, enterprise quality management solutions can help food companies maintain compliance with federal regulations and industry standards, including FSMA, HACCP, and the FDA’s 21 CFR Part 11. Along with workflow checklists, and lot genealogy and traceability functions, advanced software simplifies the audit process by housing quality records and electronic documentation in a single database.