The sometimes-daunting activity level of products moving through complex distribution webs creates a challenge to not only ensure compliance but to act swiftly when a product recall occurs. “With countless regulations and compliance requirements, it can be difficult for businesses to keep track of many moving parts, especially within larger corporations that mass distribute product,” explains Richard French, chief revenue officer at Kryon. “RPA is an essential tool for businesses looking to improve compliance within the food and beverage industry. Once integrated into a company’s existing software, management can use RPA to track, trace, and measure inventory through SKU numbers, barcodes, or any preferred system.”
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Explore This IssueAugust/September 2019
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French notes that bots can use this system to identify product coming in and going out, and every stop it takes along the way. “Recording this data will allow employees to analyze the database and determine if a product is non-compliant, whether due to perished ingredients or unsafe storage temperatures. Even further, RPA enables companies to set up alerts that will notify workers when inventory is non-compliant, preventing issues before they arise and reducing eaten costs and waste.”
When Will RPA Become an Influencer?
Oded Karev, vice president and head of advanced process automation for NICE, which develops software for automation, including RPA, says that fast-moving consumer goods industries, including food perishables, are slow adopters in comparison to other industries such as retail, telecom, utilities, and financial services. Those who are using RPA are applying it to processes such as order optimization and operations streamlining, similar to how the European food processor example is using it.
Indirectly, RPA improves the quality and safety of food in many ways. Aside from the aforementioned aid in recall management and FSMA compliance, RPA enables food products to arrive on time and avoid spoilage. Waqqas Mahmood, the director of advanced technology for the consulting firm Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP, says that suppliers and transportation companies expect that if an invoice is sent, it must be promptly paid within the terms of service or the product will arrive late. “If you have an automated processor to tackle that issue, it alleviates those delays,” he notes. “Plus, it takes care of your call center volume: What are they going to do if they don’t get paid? They’re going to pick up the phone and call you. Now you have a call center that’s taking a lot of these calls that could instead be mitigated by robotics.”
While automation is widely used in many industries, RPA is bound to play a more prominent role in food quality safety where IoT and the aggregation of big data are more important than ever. “I don’t think it’s going to be a disruptor because there are so many other advanced technologies that play with IoT, sensor data, and so forth,” says Mahmood. He adds that RPA and other ways to automate, like python code or application programming interface development, will be beneficial to automate production and monitoring. “It can really accelerate that process, consuming data really quickly into the system where you want it,” he adds. “Then you can create a real-time dashboard out of that process.”
Mahmood sees RPA assisting greatly in building a platform for analytics. “Data sources come from IoT structured data, unstructured data, databases, and actual physical robot throughput,” he says. “All that information gets fed to the engine. The way it gets ingested is where I think robotics play a role in really moving it faster to the right system. Once it’s in the engine, that’s where you build in data modeling techniques, AI, machine learning, natural language processing, and more.”