Tackling the challenges
No part of a process is without challenges. In regard to maintaining inputs and outputs, Combs says, “Most every manufacturing environment is heterogeneous, meaning it’s made up of machinery and control systems sourced from multiple vendors, which creates complexity that needs to be monitored and managed.” Additionally, he says that companies are striving to serve consumers who demand variety, which runs contrary to the need to standardize processes and increase efficiency.
“It can be easy to lead to a bull-whip breakdown,” Combs says. “By relying on data, you can create greater agility and responsiveness, avoiding reactive situations that involve manual processes with workers that are isolated. Proper solutions and tools can foster collaboration and communication, thus removing walls and barriers—from the customer’s customer, to the supplier’s supplier, and from the shop floor to the top floor. During turbulent times, you cannot control what happens, but you can control how you respond.”
Koks sees challenges from a safety perspective. “A food safety incident can be caused anywhere in the supply chain, not only within the four walls of the food processing facility. However, the legacy systems still used by many food manufacturers are typically limited in their ability to conduct full traceability as they can’t access crucial information from the upstream supply chain. We believe the next big move in traceability and technology will be the adoption of blockchain, so that origin information and quality attributes can be passed on from the farm, via the food processor to the retailer.”
Rowley adds that the “one step forward and one step back” approach is quite limiting. “The supply chain shouldn’t be considered a linear chain but instead an interwoven web,” he says. “One of the biggest challenges companies face is the significant task of understanding that web.”
This can be overcome through partnering with other organizations who also have a stake in this understanding, such as key customers, says Rowley. “Key customers may have their own benchmarks for supply chain management around integrity, safety and transparency, and must work with their suppliers (food and beverage processors) to ensure that there is alignment with the benchmarks. Collaborating and leveraging a divide and conquer approach to gathering the data has beneficial effects on efficiency.”
He adds that siloed organizations are another challenge that can set food and beverage processors back. “In order to realize maximum efficiency and transparency, there must be communication between the front line and operation teams that deliver the product. This builds greater awareness of where the demand is now, where it might be in future, and ensures that the organization on a whole is working towards the same goals,” Rowley says. FE