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ERP systems provide visibility into food safety

John Moore | Oct. 2, 2013
As food production gets increasingly complicated, food manufacturers often struggle to track products from raw materials to packaged goods -- and, in the event of a recall, from packaged goods to raw materials. Even those with automated quality systems often find it hard to integrate supply chain data. That's why some food makers are turning to specialized ERP systems.

In some cases, the safety and quality data can't be readily consumed in a timely fashion. This affects a company's capability to respond quickly to issues. Even when a company can perform forward and backward traceability in a single ERP system, it may face difficulty accomplishing the same feat across multiple ERP systems.

Another challenge: Integrating manufacturing plant data into ERP. Data captured on the shop floor can provide greater visibility into raw materials - via the certificates of analysis that arrive with those materials - and the ability to track lots across multiple processing steps.

Littlefield says some companies use paper to collect quality and safety data from the shop floor and enter it manually into their ERP systems. Other companies use an EQMS system and/or a manufacturing operations management (MOM) system to capture this information and then integrate those systems with ERP.

Indeed, Littlefield says he is seeing standards-based interoperability emerge between ERP systems and shop floor systems. He pointed to the ISA-95 model as the main standard for connecting shop floor systems such as MOM with ERP. Companies typically implement this integration using Business to Manufacturing Markup Language ( B2MML) Web services and a service-oriented architecture, Littlefield notes.

Some large food and beverage enterprises, meanwhile, now seek to build upon those integration approaches, connecting data among multiple ERP instances and multiple shop floor systems for enhanced traceability. Littlefield says companies building this "traceability layer" also typically employ a business process management platform.

Crawford says traceability, while important, doesn't provide the entire safety picture; food makers also need to determine the root cause of a food safety problem. Traceability helps companies understand where problems may exist. For example, if a particular lot of finished goods is deemed unsafe, forward traceability would determine which stores received the merchandise. Root cause analysis, however, lets an organization discover how much of a product is implicated and size a recall accordingly. If the analysis finds one particular machine to blame, then the recall action can be limited to the products processed by that machine.

To that end, some manufacturers use EQMS systems in addition to ERP. EQMS manages a company's quality processes in a central repository. EQMS products aim to assist manufacturers with root cause analysis, with the objective of keeping a particular quality or safety problem from resurfacing. Such activities fall under the scope of what the food industry terms corrective actions and preventive actions, or CAPAs.

EQMS's role as CAPA software represents a shift from reacting to problems to attempting to prevent them. "We want people to be more proactive about food safety," says Kelly Kuchinski, industry solutions director at EQMS vendor Sparta Systems.


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