More and more manufacturers are looking at the ways in which data can be obtained. In today’s digital world, data can be captured to gain better insights and develop ways to optimise manufacturing processes and reduce costs. During this year’s #WorldQualityWeek, from 6 -10 November, AutoCoding Systems Ltd will explore how driving quality process improvements from the packaging lines can add value and help prevent product recalls. This article is the second of a two-part series during World Quality Week.
‘We’ve always done it this way’ – the journey to quality process improvement
If you’re used to storing food packaging samples, tied together with handwritten notes from product inspections and stored in rooms full of boxes, you’re missing a trick. How you use data helps you make informed decisions about future operations. It replaces the way things have always been done and can help break down barriers that prevent quality initiatives from working in the long term.
As a quality professional, you’re expected to implement effective preventive measures while optimising your company’s opportunities. Your organisation may be applying for automation grants or have prioritised packaging automation as a business need. If you’ve always carried out quality packaging inspections and escalations on paper, you should know that a quarter of food and beverage professionals believe that labelling and packaging poses greatest risk over the next three to five years, according to a WTW Global Food and Beverage 2022¹ survey. If you aren’t planning to invest in more space to house more quality samples, here are the reasons to go fully digital.
Why paperless quality?
1. Automated inspection, escalations and stops
Inspection and escalation requirements can be enforced and flagged in the form of automated prompts as part of timed sequences or as a result of an incident. Packaging lines can be programmed not to run until all inspection or escalation requirements have been met, approval has been received and a supervisor has given the go-ahead for the line to restart. Alternatively, they can be initiated by authorised team members at any time during observed activities or errors on the packaging lines. The system digitally records all line events, providing the ability to review the effectiveness of previous preventive and corrective actions.
Inspections can include integrated device checks on the packaging line for product weight sampling, date code information verification, gas content detection or metal and foreign object detection. Results from these devices can be fed directly into the system for accurate, real-time monitoring, as opposed to hand-written results that are prone to error.
2. Visual inspection
An integrated vision inspection system takes a digital snapshot of the packaging. The visual can be taken at any time during the production run or at timed intervals with the inspections. The digital images and its associated information of time, product line, shift, team leader and active team member are fixed and cannot be tampered with. It provides evidence of the extent of damage, or exposed hazard (See bowtie model) to prompt further audit investigation.
3. Inspections log
The sequence of packaging checks carried out during a shift is automatically logged, along with the team member initiating the check and other notes indicating the status. As the use of the system is tightly controlled and cannot be changed once it has been logged, it increases the accountability and ownership of all actions involved.
The ability to respond quickly to a packaging and date code error helps to reduce the impact of an Emergency Product Withdrawal (EPW) and any associated waste. If preventive measures are in place through the installation of an AutoCoding system, the likelihood of a date code error and EPW due to spoilage will also be greatly minimised. Digitising quality inspections and audits through paperless quality reduces the number of non-conformances due to incomplete checks or illegible handwriting. Similarly, the likelihood of packaging errors and the risk of EPW is reduced with the help of an automated print inspection module.
Cost efficiencies can be achieved once an AutoCoding System has been rolled out to other company sites. Certain functions can be standardised, leading to a reduction in software development time. After learning from the initial installation and training, subsequent roll-outs can be adopted more quickly and installation times can be reduced.
Improved customer confidence
Digitally stored quality data can be used to inform overall performance more effectively, helping to make decisions or build business cases to increase customer confidence. The digital data held in our AutoCoding database is highly aligned with the Retailer Code of Practice, reinforcing the level of expectations in the supplier-customer relationship. It also supports compliance monitoring when customers conduct their supplier audits.
Improved productivity and efficiency
These automated systems have one thing in common: they record every change made on the packaging line and the corresponding responses over time. These changes and responses show overall trends, taking into account the known elements on the factory floor. This helps to benchmark the current status and report on compliance. Functional teams such as quality, engineering, operations, technical and IT can use this information and work together to plan improvements to work more productively and efficiently. In addition, through change set specifications that record ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘when’ changes were made, there is greater visibility of accountability and ownership, leading to increased productivity.
The retail market, which is the subject of our previous article, can be a very competitive market. Improving the levels of inspection checks and quality data can help with the challenge of supply chain disruptions. It can also be an aid to the implementation of process improvements within your packaging lines. Quality process improvements that minimise errors, increase standardisation, improve customer confidence and work on productivity and efficiency will help your business manage threats and minimise losses. Overall, they can help to create the competitive advantage you need to succeed in the marketplace.
- WTW, Coleman Parks, February 2022 ‘Global Food and Beverage Survey Report 2022, How the food and beverage industry is managing global risks and challenges’, WTW, Global Food & Beverage Survey Report – WTW (wtwco.com)