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By Eric Weisbrod, Senior VP of Product Management, Advantive

Product quality is the foundation for success in food manufacturing. It’s what keeps consumers safe, satisfied, and coming back again and again. Quality issues, on the other hand, can lead to big problems. Think wasted resources, regulatory fines, and damaging recalls that all hurt a food manufacturer’s bottom line.    

To consistently produce top-quality products, food manufacturers need high levels of visibility and control over their production processes—across all products, production lines, and plants in their organization. Given this need, outdated quality tools like paper checklists, spreadsheets, and legacy software systems are no longer enough to get the job done. 

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Instead, manufacturers should look for modern quality management tools that enable access to real-time, accurate quality data—from anywhere, at any time. That’s why more and more organizations are now collecting, centralizing, and analyzing their quality data in the cloud.  

Let’s look at four major benefits of cloud-based quality management, as well as examples of food manufacturers who have successfully harnessed the power of the cloud within their own operations: 

1. Real-time quality monitoring of products and processes

Food manufacturers must be able to quickly identify and correct any quality or safety issues. Unfortunately, paper-based processes and legacy quality systems make it nearly impossible to detect problems as they happen. 

When relying on paper or a legacy system, data needs to be captured manually. Then, it must be prepared for analysis, which might include transcribing handwritten forms into an Excel spreadsheet, merging multiple spreadsheets, or importing data from multiple other systems. Quality data may not even get reviewed until the end of a production run, shift, day, or even longer—so quality issues and process deviations go undetected during that time. Overall, it’s a time-consuming, error-prone process that leaves everyone running a few steps behind. 

But with modern cloud-based statistical process control (SPC) solutions, operators and quality teams don’t have to stay stuck in firefighting mode, reacting to one big problem after another. Cloud-based SPC solutions can automatically collect and monitor data from production processes as they happen. If the system detects any variations or issues, it sends immediate alerts to the appropriate operators and other relevant plant personnel. They can take timely corrective or preventive action, which keeps problems from getting out of control and prevents unsafe, subpar products from reaching customers.

And since all quality data gets stored and analyzed in a centralized cloud repository, everyone stays on the same page and collaboration is much easier. Quality personnel and plant managers can access the information they need to keep operations running smoothly, even when working away from the plant floor.

Notably, the cloud’s scalability also enables phased implementations for easier, more manageable change. Food manufacturers can start small, applying a cloud-based SPC solution to monitor a single line or process. As they learn the system and see results, they can rapidly scale their implementations as needed.  

The cloud in action: Bakery on Main is a gluten-free and celiac-friendly breakfast and snack foods producer. Dedicated to product quality and consumer safety, the bakery wanted to move away from reactive, paper-based quality control, in favor of a modern solution for real-time, data-driven quality assurance. 

First, Bakery on Main deployed a cloud-native quality management platform to digitize data collection for a single process within its plant in East Hartford, Connecticut. After seeing immediate benefits, the bakery quickly scaled its implementation across all lines and processes in the plant.  

Now, large TV screens installed throughout the facility display dashboards and data visualizations that show operators, production managers, and quality executives exactly how processes are performing and trending in real time. If a process deviates from specifications, the cloud solution sends automatic alerts to team members. They can then resolve quality and safety issues before they get out of hand, and even stop issues from happening in the first place.

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2. Insights for continuous improvements, across the entire enterprise

Many food manufacturers collect quality data to catch production problems, but never really examine data that indicates everything is working just fine. However, in-spec data hold a wealth of valuable insights into opportunities for continuous product and process improvements.

Cloud-based quality systems with advanced analysis tools can help key personnel—like quality professionals, plant managers, and Six Sigma teams—see the big picture. With historical data from all processes, machines, and shifts aggregated and summarized in the cloud, manufacturers can quickly spot and address concerning trends before a problem ever occurs, as well as pinpoint opportunities to further refine processes. The result? Big savings.

And with the cloud, quality improvements are not limited to single plants. Data from all processes, lines, and plants in an entire organization get standardized, aggregated, and centralized in the cloud. From there, data visualizations and analysis tools help quality teams compare plant-to-plant performance and uncover actionable insights for organization-wide improvements. 

The cloud in action: One leading North American consumer packaged food and beverage company needed a way to collect and compare real-time quality data from multiple plant locations. The company implemented a cloud-based quality solution that integrates with the manufacturer’s existing quality control measuring tools. Quality data—from six production sites and one corporate testing lab—get collected and sent directly to a centralized cloud repository. With all quality data standardized and aggregated, it can be sliced and diced in various ways.  

The resulting insights enable the food manufacturer to do more than detect variances and out-of-spec issues in different plants. They can monitor all facilities for opportunities to continuously improve quality, decrease plant-to-plant variations, and reduce costs. For example, if one facility is producing above target, the manufacturer can quickly make adjustments that prevent waste, reduce giveaway, and ensure product consistency. Thanks to quality in the cloud, this food manufacturer reported $2.1 million in savings through waste reduction, which is sustainable year after year.

3. Simplified food safety compliance and audits

Routine food safety checks are a big part of ongoing compliance with regulatory and industry standards. On the busy plant floor, operators shouldn’t have to constantly watch the clock to make sure they don’t miss a check. With a cloud-based quality solution, manufacturers can set up timed data collection reminders. These let operators know when it’s time to perform a critical quality or safety check. Supervisors also get alerts if a data collection is missed, so everyone stays on top of compliance.

Cloud solutions can also make it simpler to demonstrate compliance in the event of an audit. For manufacturers that still rely on paper records and spreadsheets, audits are usually a big struggle. It takes far too much time and too many resources to piece together all the information needed. With the cloud, quality records and other documentation are already digitized, organized, and easily accessible. Food manufacturers can pull reports for any time frame in just minutes, making audits a breeze.

The cloud in action: Mid South Baking Company produces buns for two of the largest fast-food chains in the United States. Tremendously committed to food safety, Mid South Baking selected a cloud-based quality solution that would enhance the company’s ability to control quality and safety throughout the entire manufacturing process.

Every day, Mid South Baking uses the cloud solution to monitor key aspects of food safety, including sanitation, microbiology, packaging, allergens, food temperature, and hazard detection—in full accordance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). If the quality team begins to see an issue, like a slight increase in contaminants, they can follow the data to find the problem’s source and remedy the issue. 

Mid South Baking now easily completes 8 to 10 audits per year. With all quality data in the cloud, it takes just minutes for one team member to deliver the requested information—a process that used to take weeks. 

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4. Better collaboration and quality assurance across the supply chain

Quality issues do not stay isolated within single plants. When problems are not caught at the source, they’ll inevitably compound into bigger issues further down the line. However, the increasingly global nature of the food supply chain has made it more and more difficult for manufacturers to prevent quality problems upstream from trickling down into their own products and processes. 

For example, many food and beverage manufacturers source their ingredients from overseas suppliers. Without visibility into supplier quality, manufacturers don’t have enough insight to ensure raw ingredients meet quality standards before they are used in final products.

But that all changes when every partner along the supply chain can share and access the same data through a single cloud-based system. Each party can better collaborate, ensuring better and safer final products for consumers.

Cloud in action: King & Prince Seafood—part of Nissui, the second largest seafood company in the world—leverages real-time data in the cloud to uphold its commitment to quality. A cloud-based quality system proactively monitors more than 100 processes within King & Prince plants—as well as incoming raw materials from a global network of international suppliers.

To gain full visibility upstream, King & Prince requires its suppliers to digitally collect and share quality data through its cloud software. With access to this information in real time, King & Prince achieves total oversight of third-party inspections before materials ever leave their country of origin. This supplier data also supports better purchasing decisions, helping the company’s procurement managers review supplier capability and determine the best suppliers to use for specific items. 

Thanks to the cloud, King & Prince has full visibility into product quality across its entire supply chain. And in turn, consumers enjoy consistently high-quality seafood. 

Like these food industry leaders, your food manufacturing company can see big results by moving quality to the cloud. The level of visibility and control that cloud solutions provide will give you a better bottom line, a clear competitive advantage, and continuously satisfied customers.

Eric Weisbrod serves as Senior Vice President of Product Management of Advantive. He earned a bachelor of science and master of science in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where his graduate work focused on finite element analysis for the semiconductor industry.