Friday, February 1, 2013

Why automate food safety solutions?

By Niels Andersen, VP Manufacturing Business Consulting, Invensys Operations Management

We are now on track to get a revised food safety system in place in the USA. President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law on January 4, 2011, and the FDA issued the proposed rules to fulfill the requirements for preventive controls in human food on January 4, 2013. The proposed rules are based on widely-accepted industry standards, so there should be few surprises for manufacturers. There is still work to be done to get the finalized rules in place, but there is now little doubt that the Food Safety Modernization Act is here to stay.

With the Food Safety Act in play, the question that Invensys now asks ourselves is "how do we bring value to our customers by automating food safety solutions?"

There is nothing in the law that dictates that automation is needed to be compliant. All parts of the law can be implemented with paper-based, manual systems, which is exactly what most companies have done when they created their current HACCP plans (which are required by major retailers).

You may ask yourself, "if this is the case, then why invest in automation?” The answer to this question is actually simple: look for opportunities to meet the requirements of the law in a way that is "better, lower cost, more flexible and faster." 

Throughout history, no legislation of any kind has required that manufacturing or processing companies implement automated systems-- there has always been the manual option available. The real reasons that manufacturing companies have chosen automation over manual processes are that automated systems are more accurate, faster, more reliable, and more cost effective. Automated systems eliminate human errors.
Most food and beverage products purchased today can no longer be made in an economical way without some degree of automation. Manufacturers implement automation because they need to do so to stay competitive, not because they are required to do so by law.

In this perspective, "better, lower cost, more flexible and faster" does not just relate to food safety; manufacturers should look at food safety automation as a part of the overall automation opportunities that they have. Manufacturers may try to treat food safety automation as an isolated need, and put in place a system that just covers this need, but this will not create the real value that automation can bring.

In order to become "better, lower cost, more flexible and faster", the manufacturing organization must be able to make better decisions in a shorter amount of time. The biggest obstacle to making better decisions is the lack of actionable information. In the business world, actionable information is provided through ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and BI (Business Intelligence) systems. These systems deliver value because they are built on an integrated platform that can put the information into context. The same approach must be taken for manufacturing systems; an automated food safety system will bring superior value if it is based on an integrated manufacturing operations management (MOM) platform.

The value in just automating the food safety processes and procedures may justify the investment by itself, but manufacturers should look at the bigger opportunity before they move forward with an isolated system. A MOM platform that includes automated data collection, supervisory control, people and system workflows, quality management, schedule management, track and trace/genealogy, and manufacturing analytics will provide far better value over time than an isolated system.

Are you ready for such a journey?  I’d like to hear from you—contact me at

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