That’s the way business reality is going, But what about its technological applications?
It seems that in the case of the Spanish market, a trend with its own imprint is the investment in RFID applications for controlled temperature. The partners of Amipem Consultores, a consultancy firm specialising in this technology, have a lot to say on this subject, and we have already had the opportunity to publish a case study in the last issue of April 2007.
“The Spanish Food industry is increasingly concerned about the quality of its products throughout the distribution chain”.
“For this reason, investments are being made to ensure that products that must be transported, stored or distributed at controlled temperatures do so properly until they reach the end consumer”.
“And to be able to have temperature records that prove this suitability, it is now possible to install devices in the fixed cold rooms and on trucks, and also in the logistics units themselves, which record the temperature and reliably transmit it to the corresponding systems.
“In this way, at any time, and especially when a load is delivered, it is possible to determine the temperature development and the extent to which the temperature has remained within the set limits, and in the event of an incident, to provide valuable information for assessing the consequences”.
“It is really a very interesting tool to improve the process and the relations between the different agents.
“The use of RFID technology for temperature control by manufacturers and logistics operators is spreading in very interesting projects with a very high ROU.”
“RFID technology in this field has some of the following characteristics:
• They are small-sized devices that, on the technological basis of RFID, have built-in sensors, such as temperature sensors.
• Temperature records can be recorded in a memory unit.
• There are tags whose service life depends on the duration of the integrated battery, and others in which the batteries can be easily replaced.
• At the moment, it has been possible to read within a radius of up to 100 metres.
• The tags can be parameterised in their operation, to adapt it to the needs of the different cases that arise.
The existence of an internal clock also makes it possible to play with the time variable in order, for example, to establish operating sequences or to control exactly the real exposure time of the load or the environment of a chamber at certain temperatures.
• The option of integrating other types of sensors and, in particular, a GPS location device, can open up new fields of great utility in the world of temperature control, but also in other sectors of activity.
Specificities of the programme
The management programme, based on RFID technology, consists of the following elements:
- Passive tags: These tags are permanently incorporated into the plastic boxes and pallets where the cheese is placed after leaving the brine, as well as at control points in chambers, painting areas, washing areas, etc. The tags, ruggedized and placed in boxes and pallets, have to withstand high pressures, high temperatures, chemical products and knocks during the washing process and movements between chambers.
- Software: The software designed allows the control of stocks, treatments and the location of the products at all times, including their dispatch.
- Reading terminal: Short-range PDA that allows the operator to identify by radiofrequency each and every one of the processes and movements to which the cheeses will be subjected from the moment they leave the brine.
- Inputs: Product registrations and batch identification. To identify the batches and register the product in the warehouse, the operator reads the pallets and boxes in which the cheeses are introduced at the exit of the salt. With the identification of each pallet, the weight corresponding to it is entered, so that the system can control the losses suffered by the cheese at the end of the maturing and conservation process by comparing it with the final weight on leaving the warehouse. Each batch identified with the batch number is registered in the PDA as well as in the central computer. In this way, all the information relating to each batch produced is obtained at all times, information which increases as the different processes and movements are read.
- Processes: Once the pallets and boxes are registered in the system, all you have to do is bring the PDA close to the tag in question and the terminal provides the information integrated in the microchip to which the registration of any new treatment-movement to be carried out is incorporated. In this way, any process that is carried out in a specific batch must be perfectly identified through the terminal in order to obtain all the information relating to it during its stay in the facilities. Some of the processes that are recorded are:
- Movements to chambers
- Movements to washing and painting areas
- Cheese turning processes
- Final weighing (control of losses), etc.
- Outputs: Transformed-Expedition-Destruction.
- Transformed products: Campo Real complements the manufacture of matured cheeses with products derived from the transformation of these, such as cream cheese and tubs of cheese preserved in olive oil. For the monitoring and management of these processed products, the identification and traceability of this range of foodstuffs was incorporated into the management system, making it possible to record the processing of the cheeses used to make these products, their stocks and their dispatch. In this way, all the products manufactured and their respective destinations are controlled.
- Expedición: Una vez que las partidas de quesos, cremas y tarrinas de queso en aceite se destinan a la venta, se procede al empaquetado y etiquetado de los mismos. El programa de gestión está diseñado para que se lleve a cabo esta operación de modo que la traza del producto quede asegurada hasta el final de su proceso de maduración y conservación.
- Dispatch: Once the batches of cheeses, creams and tubs of cheese in oil are destined for sale, they are packaged and labelled. The management programme is designed so that this operation is carried out in such a way that the traceability of the product is ensured until the end of its maturing and conservation process.
- Destruction: In the event that units or complete batches of any item deteriorate during the maturation process, and once the quality department determines that it is unfit for consumption, it is destroyed. This process is identified and stored in the same way as the rest. This information is very useful for the logistics management of the warehouse and, in turn, for the quality department to have a true record of the defective batches and to be able to carry out the corresponding analysis of causes.
Today it can be said that, by means of this system, Campo Real is able to know at all times which processes and treatments have been carried out on each batch, when it has been produced and which batches have yet to complete any process. This not only means an exhaustive control of all the phases that the products go through and, therefore, compliance with current legislation in terms of traceability, but also promotes the continuous improvement of the quality of the products by optimising the technological process through the information obtained as to what, when and where the treatments have been carried out, and the final state of the product.
The main advantage in this sense is the veracity of the information, the time saving and the simplification of the tasks offered by the programme compared to manual records, both for operators and for the management of these documents from the quality department.
On the other hand, and with the aim of implementing a more exhaustive internal traceability control, the programme has served to improve warehouse management. This is backed up by the information obtained in terms of:
• Stock control: Control of stock and its specific location has been increased and a concise knowledge of deteriorated units has been achieved. The inventory process and its control has also been speeded up, as well as facilitating the work of the sales department.
• Optimisation of storage space: The exact information on each of the units, pallets and batches allows the constant relocation of the articles to improve the logistics of the warehouses.
• Internal staff control: (access codes for each user): Although the system involves direct participation of the operator, the software is designed with a strict flow chart, so that the worker has to follow the marked direction in order to carry out all the treatments and movements mentioned to complete the cycle. In this way, the programme “remembers” the processes that have not yet been applied to each batch, and prevents moving on to a later stage, thus avoiding confusion and forgetfulness in the event that the processing is not carried out in the prescribed order. Thus, the system marks the work routine of the personnel in such a way that there is a more precise internal control, knowing at all times from the central computer which operators have carried out each task and when they have been carried out, without the need to be present during the execution of the same.
• Labelling control: The EAN-UCC coding carried out through the programme simplifies batch labelling tasks. It also reduces the possibility of losing the traceability in the dispatch as the labels are printed for each batch, with the batch number, the name of the product and its corresponding EAN code once they have been removed from the warehouse, so that labels cannot be printed for a product that has not been previously sent to dispatch.
• Shrinkage control: Thanks to the system, a direct relationship is obtained between mass and volume losses and the phases and chambers through which the cheese has passed, which makes it easier to carry out the corresponding evaluation to reduce shrinkage.
In conclusion, it can be stated that the implementation has served to achieve improvements in three ways:
• Internal traceability
• Quality control
• Warehouse management
Improvements that are expected to increase throughout the development of the project when it is fully implemented.
And for the future
The objective to be achieved is twofold. On the one hand, to link the management programme with the current system for customer orders and invoicing. On the other hand, to extend the system for the control and management of returns.
In the medium-term future, the aim is to complete the implementation of the system from the reception of raw materials to the brine output. This phase would be supported by the use of EAN coding and the use of laser barcode reading guns for all raw materials, including milk from each of our farmers.