Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and Statistical Process Control (SPC) programs are not new concepts in manufacturing. For decades, they’ve been helping companies gauge efficiency and address issues that decrease efficiency.

How that data is being collected and connected, however, is being revolutionized by technology, giving manufacturing plant managers access to data that can be manipulated into unlocking better ways to track trends, detect factors leading to slowdowns on the line, and break down the walls that have historically existed between company departments to make them work better as a unit.

OEE essentially measures asset availability and performance, and production quality. SPC uses statistical techniques to reduce variations in the manufacturing process to increase quality and lower costs.

Tools to facilitate OEE and SPC programs — digital and paper-based — have long supported everything from tracking food safety programs in the lab, quality assurance testing, production quotas, out-of-spec products and more.

With plant management software, food, beverage and consumer packaged goods manufacturers are bringing that data together in a single platform.

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“There have been tools around for a while, but they were only doing one piece of the overall problem, only solving one portion,” said Barry Maxon, CEO and co-founder of SafetyChain Software. “The evolution here is having a platform that puts it all together, and does it in a way that actually yields better results for the company.”

From a food safety perspective, plant management software helps oversee testing results, record and pull up data for proof of compliance to regulations, and can enhance product traceability.

“There’s a ‘Program View’ that’s really important, that allows a company to see the connection between a regulatory code or a GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) code and how that flows through their SOP and to their forms and to their records,” Maxon said. “It’s a very unique and novel view and yet it supports the fundamental goal of being audit-ready all of the time, of being able to demonstrate compliance all of the time.”

Maxon said there’s another food safety benefit to plant management software, keeping in mind that compliance isn’t a point-in-time view, but a continuous effort to maintain food safety standards.

“The plant management platform really helps reinforce a food safety culture in real time,” he said. “Through the ‘program view,’ you can see that your food safety programs are being properly implemented on the plant floor.”

Audits and Inspections
The necessary checks to follow Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and related regulations generate a lot of data. Traditionally, that has reduced food safety managers to paper pushers and document seekers as part of their daily duties. That process is amplified leading up to inspections and audits from the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies.

“You hire people in food safety that are well educated, they’re super smart,” Maxon said. “If you look at a resume for a food safety person, or look at a job description, nowhere on there do we put ‘filing paper, managing mounds of papers on your desk.’ And yet that’s what they wind up spending hours a day doing.”

Despite the preparation, there’s no way to predict what extra information an auditor might request while on site, and retrieving paper documents or digital-based spreadsheets for specific timeframes might not be immediately possible.

Blue Bell Creameries, which now uses the SafetyChain platform at its three plants, tracks and documents compliance to FSMA, British Retail Consortium (BRC) and other programs. Easy access to data during audits is a plus, Josh Kalich, Blue Bell food safety and projects manager, said during a March 23 SafetyChain sponsored web seminar.

“We would have to ask the departments to find the paperwork and provide it to us,” Kalich said. “Now we can just pull it up on the screen and show the auditors whatever date range they need, whatever check they want to look at.”

Kalich said Blue Bell Creameries used to collect data through paper and digital documents, but the various sources made comparing that data across all three of the company’s plants difficult. Plant management software has made that “a lot easier and eye-opening,” he said.

“The dashboard intelligence for tracking and trending data has definitely helped and it’s going to definitely help us in the future as we continue to learn more and continue to see what other information we can gather from the software.”

Management by exception
Manufacturers live and die by hitting specifications set by customers, regulators, and their own internal quality measures. Plant management software can be customized to meet needs of different companies serving diverse industries. Equipment on the line and throughout a plant can track everything from temperatures during cooking to how many ounces are in a bottle or pounds are in a box.

As plant management software logs data, it gives users the ability to update dashboards for SPC checks, and also alerts managers to exceptions when specifications are missed, such as a temperature being too high or too low.

That oversight allows food safety managers to shift a focus from seeking out an exception to finding the root of the exception.

“In the past, it’s interesting that with the overwhelming volume of compliance, the programs were managing the people,” Maxon said. “Now the people can manage the program, so they can focus on the exceptions.”

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