Now more than ever before, it is critical to track how food moves through the supply chain from the field in which it’s grown into the hands of the customer, but it’s not an easy job. The complexity involved makes it mission-critical to have the most up-to-date information about where the inventory, materials and byproducts are at specific points in the process.
The stakes are high. After all, the world’s food supply depends on making sure the agricultural supply chain is secure. Producers who can pinpoint how crops are processed and produced in real time can provide immense advantages to one producer over another.
To maximize these advantages, many food manufacturers are exploring how Internet of Things (IoT) technology can improve visibility into their supply chains at a granular level. While there are multiple technologies to choose from when implementing an IoT solution, it most often starts with incorporating RFID technology into your production process and layering additional IoT on top of it.
To understand how RFID is changing the way food manufacturing is done, here's how to build a robust supply chain monitoring system.
How RFID works
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) uses electromagnetic fields to identify specific products by attaching a tag to any asset that needs to be tracked. The process sounds simple: Purchase a roll of RFID tags and attach them to your products, making them visible throughout the supply chain. What is often lost, however, is that RFID tags are only as useful as the infrastructure designed to keep track of them.
In addition to employing RFID readers, whether stationary at the doors of facilities or handhelds used by employees, it’s critical to add a robust software component to analyze the data received from the tags and present it in easily digestible formats. Perhaps even more important than the software is having a reliable implementation partner that can help you determine which information is most important to your business. Furthermore, it’s important to understand how the tracking software can effectively integrate into your enterprise-wide management system.
For food manufacturers, that could mean tracking products from the raw material stage through the production process until it reaches the customers’ hands. Receiving the information about where your product or product components are at any given moment could be the difference between products making it to market or expiring during transport.
How to use RFID effectively
Once a fully operational RFID system is installed, it can provide you more data than you could ever imagine. That’s why having a multilayered approach to RFID scanners, including hand-held devices in the warehouse and pillar scanners at the dock doors, is so important. If structured correctly, it can allow for a complete picture of how much product is in the facility at any given time, track how and when it was modified, and whether the proper protocols were followed to prove its authenticity throughout the supply chain. This authentication can play a crucial role in validating whether a product is precisely as advertised.
For example, when an end-product is labeled gluten-free, it has real-world consequences if the product doesn’t complete all the steps necessary to ensure there hasn’t been any gluten cross-contamination in the production process. That’s where RFID tagging and monitoring are essential. If there are 10 steps the product must go through to be certified gluten-free, keeping track of where it is through each step of the production allows you to say with confidence at the end that the product is in fact gluten-free. On the other side, if one of those 10 steps is accidentally skipped, you can stop the product production and keep the tainted product from reaching the consumers’ hands.
In addition, knowing where products are at all times using a complete IoT solution will allow you to provide a more accurate “first-in, first-out” (FIFO) inventory management system. The more sophisticated your tracking system is, the more easily you will know which products should be shipped to production partners first to ensure the customer-facing product is fresh and won’t expire before it is sold.
The bottom line
Finding the right asset management partner can help make the process of deciding what elements of your operation need RFID systems and software much easier. They can help guide you in making decisions about what the most important steps in your process are to track. Additionally, the right partner should be able to deliver a solution that can easily be scaled and repeated as your business grows.
Since automation is becoming ever-more commonplace in the food manufacturing industry, it’s a logical extension that automation should become part of how food is tracked through your facility and the supply chain. Using IoT tools effectively to give you deeper insights into how your products make it to consumers can help improve the efficiency and profitability of your operation.