Strict health and safety regulations coupled with high labor costs present some unique challenges for sustainable food operations.
To stay ahead of their competition and maintain a foothold in the marketplace, operations managers are constantly looking for ways to improve production processes and efficiency.
The answer to common food industry challenges may lie in embracing new technology, so let’s look at some innovative solutions available for the sector:
Challenge #1: Mixed-Product Pallets
There’s a greater focus on building store-friendly pallets for smaller deliveries, with a variety of SKUs. These allow clerks to directly re-stock shelves, but weight and size differences in packaging can increase worker injuries during transportation and handling. Solutions for building and handling mixed-SKU pallets include:
- Ergonomic Palletizing Workstations – These improve safety and comfort in manual operations, by reducing the need for workers to lift and bend. Storage systems deliver products in the palletizing sequence, and workers simply load them onto the pallet. As it’s built, the pallet can be lowered to a comfortable height.
- Robotic Gantry Systems – These are designed for high-SKU mixed-product distribution, and use robots for building pallets. They completely eliminate the labor requirements of manual palletizing operations. Smaller robotic systems can also be used to build mixed pallets one layer at a time.
Challenge #2: Warehouse Control
Manual operations are prone to error, but the right software and equipment can reduce decision-making requirements for workers. This allows for better visibility and control, as well as smoother operations throughout the supply chain. Take a look at what modern technology can offer:
- Warehouse Management Systems – With a WMS, human error is minimized. These state-of-the-art programs decide how pallets are built and loaded, based on data such as lot numbers and expiration dates. They direct product placement and movement from receiving to shipping, and operators simply have to follow them.
- Advanced Weighing Systems – Modern truck scales and other weigh scales can be linked with software for better data collection, traceability and warehouse control. These systems play a huge role in optimizing weighing processes for food distribution, where accuracy and reliability are crucial.
- Voice-Directed Picking Systems – These improve inventory and order accuracy, warehouse productivity and real-time control. They are especially useful in facilities with low temperatures, where workers need to wear protective gloves that reduce dexterity in their fingers. Voice-directed systems help them focus on picking tasks.
Challenge #3: Material Movement
In food and beverage distribution, the movement of materials needs to be automated as far as possible. This reduces labor costs and time spent on material handling, in addition to increasing workplace safety, productivity and production efficiency. Here are some exciting innovations to consider:
- Laser-Guided Pallet Truck Systems – Combined with voice-directed picking, these systems automatically guide pallet trucks to picking locations, and to shipping docks after the pallet is complete. Instead of wasting time getting in and out of the truck, order pickers can continue with picking operations.
- RFID Systems – These semi-automated solutions use a mapped route of the warehouse combined with RFID technology, to guide a lift truck to the right location after the operator accepts an order from the WMS. They also automatically lift the fork to the correct height during picking operations.
Challenge #4: Managing Recalls
Efficient tracking and tracing systems play a critical role in reducing the labour cost and time normally wasted on product recalls. A WMS with tracking and traceability features allows managers to quickly find where a recalled product is, whether it’s still with the operation or been shipped, as well as who it’s been shipped to.
The Bottom Line: Investing in Technology Pays Off
In the hyper-competitive world of food and beverage handling, change is constant. Whether you’re looking to invest in sustainable packaging, automated warehouse control or other material handling solutions, you need to stay up-to-date with the latest technology. Otherwise, you face the risk of falling behind!
Article by Kevin Hill
Kevin Hill heads up the marketing efforts and provides technical expertise to the sales and service teams at Quality Scales Unlimited in Byron, California. He enjoys everything mechanical and electronic, computers, the internet and spending time with family.