Wisconsin cheese processor improves SQF standards with paperless initiative

By Heather Simcakoski

Motivated by new federal government regulations for food safety and inspired by their own commitment to safe quality food (SQF) standards, the twelfth largest dairy processor in the world engaged the services of a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association to implement a completely computerized data collection, storage, and reporting system. This dairy processor is based in Wisconsin, known as “America’s Dairyland,” but does business in all 50 states of the U.S. and in more than 60 countries worldwide.

The dairy began paperless reporting at one Wisconsin manufacturing plant—with immediate plans to implement the initiative throughout the company. The paperless system began saving time and expenses right away, reducing data entry errors, increasing efficiency, and reporting more accurate information. In one process alone, the processor initially reduced manual data entry by 80 percent. The savings added up quickly when multiplied over several plants and the dozens of processes at each that were previously performed manually.

The solution includes accurate and timely reporting by incorporating process data already gathered from an existing control system’s data collection processor and deploying a new document retention solution, along with custom reporting. The scalability of the records solution allows collection and reporting on a wide array of process data. Additionally, the system’s flexibility enables data collection at various points in the operation, including in the lab, at cookers, directly at each cheese vat, and during packaging.

Today, the dairy can follow the data pertaining to any batch of cheese through the entire records process—including the four-to-five data entry points where information was previously collected on paper by hand. Data is no longer manually recorded at each step in the process throughout the plant. Record keeping has improved. It is no longer subject to time delays, errors, and information redundancy. All information for a production run is now captured electronically, time stamped, and archived, allowing accurate and immediate retrieval and analysis. Production records are also retained for ongoing government-required record keeping—a bonus to SQF procedures.

Never compromising on the quality of the products it produces, the dairy is also benefitting from having data easily accessible for the mock recalls it performs twice a year as part of quality control. Now it can quickly and accurately pinpoint lot, vat, and ingredient data, to identify and isolate product issues. This will benefit the dairy’s future production.

In addition to gaining daily operations efficiency and audit procedure improvements at the local plant, electronic data capture also benefits the corporate office. Plant data is now sent electronically, rather than by the old system of a handwritten submission recorded in Excel and later reentered into an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Custom reports generate only the information the operator needs for ERP entry. This one process alone saves the dairy several hours of manual data entry each week. This change improves data availability, reduces clerical errors, and saves hundreds of labor hours each year.

From a single station to a production line to implementation across the entire enterprise, the cheese producer is now able to meet and exceed its SQF goals thanks to powerful data collection, reporting, and trending tools. It has gained critical insight into the performance parameters that help it improve yields, enhance quality, reduce expense, and ultimately grow profits—offering production within an efficient, paperless environment.

About the Author

Heather Simcakoski is CRM analyst at Engineering Solutions Experts, Inc. The company specializes in customized, individually engineered automation of manufacturing and processing plants, including solutions for food and beverage applications. It is a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (www.csiaexchange.com).

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