It has been a little over a month since the COVID-19 pandemic hit North America’s shores. Taking a very central place on the front lines, food manufacturers have been on the forefront of the war against COVID-19. But with great challenges come great achievements, so here are three ways food processors have innovated to meet the challenges that these rapidly changing times have thrust upon us.
Ramping Up Production to Keep Pace with Increased Demands
As the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, people turned to panic buying. News footage showed empty shelves, overloaded shopping carts and long lineups of people buying up any food, beverage and cleaning products they could get their hands on. Supplies of paper products, Clorox wipes and food staples were stretched thin, with many retailers imposing buying restrictions when they were able to restock shelves.
This meant intense production output pressure for many food processors: after quickly depleting local storage and distribution center stock, retailers were placing orders for as much as 400% of their usual amounts.
How Food Manufacturers Combated these Demands
To satisfy the increased food supply chain needs, producers had to immediately increase their production capacity. As most producers run two eight-hour shifts and a third sanitation shift, simply scaling up their production by running additional weekend shifts to meet the heightened demands wasn’t enough. They had to find production throughput efficiencies elsewhere.
Additional throughput capacity could be found in their production equipment. Running machines at higher throughput levels and with less downtime between batches produced higher production output.
But the trade-off of higher throughput can often be lower yields or quality product. Food producers who tracked overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and understood the trade-off of increasing capacity on product quality and yields were able to make informed decisions about how to achieve the required higher production output levels while still maintaining acceptable yield and product quality levels.
Pivoting on Production Output to Match Changing Demands
As well as an immediate and substantial increase to the amount of product processors were being pressured to manufacture, the product mix also drastically changed in a very short period of time.
Social distancing restrictions began and, consequently, many restaurants and foodservice establishments that typically ordered a lot of fresh product had to shutter their businesses. Uncertain of how deep the pandemic would cut or how long it would last, consumers bought more processed products with longer shelf life than their usual fresh products.
How Food Manufacturers Adapted
To meet changing demand, innovative food manufacturers immediately pivoted their production planning to produce more of those products that were in the highest demand.
Manufacturers with the most comprehensive production management systems were best positioned to make this pivot. With full visibility of their production planning schedule, raw materials, ingredients and packaging materials, they were quickly able to rearrange their production schedules to keep pace with the new demands. With deeper production insights, they were able to rearrange production equipment, processes and schedules, with minimal disruption to their overall operations, to meet the needs of their customers.
How Food Manufacturers Innovated
In uncertain times, innovative food manufacturers chose an abundance of caution and diligence to ensure the foods they were producing were safe for people to eat. While paper forms and clipboards are prolific in the food manufacturing industry for capturing quality data, processors started pushing for more technology based FSQA solutions: using handheld tablets to collect and analyze food safety and quality assurance data in real-time, aggregating data in the back office for continuous management review, and generating system alerts if tests aren’t being performed within acceptable times or with acceptable results.
Food manufacturers that use integrated time and attendance (T&A) systems are quickly able to track which employees were involved with different batches and lots of production. Should any health concerns ever arise with their workers, they will be able to track back exactly what raw materials, work-in-progress and finished goods products those workers may have potentially exposed should a product recall be required.
How Did COVID-19 Affect Your Organization?
While the coronavirus pandemic has affected all food processors, some have been able to pivot to meet the nation’s changing needs better and faster than others. Those organizations that have integrated plant-floor technology solutions have shown to be the most adaptive and have had the least amount of disruption to their business operations.
With production management systems, producers have full visibility of their inventory levels and production processes. By monitoring OEE, manufacturers can optimize the performance of their processing equipment to match throughput requirements. With technology-based food safety solutions, they can ensure that they are producing safe and high-quality food products in quickly changing times.
If these are benefits you would like in your organization, we can help you find the right plant-floor technologies to meet your production, OEE or FSQA needs. Contact us today and let’s set up a free plant analysis to see how we can help you achieve your goals!