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Materials traceability: the a la carte approach that avoids data indigestion.

The real contribution to profits that arise from improved quality is now well recognised by most managements. Few executives can afford to ignore the barrage of theory surrounding Total Quality Management (TQM) and the minutiae of a BS/ISO certification. For many however, the first practical steps towards implementation are improvements to production and management control systems. Only with these firmly in place can the basic data be generated, around which Total Quality Management revolves.

Those who control the business must have a clear, detailed picture of performance at every stage of their process. Until then, quality improvement will remain a theoretical aspiration, not a practical reality. But global Management Information Systems based on the latest information technology are grand designs upon which many a good intention has foundered.

There is, however, another way to turn this indigestible banquet of technology into a meal of manageable proportions. It lies in the recognition that the rich sauce of TQM can often disguise a much plainer dish underneath. In company after company, the first ingredient of TQM is Materials Traceability.

While 'Total Quality Management' may remain a long term goal, tracing accurately product flow, through the process can produce up to 80% of TQM's practical benefits.

Materials Traceability can show positive results right from the start. There are a number of critical control points in Food production where materials are portioned, divided, mixed, batched, separated, formed, cooked, wrapped, boxed, stored etc. Each point influences the efficiency of the process and the quality of the product. It is here also that Management's view of the operation as a whole can become a little blurred. Shrinkage, wastage, incorrect mixes and human error, are just some of the problems that often go undeclared and unnoticed. The ability to monitor the CCPs and track back an order, inspecting its progress from raw material to delivery is a major benefit of Materials Traceability programmes.

At each Critical Control Point a different recording/regulating/testing method may be required to capture the information that contributes to the overall MT analysis.

Identifying the most suitable instrument at each CCP, to satisfy all the data integration criteria, as well as accuracy, performance, reliability and operational speed considerations can be a mammoth task. One Company with the breadth of experience to take on such a project is Stevens Advanced Weighing Systems Ltd, the specialist suppliers of weight, test, measurement and control systems.

Stevens marry the basic principles of accurate weighing to the sophisticated product identification and data recording techniques of modern, electronic management systems. The result is a range of systems and instruments capable of integration into the Critical Control Points of most processes.

A major consideration of Materials Traceability is -- how to handle the data that is generated so that it is of real use in improving efficiency.

Stevens approach offers a step-by-step solution enabling firms to reap the benefits of Materials Traceability programmes immediately, at each monitored CCP.

Instrument compatibility means that individual CCPs can be linked to each other to consolidate data. The addition of a departmental personal computer enables CCPs to be networked. From there it is usually relatively simple to establish communications with most Central Management Data Processing Systems.

The crucial point is that in this way enhancement of the system is department driven from the bottom up and as a result, is likely to work in practice.

Stevens Managing Director, Bob Shea says "Manufacturers always need to look long and hard at capital expenditure proposals. Our build-up approach enables management to view even the purchase of a single replacement checkweigher as part of an overall investment programme, contributing in no small way to greater Materials Traceability, overall efficiency and most importantly ... profits".
COPYRIGHT 1993 Food Trade Press Ltd.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Food Trade Review
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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