Save Time and Money With Fully Integrated Solutions! Part 1: Fully Integrated Plant Solutions
Fully Integrated Plant Solutions
Food processing plants are driven to improve traceability, enhance productivity, manage food safety, automate production, and increase market share. All that adds to the fact that food processing plants can be very complex environments. In order to simplify plant operations and achieve operational efficiencies, plant managers rely on technology solutions, which typically include a variety of software and hardware components. This is where solution integration becomes key. Adopting fully integrated software and hardware solutions can help reduce costs, reduce complexity and streamline production processes.
To reduce project costs and overall spending a lot of processing plants will do their own integration instead of purchasing fully integrated “plug-and-play” solutions. For instance, instead of buying a complete solution to weigh and label product, some plants will buy each component separately only to realize there is no easy way to get their scale to communicate with their printer. Or processors will implement large ERP systems to control the processing plant at a high level, but those plants struggle to get production and inventory information off the plant floor and into their ERP system. In the end, fully integrated solutions can save a plant time and money while also increasing plant floor efficiency.
What is a fully integrated solution?
A fully integrated solution seamlessly brings together multiple pieces of hardware and/or software into a cohesive working solution. There are a lot of vendors that sell individual pieces of equipment into processing plants. Plants then, typically, hire full time staff or consultants to try and connect everything together. The previous example of tying scales and printers together is a simple but good example. One vendor might sell label printers to a processor, or the processor might buy their label printers directly off an e-commerce site to save money. That same processor might also have a separate scale vendor that sells and maintains the plant’s production scales. Integration is the piece that brings the scale and printer together into a weighing and labeling solution. The complexity of integration goes far beyond simply plugging the printer into the scale. In order to get a valid production label, the integration in this case requires, scales, printers, label format design, database product file management, labeling software, printer configuration and correct communications. Having the knowledge of the hardware and software and solid experience in integrating these solution pieces are the keys to a successful integration. A lack of solution integration leads to frustration, additional costs, and overall plant floor inefficiencies.
Why are fully integrated solutions important?
Fully integrated solutions are important for several reasons. First, a fully integrated solution can reduce frustration both up in the office and on the plant floor. Typically, frustration stems from a processing plant having to manage too many systems to accomplish a single task. For example, label management can be a common source of frustration. A processor that doesn’t have seamless integration between their product information, their label formats, and their scales will end up wasting a lot of time and effort creating label formats. Instead of being able to use single a dynamic label format for the majority their products, they end up making individual label formats for each PLU. This increases the overall effort to create the formats, and it makes trying to maintain large amounts of label formats almost impossible.
Too often processors avoid fully integrated solutions as a cost and time saving measure. They believe that they can reduce the overall cost of a project if each component of a solution is purchased separately. However, a lack of integration will add overall cost and time to a project or solution. When a plant project kicks off there are two options. The first option is to shop independently for each component and buy each item at the lowest cost possible. On paper this looks like a good option, however, the amount of time and resources spent comparing costs and products will add a significate expense to a project. Even so, many processing plants still choose to go this route. Once all the individual components are purchased there is the painful and time consuming task of creating a solution with all the individually purchased components. This approach requires experience, and knowledge that often surpasses what a processing plant can provide.
The second option is to choose a trusted “plug-and-play” system that is already fully integrated and ready to go. The upfront price tag might look higher, but the cost and time savings will come through in the execution and delivery of a fully integrated solution. Time and time again, processors try to save money by piecemealing solutions together, but in the end, they pay more for a lesser solution.
Fully integrated solutions can also significantly improve overall plant productivity and efficiency. Having a seamless solution prevents processors from using work arounds and patch work “fixes” to accomplish production goals. By deploying fully integrated solutions onto the plant floor, problems can be addressed at a higher solution level as opposed to a component level. When the operation slows down or the solution fails, the integrated solution provider becomes the single point of contact to resolve the issue. This prevents the processor from having to bounce around between various component vendors to try and have the issue resolved. Problems are resolved faster, and there is less finger pointing between vendors. Finally, fully integrated solutions also allow a processing plant to reduce the number of vendors they need to deal with. Reducing the overall number of vendors helps eliminate confusion, and it expedites processes for getting solutions purchased and installed in a timely manner.
How does it look to utilize fully integrated solutions on the plant floor?
Over the next couple months this blog series will focus on the various types of fully integrated solutions that can be implemented across the entire span of a processing plant. Carlisle Technology has over 30 years of experience in developing, configuring, installing and supporting fully integrated solutions. These solutions have helped countless numbers of food processors reduce inefficiencies and increase production throughput. Next month our series will start on the harvest floor of a processing plant. We will cover how a fully integrated solution can begin the traceability process from the time an animal walks into the processing plant and how solution integration can improve operational efficiencies within the harvest floor area.