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Getting more out of your business: Where specialist ERP Software can really help in meat processing

The UK and Ireland meat sector is struggling with the Corona Virus pandemic.  While some have to process enormous order quantities, others have lost significant sales volumes. Industry specific ERP software can help in coping with the situation.

The meat industry is constantly facing new challenges that require digital solutions. The current Corona pandemic has brought the importance of ERP systems to the fore, especially in the UK and Ireland meat sector. The good news: there are at least three areas, where your company can really take advantage of ERP - both during and after the crisis.

1. ERP helps for better planning in meat processing

Meat processors in the UK and Ireland have been dealing with unprecedented swings in demand recently. The lucky ones are struggling to keep up with bumper orders. Many of those who supply the foodservice sector are finding ways to cope with crashing sales.

I have seen both situations during fifteen years of food manufacturing and so I know that a lot of planning will be happening at short notice. Re-calculating raw material requirements is straightforward in principal – however, material lead times, line capacities and staff availability make planning at short notice a puzzle with many reciprocal variables.

Where different products have common ingredients and share production lines and staff, increasing one product very often reduces the potential output of another. With integrated ERP Software including a good planning module, it should be possible to incorporate the key productive factors into your plans:

  1. Materials
  2. Machine time
  3. Manpower

Drastically reducing production presents its own problems – in addition to the obvious human cost when jobs are lost. The main concern is how to shift high value, short shelf life, raw materials fast! Your ERP software should be able to flag up which materials are about to expire - giving you time to decide what to do: produce, preserve (for example by freezing) or try to sell it raw.

Abattoirs and meat businesses with vertically integrated supply chains are well familiar with the difficulties of matching supply to demand because the input of live animals cannot be varied in the short term. When the livestock reaches maturity, there is a short window within which it must be killed and processed – regardless of the weather or other factors which cause changes in demand. One day the planners might be calculating what input they need to fulfil unexpectedly big orders (a pull situation). On another day they could be figuring out what their surplus will be so that they can tell the sales team what to shift (a push situation). A good planning solution will be able to calculate forwards or backwards to flex with the market situation.

2. Encouraging best practice by using ERP

The pandemic has compounded the emerging shortage of skilled labour driven by Brexit - leading some big manufacturers to make very public calls for new recruits. In my experience, integrating new staff into an operation can be a risky business. New starters are more accident-prone because they are not aware of the risks and not as skilled in handling tools or machines. Furthermore, inexperienced staff may be more inclined to ignore best practice standards, which are very often in place to ensure product safety and quality. The higher the ratio of new starters to experienced staff, the harder it is to maintain a culture and a set of standards. However, once you install ERP software, shop floor data capture can be woven into the physical production steps so tightly that the two operations appear seamless parts of the same task and the correct practice is locked in. Imagine an operative physically loading a container with product and then directly scanning the fixed barcode to register the product in the container. The data capture process has become an integral part of the production process – and it is done at the right time, in real time, and only once – rather than being recorded on paper and entered later. 

In another scenario, it may be best practice to manually record a sample of product temperatures every hour – as an independent corroboration of continuous chiller temperature records. Whilst this might take the operative only thirty seconds each time, it is human nature to avoid tasks which do not contribute to the primary objective – and anyone with a production or technical background will be familiar with the need to keep on re-enforcing these sorts of disciplines until they become habit! With in-process QC checks, however, the temperature check can pop up, interrupting the process, with a mandatory requirement to enter the temperature. That way, the system helps to support the best practice.

3. Integrating Automation and joined up processes

Using the latest technologies, software, hardware and people can work together more effectively. ERP systems are able to easily integrate and communicate with existing equipment on the line; ‘pick by voice’ and ‘pick by vision’ systems can direct people to the correct area of the warehouse where lamps and digits on the shelf indicate the exact position.

Similarly, the introduction of automation and robotics supports the effective interaction of data and goods flows. Many meat companies, such as CSB customer Promessa, have already developed ground-breaking standards in intralogistics, with automated high-bay storage and load building gantry robots operating seamlessly with people in a semi-automated picking area. All of this is orchestrated by the ERP system, which tells the machine what to pick, sends it to the right labelling line and alerts the human picker which product they should put in the basket. Finally, it makes sure the load is built back to front and upside-down so that the top basket on the last trolley loaded onto the vehicle is the first drop of the route.

The beauty of digitisation in meat processing

The beauty of digitisation is that integration is not restricted to the factory; indeed the wider the connections across the entire supply chain, the greater the opportunities to improve production and respond quickly to consumer trends, changes in demand, for example due to weather conditions, or particularly favourable prices of certain meats in the market – or even the phenomenal turbulence generated by a global pandemic!

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