Perishable inventory management software for fresh produce & other perishable goods
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Perishable inventory management...
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Perishable inventory management software for fresh produce and more...
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Perishable inventory demands attention. Specific inventory-tracking methods help with the job of managing and accounting for perishable inventory. Perishable refers to items that have an expiration date, such food that will go bad if not eaten in a certain amount of time. Single-period inventory control and first-in-first-out, or FIFO, inventory valuation are commonly used to deal with perishable goods.
Much of operations is about being able to match supply to demand. This can be difficult with certain business models that sell perishable goods. As a result, managerial accounting has come up with methods for recognizing inventory for perishable goods. Perishable goods, or goods that may have no value in the next period, can be difficult for managers to track; however, the single-period inventory control system can help to alleviate many issues involved with automatically replenishing inventory when it's down.
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"We are minimizing our inventory"
In the urban agglomeration of the Rhine-Ruhr area, the Corona-crisis has hit hard. With the highest number of fresh food markets and an early closure of the gastronomy sector there, the fresh food trade had been severely affected. "In the first weeks of the crisis, there was a considerable upswing in the specialist retail trade in the wake of the hamster purchases. Since March 21, sales have unfortunately fallen by a quarter, simply because everyone is then stocked up with food", says Ali Savi -owner of AS Obst & Gemüse- who runs a wholesale business in the immediate vicinity of the Duisburg Fresh Produce Centre.
About 70 percent of the entire catering trade in the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia has closed its doors in recent weeks. Savi: "We are still supplying a few restaurateurs who are continuing their business. Fortunately, we also serve many regional specialist retailers: We are seeing a slight increase in vegetable products in this area. Fruit, on the other hand, is traded comparatively less than normal."
The owner's nephew during a FreshPlaza visit in the autumn of 2017. Family business AS Obst & Gemüse was founded three years ago and serves a broadly diversified customer base. "Some of our smaller retail customers have already given up their business. Even at the nearby wholesale market, some are fighting for their livelihoods," says Mr Savi.
Rubber gloves and disinfectants
Due to the current situation, the wholesaler is looking forward to the new month of April with humility. "I am simply at a loss. Mankind has not yet experienced what is about to happen," he says. Specifically in the fresh produce sector, he says, one could only take a few precautions to keep business going as well as possible. Savi: "We work with rubber gloves, but disinfectants and protective masks are no longer available."
Right: Tomatoes are one of the long-runners at AS Obst & Gemüse Duisburg GmbH Instead of restaurateurs, more and more private customers are now buying from Duisburg's specialist wholesalers.
Restriction of product selection
Apart from that, the specialist wholesaler explains that even more attention is paid to freshness than before. "We try to keep our stocks to a minimum or, as a rule, we only have a partial pallet and a reserve pallet in stock. Securing the basic assortment is currently our top priority: we have now removed sensitive fruit exotics such as avocados, air-freighted mangoes and papayas from our range for the first time because they are simply too perishable and are traded in too small quantities. All in all, our volume turnover has dropped by a third.
Italy: Optimizing efficiency with end-of-line pallet handling in food processing
Unique with its integration of laser guided vehicles connecting islands of automation for robotic case palletizing, stretch-wrapping, pallet labeling and transport to the warehouse without the use of conveyors, Freeway, from Elettric 80, provides increased flexibility, reduced energy consumption, decreased labor cost and a lower total cost of ownership compared to conventional pallet handling systems – effectively redefining end-of-line pallet handling efficiency in food processing plants that manage a high volume of SKUs with high throughput requirements.
Many high-volume food processing plants are facing a growing logistics challenge – the need to package, store and ship an increased number of product SKUs to arrive at retailers, and their distribution centers, on schedule with a near zero tolerance of error. Sometimes comprising thousands of different SKUs and in a growing assortment of package types, these products need to be cased, palletized, stretchwrapped, labeled and transported to the warehouse, or for outbound shipping, with a very high level of efficiency to optimize labor usage and minimize operational costs.
The numbers of different food products with their varied primary and secondary packaging is growing continually, and becoming increasingly difficult for food processors to maintain a high level of efficiency in managing their end-of-line pallet building and pallet movement into storage or shipment, using conventional conveyor-based automated systems.
Whatever the food product, the need for preparing and transporting end-of-line pallet loads with high throughput efficiency, precise product tracking and near zero product damage is of critical importance. This need is further emphasized by the impact of rising labor costs, increasingly stricter safety regulations, and the necessity to maintain acceptable food industry standards for cleanliness. Fast, efficient and accurate packaging and shipping are necessary for a strong competitive advantage in today’s demanding food market.
Inefficiencies with End-of-Line Pallet Handling Systems Most high-throughput food processors have advanced their filling and primary packaging equipment to embrace highly efficient operations, and downstream have equipped their warehouses with automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and picking systems to improve throughput. But between these two operations, many food manufacturers are plagued with end-of-line pallet building and pallet transport systems that are inefficient.
Most conventional end-of-line pallet handling is based on conveyors linking carton packers with palletizers, stretchwrappers and labelers, then with the warehouse or shipping, supported by manually-operated forklift trucks.
Pallet conveyors are limited in their fixed configurations. Once set, it is unlikely that they can be easily moved to accommodate changing throughput requirements. Additionally, they limit free and available space for maneuvering and load staging in the end-of-line environment.
Because pallet conveyors tend to be highly fixed, they are susceptible to downtime because of malfunction, repairs and maintenance, which will impact the line if any of these occur while production is in operation.
In food processing plants, sanitation is always a factor. Although, end-of-line pallet handling conveyors may not be located in areas of the plant where food is directly being processed, product spillage is a concern.
When it does happen, throughput is slowed and can even stop the line. Many manufacturers have their pallet conveyors rated for wash-down or heavy wash-down as a better guarantee to recover the line in the event of a product spillage.
One of the major causes of food product damage, misdirected orders and indeed facility damage in food plants is from manually-operated forklift trucks moving pallet loads through the end-of-line and warehouse operations.
This is nowhere more evident than in the handling of chilled and frozen food products, which pose definite challenges for food processors that desire to have facilities operating at a high level of efficiency.
Maintaining a high throughput rate along with fulfillment accuracy at -18.4° F is a much more difficult and costly task than in ambient temperatures.
Chilled and sub-zero facilities have a higher incidence of product damage and wrong item fulfillment which have negative impacts on production and profits.
Not surprisingly, personnel turnover in chilled and cold facilities is also higher than in ambient temperatures. While the temperature in these facilities is cold enough to maintain food product safety, it creates an extreme environment with difficult working conditions for personnel, increased safety issues, and personnel recruitment and retention problems.
Today, a producer of food products needs to track and identify each pallet – where it came from, where it was stored, what the temperature was in storage, and other critical data to keep track of its perishable inventory and ensure its product integrity. End-of-line pallet handling with manual forklift trucks leaves open the possibility of human error, and with many manufacturers is cause for the biggest error points in its shipping.
To stay competitive, food producers need to implement end-of-line pallet handling solutions that address these issues. Solutions that will accommodate ambient, chilled and deep-freeze operating environments, and that will have the flexibility to adjust to throughput changes.
A Better Solution for End-of-Line Pallet Handling An ideal end-of-line pallet handling solution for food manufacturers would encompass fully-automated robotic palletizing equipment, coupled with a flexible and mobile pallet transport system, linked to upstream processes and ERP, as well as downstream warehouse and shipping with a real-time load tracking and verification capability. In effect, an efficient pallet building and movement system capable of smoothly integrating various automated end-of-line processes.
Such an end-of-line pallet handling and transport solution has been designed, and is being used by hundreds of companies throughout the world.
It is called the Freeway Solution, manufactured by Elettric 80, who is now providing the system to the North American market.
Freeway is the world’s first fully integrated end-of-line solution combining robotic palletizers, laser-guided vehicles, label equipment, product tracking software and a PC-based monitoring system.
The Freeway system is based on a system-integrated concept. Robotic palletizing cells handle goods and optimize pallet loads at the end of the production line. LGVs transport the pallets to high-speed stretch-wrapping and labeling equipment, and then to storage, or staging on the floor to await shipping. No transport conveyors or manual forklift trucks are used.
The fully-automated systems are adaptable and completely integrated. Its flexibility makes it ideally suitable to accommodate the layout and design of any food processing plant.
Smart Laser Guided Vehicles
A range of pallet load transport tasks within the end-of-line environment can be automated and handled efficiently with Freeway’s LGVs. These LGVs achieve a uniform flow of product without rush and noise, and with a high degree of safety for the goods carried, workers and the operational environment.
The LGV system comprises one or more vehicles that move around predetermined routes to perform transport functions as directed by a stationary control system. They are equipped with navigation systems, based on laser guidance, which allows the LGVs to be free roaming within the end-of-line system layout.
The latest generation of Freeway LGVs can lift pallets up to 36 feet high for positioning in racked storage or floor staging. This reduces the rack damage caused by forklift trucks. It also reduces energy costs as the LGVs can operate in an un-lit environment.
The LGVs can reach speeds of up to five feet per-second and can carry multiple full pallets at a time. For food processing facilities, they are an ideal asset for moving ambient temperature, chilled and frozen products in unit loads.
The laser guided vehicles are quite sophisticated, combining multiple systems to ensure reliability and efficiency, including energy, safety, fork/load handling and guidance and control systems.
The Freeway LGVs are outfitted with an obstacle detection system to detect anything in their path in sufficient time so that the units can slow down and stop if necessary. Once the path is clear, the LGVs will automatically continue their trip. The system is designed to handle high-volume pallet movements on a 24/7/365 operation.
Fully Integrated System Controls Optimize AGVs with Pallet Handling Robotics The smooth functioning of the Freeway LGVs is dependent on its controls system, which has the task of coordinating the orders received from the plant’s process system or ERP, and warehouse and shipping, and then directing the work for the laser-guided vehicles.
The Freeway controls provide real-time management of the system’s operation, including management information, load prioritization, load status, productivity statistics and reports, and workload analysis.
It allows associated functions to be automated, such as case stacking in the robotic palletizers, empty pallet inspection and delivery, finished pallet transport, finished pallet stretch-wrapping, finished pallet labeling, and finished pallet transport to storage or shipping. It is a Windows and SQL database architecture that is able to uniquely operate within a single platform.
The positional status is continuously being updated through the controls system, at least once per second, regarding such factors as whether it is loaded or unloaded, emergency stopped or soft stopped, operating in manual mode and battery level. A simulation module simulates the LGVs in the system. An HMI graphical interface gives the operator a graphical overview of the LGV locations in the system and monitors each in real-time.
The system’s controls monitor and guide the complete end-of-line pallet handling process, and optimize the use of different machine groups in relation to the logistic process and production management. Its modular design is tailored to meet the needs of specific food processing plants and their existing processes and ERP, such as containing software for scheduling, routing, monitoring and visualization of the complete end-of-line process for a particular plant. The food sectors’ special requirements for hygiene, safety and data tracking are leading components of this system design.
A New Benchmark in Automated End-of-Line Pallet Handling An end-of-line solution in food processing plants must go beyond typical measurements of cases-per-minute. It must include availability and efficiency, product damage, finished pallet throughput, finished pallet integrity throughout the supply chain, product traceability, staffing and maintenance.
Consideration must not only be given to case preparation and case stacking onto a pallet, but must also include empty pallet inspection and delivery, finished pallet handling, pallet stretch-wrapping, pallet labeling and pallet transport and storage.
With the emergence of Elettric 80’s Freeway, a new level of flexibility and efficiency above and beyond the capabilities of conventional automated palletizing and pallet transport systems has been realized for end-of-line production. For food processors, improved productivity, increased accuracy, better safety, less maintenance and reduced labor requirements are but some of the key benefits of this system.
Freeway has enabled a truly comprehensive and integrated end-of-line, system-wide pallet handling solution, which has set a new benchmark for streamlining end-of-line efficiency in high-volume/SKU food processing plants.
lim supplies continue on potatoes in North America
Potato supplies continue to be snug across North America, though how tight things are is still to be determined.
“Supplies have been tight this season from the beginning,” says Ryan Wahlen of Pleasant Valley Potato in Aberdeen, ID. “It’s a combination of factors. We had a couple of frosts last spring that set crops back. Yields were off significantly and the size profile was much smaller than normal. There was also an early frost in October that set roughly 20-25 percent of Idaho’s crop back and affected supply significantly.”
Ken Gad of South Easton, MA-based Cambridge Farms Inc. adds that there’s an uncertainty almost about potato inventories in North America currently. “I’m seeing a lot of confusion in the supply chain. The confusion is brought on by what the true remaining usable storage crop is,” says Gad.
Photo: Cambridge Farms Inc.
It’s not just Idaho that’s affected. “Everybody’s supplies are tight and most shippers are like us—trying to limit what they ship so that they can have something to ship through to the end of the season,” says Wahlen.
Adding to the unknown are concerns over the coronavirus. “I think it’s influencing the buyers a lot,” says Wahlen. “There are a few concerned who aren’t sure how heavy to carry an inventory of a perishable item. They’re worried about their work force being impacted. They’re worried about entertainment and travel being impacted and in turn that has an impact on foodservice.”
Gad notes something similar. “Looking at the volume of potato shipments across the past 30-90 days, I can tell you that retailers have switched and said they’re not going to put potatoes on the shelves that they can’t move at a rapid pace,” he says.
As for a variety breakdown, it goes:
REDS: “There are not a lot of reds left in storage. But they’ve lasted longer than anybody originally anticipated,” says Gad. He adds that the higher price tag on reds due to the shorter supply has kept the supply moving at a slower pace. “They slowed it up enough to make it last right through to St. Patrick’s Day in many cases. It also caused places like Idaho to have more than they thought they would have at this time of year,” says Gad.
This follows a historic summer 2019 on pricing on reds following shorter fresh crop supplies out of states such as Florida and North Carolina. “Nobody expects pricing this year to be that high again,” says Gad, adding that while it likely won’t reach those pricing levels, higher prices should be expected.
YELLOWS: “The yellow inventory, that pretty much played out like it should have. They ran through it pretty well and most people are moving on to new crop, if it’s available,” says Gad. “Yellows move very well.”
That said, similarly to red, yellows also saw high pricing last summer and in 2020, they should see some higher pricing as well as the season moves on.
WHITES: On the East Coast (Gad notes that white potatoes are largely an East Coast item), supplies in Maine lasted longer than anticipated. “But for the most part, they’ll be done by the end of this month, sometime in mid-April and that will clear the way for some new crop in North Florida when they get started,” says Gad. “The white market seeks its own level every year. But there’s room to grow on pricing on white potatoes. You can still buy some storage whites for $14 on the East Coast but those are going to run out,” he says.
RUSSETS: “Supplies of Russets have the biggest question mark,” says Gad noting that the quality of the potatoes left is unknown given the weather events that affected the growing and harvesting season. Gad notes that while quality was an issue in Russets at the start of 2020 and into February, more recently things have changed. “We’ve seen quality get really good again,” he says, noting some suppliers in Idaho for example are switching between Norkotah and Burbank potatoes to suit size profile and quality needs for the past 30-45 days. “But until we get into these later bins, we’re not sure what exactly is there,” says Gad. “I don’t see a real shortage in Russets until maybe July.
Photo: Pleasant Valley Potato
Wahlen notes that pricing is high, but how high depends on sizing. “The larger count is probably double of what it was this time last year and on the smaller count, it’s a 15-20 percent increase in price,” he says. “That pricing has been steady for awhile. The only thing that will change the pricing would be a very significant change in demand because the supply situation isn’t going to change.”
Partnering up to provide real-time shipment monitoring
RedLine Solutions, a company dealing in inventory and traceability solutions, and Roambee Corp., supplier of high-quality tracking services, have announced a partnership to provide customers with real-time tracking and monitoring solutions of produce shipments.
Roambee chose RedLine Solutions to offer customers in fresh produce full in-transit visibility and condition monitoring for shipments of perishable goods. RedLine already offers a comprehensive lineup of products and services to enable produce traceability and inventory management.
“RedLine chose Roambee because it is the most flexible, innovative, real-time shipment tracking solution out there. Combined with our complete traceability solutions, RedLine now can offer improved tracking.” said Todd Baggett, CEO at RedLine Solutions.
Sanjay Sharma, CEO at Roambee, underscores: “Fresh produce companies have large activity swings based on the seasonality of their products. We feel that Roambee’s pay-as-you-go service is uniquely positioned to provide real-time monitoring to produce companies in a cost-effective manner. With zero investment in hardware, our clients only pay for tracking when they actually track something.”
Innovative predictive shelf life tool and Gap Analysis Capability unveiled at PMA
Inteligistics, Inc., a leading provider of temperature visibility and food safety solutions for the fresh produce industry, successfully unveiled two innovative offerings at the 2015 Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit Convention and Expo.
InteliLife™ Predictive Shelf Life model is a scientifically-based tool that extends and analytically confirms shelf life of food products at any stage during the active food distribution chain.
The result of collaboration with leading food quality experts, InteliLife™ Predictive Shelf Life model effectively analyzes alternative scenarios to manage sales and inventory based on estimated quality and remaining shelf life at any juncture in the distribution chain. The tool combines kinetic data of changes in quality attributes with accurate measurement of environmental conditions – time, temperature and humidity – and handling methods. The kinetic data provides the necessary mathematical coefficients to develop a reliable predictive model.
According to Inteligistics Chairman and CEO Rao Mandava, “This innovative predictive model enables inventory managers and stakeholders in the distribution chain to quantify the impact of temperature excursions on the product’s quality and shelf life, providing critical management inputs.” The InteliLife™ Predictive Shelf Life approach benefits growers, shippers and retailers by providing a reliable means to minimize losses due to spoilage, shrink and use-by dates.
“In addition,” Rao continued, “the predictive shelf life model from Inteligistics promotes the ability to develop an inventory policy that enhances consistency in the quality of perishable foods, provides actionable information and helps users achieve greater revenues by gaining a larger percentage of saleable products.”
A second capability launched by Inteligistics is its unique food safety Inteligistics Gap Analysis Capability that translates the new “Hazard Analysis Risk-based Preventive Controls” (HARPC) required in 2016 by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into a comprehensive and highly detailed gap analysis package.
“Under the 2016 FSMA rules, an effective HACCP Plan is a thing of the past,” Inteligistics Board Advisor and industry food safety expert, Michael McCartney, said. “The new paradigm created by FSMA’s HARPC requirement demands that food companies demonstrate, address and verify an unprecedented set of risk-based controls across the supply chain.” The Inteligistics Gap Analysis Capability is uniquely designed to identify, document and provide direction for compliance from the field through the entire food supply chain. The pertinent food safety information is collected in Inteli-Cloud and can be made available in the event of a food safety internal or external audit or by mobile device.
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AR Systems develops ‘Micro Store’
California's Corona-based AR Systems is rolling out the FreshFirst automated kiosk that delivers consumers immediate access to a variety of farm-fresh salads and produce.
The company said growers, restaurateurs, vending operators and entrepreneurs can use the kiosk to sell farm-to-table foods directly to consumers in areas that are difficult to reach, such as offices and business parks, airports and transportation centers, colleges and universities, hotels and shopping malls.
The system also features AR Systems' patented ARS Kiosk Manager, which gives instant insight into system functions, sales reports, inventory levels, plus control of system parameters including service lock and unlock, perishable product detection, and temperature control. The app is available on the Apple App Store.
Three ways innovation will transform the fresh produce supply chain
The fresh produce supply chain was once pretty much invisible, but today’s consumers are eager to know the story of how and where their food is grown and packaged.
A recent report from Innovative Fresh and Pink Sky stated: “It is increasingly important to talk to customers about food production, food miles, ingredients, health, ethics and value. Innovation in supply chain management from field to fork will form an enormous part of the future of food production”.
Freshtalk Daily has taken a look at the many innovations surrounding the fresh produce supply chain and has selected three use cases that we feel will most impact the industry in the coming months.
1. Produce tracking through ‘Big Data’
The confusion surrounding the fresh produce supply chain under the cloud of Brexit has meant that the volatility of goods, in terms of logistics, has never been greater.
Keeping track of the freshness levels of perishables is vital, so innovations that use data (in the form of digital records) are set to make a huge impact upon fresh produce inventory.
Companies like IBM are investing heavily in product tracking innovation and ‘Cloud’ information storage for both importers and exporters to provide a freshness knowledge-base for the industry.
IMD Professor, Ralf Seifert, who specialises in digitalization trends in the supply chain explains that: “Having digital records for the entry and exit of products at each stage of the supply chain can help ensure a ‘first in, first out’ policy for fresh produce, which will decrease inventory age – and therefore reduce shrinkage due to spoilage."
“Digital supply chain solutions, therefore, provide enormous potential for accurate demand forecasting and better inventory management. “
Dr. John Ryan, a global food safety expert, agrees that digital-tracking is the way of the future, adding: “When food enters a transportation area, it basically becomes invisible. Nobody knows where it is. Nobody knows what conditions it’s being shipped under. The old adage rings true; you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
2. Robotics in agriculture
The lack of seasonal workers has, over recent years, been a huge bone of contention for UK growers, so its no surprise that innovation in this arena is set to make a huge impact.
Fieldwork Robotics, a spin-out from the University of Plymouth, have recently made headlines with the successful trial of their raspberry picking robot, developed in partnership with Hall Hunter, one of Britain’s main berry growers, who supply Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose.
The developers explain: “Guided by sensors and 3D cameras, the robot’s gripper picks a raspberry in 10 seconds or less and drops it in a tray where the fruit gets sorted by maturity, before being moved into punnets, ready to be transported to supermarkets."
“The final robot version, which we hope will go into production next year, will have four grippers, all picking simultaneously.”
3. Enabling a ‘Just in Time’ supply chain ethos
Modern AI technology, such as Machine Learning, can provide real-time visibility into supply and demand data and allow smaller retailers to purchase only what their customers want, in turn, minimising waste and maximising freshness.
One retailer who has adopted a ‘Just in Time’ approach to supply chain management is online grocery store, PicNic.
Their supply chain planner, Linda Rietveld, explains why the small US-based company is flourishing as a result of the decision: “A just-in-time supply chain is a simple concept: minimise the number of goods held in stock. Perishable goods (apples, avocados, etc) become part of a fluid supply chain and never sit for long periods in storage. This reduces the time between harvest and consumption, maximising freshness for all the products that our customers order."
Using the latest supply and demand data allows us to only purchase what customers want. That accuracy means that, unlike conventional supermarkets, we don’t keep an oversupply of goods, thus minimising waste across our supply chain.
Working alongside wholesalers, the 'Just in Time' approach is gaining traction within the smaller retail arena in the UK and has already been shown to make an impact upon food waste and shrinkage levels.