Mobile ERP Is a Game Changer, Including in the Food Industry
In December 2013, Zdnet.com discussed how today’s successful ERP solutions connect both people and systems to all manner of constituents and technologies. Indeed, some of the most effective software technology on the market today could be described as “connective ERP,” meaning that the system focuses on connecting employees, systems, processes, machines and data. Examples of connective ERP software in the food industry include:
- Line workers who can see exactly what’s going on in production before it’s too late to correct the batch.
- Forklift drivers who can update your warehouse management system without getting off of their machines.
- A quality manager who can put select inventory on hold whenever and wherever, and let everyone in the company know about it right away.
So how is connective ERP transforming technology within the industry? The mobile space is one key area where the goals of connective ERP have become apparent. Here, I’ll discusse the impact of mobile in production, warehouse management, quality assurance capabilities and management styles.
Today, mobility and connectivity are expanding into two key areas of the food production environment: through web-enabled handheld devices (such as barcode scanner guns), and mobile applications that display vital shop floor data. Both technological advancements can greatly improve a company’s production processes, ensuring timely updates and a more streamlined assignment-to-completion cycle. Four of these benefits are outlined below:
1. Real-Time Recording of Production Activities
Tracking information would be easier and more accurate if production data could be immediately analyzed for quick improvements. A business would avoid serious repercussions with corrections made using data recordings of:
- Output: Real-time production of finished goods
- Consumption: Real-time recorded use of raw materials
- Costs: Precisely calculated yield and actual costs on production orders
2. Food Safety Compliance Supported
More timely and accurate tracking of inventory enhances bi-directional traceability and recall processes. This capability is vital for companies who must adhere to strict food safety regulations as demanded by both consumers and the government. Compliance is particularly important now that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the power to require mandatory food recalls.
3. On-the-Spot Metrics
A product’s user interface (UI) is always the deal-breaker (or maker!) in technology, so the display of key performance indicators (KPIs) for production workers and their managers must be all about UI. However, handheld devices do not always lend themselves to more customizable data, or integrate with equipment such as weigh scales. Yet with today’s advancements in connective ERP, these issues are no longer a problem. Today your KPIs can be displayed on a touchscreen computer or a tablet at the start or end of your production line, with your employees using larger, easy-to-read buttons in a recognizable UI.
In today’s mobile ERP solutions, production metrics are tailored for your business and delivered in a graphical dashboard application on the production floor or anywhere you need it. Furthermore, these KPIs are easily digested by production workers. They include:
- Production statistics by shift or by production order
- Expected vs. actual component usage; expected vs. actual output; expected vs. actual costs
- Yield, capacity, labor efficiencies and more
4. Production Scheduling at a Glance
Imagine if your employees could see the whole production calendar for the week, and then drill down into individual production lines to make changes just by dragging and dropping? Today there are graphical tools—extensions to ERP—that allow visibility into all machines and data on the shop floor, so users can make faster decisions about production. Automation logic enforces sequencing rules for items such as allergens, flavors and colors, and solves critical production issues before they cause problems.
At-a-glance management of production scheduling yields such benefits for your business as:
- Auto-prioritizing with a single click for fast production scheduling.
- Working around constraints, unplanned maintenance and down time with drag-and-drop production orders
- Seeing correlations between WIP and finished goods
- Transmitting visual clues of allergens, colors and production statuses
Mobile warehouse management systems (WMS) give employees the ability to view and utilize data in the warehouse using barcode scanning guns, forklift-mounted tablets or any mobile device. After all, with inventory at the heart of your operations—and ultimately your profitability—the ability for employees to manage, control and accelerate functionality on the warehouse floor is critical. Thankfully, mobile ERP devices allow that in an unprecedented way.
Fully integrated with one’s ERP system, mobile WMS means that your workers can perform their daily tasks in the warehouse on mobile devices. These tasks include:
- FEFO-directed picking
- Order fulfillment optimization
- On-the-spot physical counts
- Bin-level inventory transactions
With a web browser application for ERP, mobile quality assurance allows such functionality as:
- Quality audits performed on the shop floor with handheld devices
- Quarantines and QA holds conducted on employee’s tablets
Quality assurance (QA) employees can do their jobs in the R&D lab, the shop floor or the warehouse by entering data right into their handheld devices. This mobile, real-time updating is the best way of complying with growing customer demands for certification to global standards, which is very difficult to achieve with manual, paper-based tracking.
There has long been recognized value in the school of “management by walking around” – i.e. getting down to the shop floor, into the warehouse and into the lab to see what’s actually going on with your inventory and your employees as it happens.
The difference is that today, ‘walk-around’ managers are likely to have a tablet or smartphone in their hands. Their employees can also use mobile technology for production, warehousing, and QA to input, track, measure and share data between each other, their machines, systems, customers and prospects.
It’s an exciting time for ERP – and it’s all about connection.
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