I’m wondering why we are not performing good traceability “manually” or at a simple machine level? Why does traceability systematically seem to imply large, automated SCADA solutions?
Tiger economies such as Thailand for example, face a difficult dilemma when it’s related to the Food and Beverage industry. They are the fastest growing new economies and for now, seem to be the “growth engine” for machines and process builders from the mature economies.
In these countries, today’s operations are extremely manual because this was the most cost effective and versatile solution to produce food. But because of their new leading position, Tiger economies have to start moving away from their “low cost” business model to a “more mature, more expensive” manufacturing model and have some challenges to overcome:
- Labor and staff are quite efficient but have not yet reached the capabilities to manage an automated process
- Generally speaking, labor costs are increasing in these tigers countries, even more in the technical field
- There is no system to monitor, track, benchmark and optimize for the manual process
- The Thai Bath (currency) is becoming stronger and stronger. This has a negative P&L impact on exportations (mainly US & Europe)
- International regulations have become more and more demanding and do not accept lower standards for technology in Food and Beverage plants
All these challenges lead up to a difficult equation to solve. Can these Tiger economies deal with the export margin reduction and guarantee the food safety at a global level (local consumers as well as export)? Can they meet the need to invest in a solution that can be as versatile as the manual operation but capable of strong monitoring in order to make visible any profit or quality issues? And finally, can they use the available skills without destabilizing the workers balance?
As I think about possible solutions, none of them seem to offer the perfect solution…
- Delocalize production to lower labor cost countries. This won’t answer the key parts of the equation and has some limits anyway
- Keep everything manual as it is and implement a manual traceability. How can this be acceptable by regulation entities?
- Invest into brand new, fully automated plants. Very heavy CAPEX and it would induce a drastic change of labor skills.
- Acquire high tech mid size brands / plants in mature economies and drop the actual manual plants. That seams to be unrealistic but keep in mind that the Food and Beverage industry is still highly fragmented, mainly maid of small / medium size companies. A quite surprising change of situation isn’t it?
- Create “just enough” automated plant concept (simple to maintain automation, traceability at the machine level only). This may be my preferred choice, but any advice from you will be very welcome please!