5 Must-have features for digital inspections in Food and Beverage Manufacturing

Published on February 15, 2021 by Peter Verstraeten

In order to handle typical process complexity challenges in a food or beverage plant, the solution you choose must be robust. Learn what to look for when comparing enterprise digital checklist software.

Story highlights
  • Provide information in short and clear steps or tasks an operator can easily read while doing the job.
  • Conditional paths and dynamic tolerances are essential to adapt to production complexity in the food industry.
  • Action management is the most important lever.

Operators, technicians, and quality inspectors carry out plenty of different inspections on a daily basis to secure quality, safety and health of both products and processes in a food and beverage plant. For compliance reasons and as proof of execution, inspection results are typically recorded by “ticking the boxes” on a (paper) checklist form. A form is not the right structure as most of these digital inspections are a workflow of step-by-step quality control tasks. Moreover, workflow software like Proceedix requires specific features to handle typical inspection process complexity in food and beverage industries. These 5 must-have features should be on your requirements list : 

1. UI that displays “snackable” information in a step-by-step workflow

Distributed on paper or electronically, the traditional document checklist is a form. Forms, typically built in Excel or on paper, list up to 20 different elements on one page and require the user to read, select and focus on 1 element of the screen or page at a particular time. Most operators or technicians at a filling line are not in a comfortable position to read and require their eyes and attention concentrated on the machine and on the specific inspection task. A workflow guiding them step-by-step through the inspection tasks, showing only one task at a time, is what deskless workers in a food and beverage plant need.

2. Conditional paths to enable inspection guidance based on the situation

Operators and engineers typically control many different parameters of a packaging or filling line every shift to secure both OEE (overall equipment efficiency) and product quality. What needs to be inspected depends on the status of the line: on planned idle time, producing, or in change over? Additional inspections or checks might also depend on the value of a line parameter?

If the pressure or the temperature in a vessel is higher than a threshold, extra or different inspection tasks must be performed. Process engineers and quality assurance managers should be able to formulate conditional paths in an inspection workflow. Depending on the answer to a question or the status of a previous check, the operator or inspector should be automatically guided into the relevant path with the appropriate inspection tasks.

3. Dynamic tolerances on inspected parameters to adapt with line and recipe variation

Many process parameters of a food production line, like pressure and temperature, have a target value to secure an optimal production. While the target is the value to aim for, a bandwidth typically specifies the minimum and maximum acceptable value of the parameter. Both the target value and the boundaries often need to be formulated as a dynamic element in the inspection workflow, as they depend on the line and on the product being produced, filled, sliced, or packed.

When checking the presence of an ingredient or the weight of a product, dynamic target and tolerance values also apply to product parameters when inspecting the quality of a product sample. Dynamic tolerances and targets are a must-have workflow feature to avoid creating and maintaining an inspection workflow for each product or product-line combination.

4. System integration is key to embed the inspection processes in the daily operations

Traditional inspection checklists or forms are implemented by policies and behave as a stand-alone mechanism. Every shift an operator should inspect the cleanness of the line. To assure this is done, the supervisor might ask to sign off the form and archive the result as proof. After a changeover on a packaging line, the operator should double-check that the right label roll is mounted, before starting the line. One can rely on the knowledge and the alertness of the operator or inspector to perform the right checks at the right time.

Through a system integration with the ERP and MES, the checks could be automatically planned and assigned to the operator. Vice versa the inspection execution results could be sent to the MES system to assure valves are not being opened or closed before process controls were correctly done.

5. Action management (generate follow-up tasks) is the most important lever 

Thousands of checks are done every month for compliance reasons or to give comfort that products are safe and are meeting the quality standards. We should however realize that checks would not be needed if the risk for failure was zero with absolute certainty. But what if a check fails? The crucial aspect is making sure action is taken to remediate the situation.

The software solution should enable action management, allowing the inspector to instantly document the issue with photos and videos. A follow-up action should automatically be directed to the right person and the receiver should have all the contextual information at a glance. Last but not least, the investigation and remediation actions are workflows themselves and all the corresponding execution details should be traceable.

Learn how Vandemoortele, a multinational producer of bakery products and margarines, culinary oils and fats, made its  plant paperless with digital instructions.

5 must-have features for a digital inspections tool in Food and Beverage Manufacturing