How Variability Simplifies Barcode Labeling and Mitigates Existing Challenges

Understanding barcode labeling can be as tricky as addressing the technicalities of the same. When it comes to ascertaining the complex business requirements, configurable logic and scalable labeling systems play pivotal roles. Moreover, companies usually need to handle a host of labeling requirements— in order to fulfill regulatory, regional and even customer oriented needs.

It needs to be understood that a typical barcode label fits in massive amounts of critical data sets with the complexities evolving on a daily basis. Before we move further into this post and discuss about the variability involved in the process of barcode labeling, it is only appropriate to enlist the underlining challenges associated with the process.

 

Critical Challenges

Based on a global survey it can be inferred that most enterprises face certain kinds of labeling challenges which in turn hinder their progress.

 

  1. Failing to Meet Customer Requirements

Almost 84 percent of surveyed professionals find it hard to meet customer requirements when it comes to barcode labeling. Associated discrepancies often lead to penalties and fines— further compromising the entrepreneurial sustainability.

 

  1. Downtime Disruptions

Select companies experience downtime issues courtesy a host of labeling disruptions. These hindrances have a significant impact on the manufacturing process which then gets delayed— thereby attracting criticisms.

 

  1. Failing to Comply with Industrial Print Speeds

At least 45 percent of globally active enterprises find it hard to meet print speed requirements. Lack of communication between the native languages and existing printers often lead to the same.

 

  1. Manual Techniques

There are many organizations— 55 percent of the surveyed lot— persisting with the manual labeling process. Inability to incorporate manufacturing automation is something that makes it exceedingly hard for the companies to address variability— the main focus of our discussion.

Be it downgraded print speeds, downtime disruptions or failing to meet customer requirements— labeling automation is something that can easily solve these major industrial challenges besides addressing the issue of variability. Lastly, mislabeling errors can lead to heavy loses i.e. approximately $100 on an hourly basis.

 

The Concept of Variability

Barcode labeling usually shows up with streamlined and scalable requirements. However, companies failing to meet these necessities are often pushed into the oblivion. This is where extensive variability comes into the play as there is nothing called a standard label that fits in— almost everywhere.

That said, enterprise labeling embraces variability by ensuring content upgrades and a host of formatting tweaks. The idea here is to offer something that changes dynamically— based on user requirements. For example, there are many companies working with a discrete product but each one looks to add different labels to the concerned entity. This could mean different set of information, data sets and even images— urging labeling firms to include variability into the scheme of things.

Moreover, addressing variability isn’t a straightforward concept as it requires a host of metrics to be analyzed and taken into account. For certain demographics, labeling variability needs to indicate the country language and whether the product is being shipped— internationally. Apart from that, compliance logo or details have to be mentioned— in some cases. Lastly, there are times when the product itself can easily determine the labeling variability— based on the composition and usage.

Variability is mostly built around industrial automation with companies applying labels and modifications to the existing products. This, in turn, saves a lot of time and effort.

 

Impacts of Variability

Variability, when it comes to labeling, can have diverse effects on a business. In some cases, it can readily increase the existing costs while there are instances when this approach towards barcode labeling slows down the process and comes out with best products in the business.

That said, variability often lends added security to the manufacturers as the labels are then created discreetly and cater to specific customer requirements. This calls for the inclusion of Enterprise labeling solutions which then helps companies automate the barcode labeling process by making the best use of business logic.

If companies are looking to address labeling variability, it is important to take a note of configurable business logic— allowing them to reprogram, customize and strategize ideas— depending on user preferences. This approach towards labeling minimizes the number of entities with pre-structured templates added into the scheme of things. This makes it easier for companies to automate stuffs and add certain levels of variation to each and every label.

Safety Guidelines for a Warehouse Workplace Environment

Customers usually rely heavily on the logistical processes of enterprises for ensuring proper storage and distribution of concerned products. Be it an authorized distribution center or a proper warehouse, safety happens to be the primary concern when it comes to controlling hazards and ensuring the well-being of workers. Warehouse safety, therefore, is one logistical balancing activity which is often overlooked in the wake of industrial growth.

Although safeguarding a warehouse comes with myriad set of benefits, there are times when inadequate resources, insufficient time and lack of opportunities come out as the main reasons why the same gets compromised in the long run. However, results are readily visible when the safety measures are implemented— assisting enterprises with higher productivity and improved employee satisfaction.

Why Warehouse Safety is an Important Logistical Cog?

Disregarding warehouse safety readily kills off the reliability quotient. Companies, often lose out on a loyal customer base if the condition of products— stored and distributed via warehouses— isn’t top-notch. Moreover, strengthening the safety regulations readily minimizes the risk of injuries and workplace disruptions caused due to uncalled mishaps.

Apart from that, warehouse safety also lowers down the equipment downtime— associated with any industrial setup.

How to Go about Warehouse Safety— Enlisting the Safety Guidelines

In the subsequent sections, we shall be talking about the existing safety guidelines— associated with a warehouse or any distribution center. These measures should be diligently followed by workers and employees— for minimizing injuries, product damage and everything that negatively impacts the growth of the logistical interface of an organization.

  1. Using Safety Equipment

When it comes to managing a warehouse, special emphasis must be given to the heavier items in play. It is therefore advisable to work with hydraulic dollies and even forklifts for lifting the same. In addition to that, warehouse staff should use proper eyewear at work. Hard hats should be made mandatory in a similar working environment.

Educating employees about fire exits and installed sprinklers— in case of fire-based emergencies— is advisable. Adding to the list of equipment is therefore important when it comes to strengthening the warehouse safety guidelines. While these attributes take out the obvious issues of injuries, they also instill faith concerning the workplace environment. Enterprises flinching about the increased costs must understand that having warehouse safety covered readily pays off in the long run.

  1. Eliminate Safety Hazards

Potential hazards are common to a warehouse working environment. However, it is important to eliminate most of them via regular safety checks. Elementary precautions include keeping the floor free of liquids, stray cords and items that spill off. Covering pits and floor cracks in also an important aspect towards handling potential threats.

  1. Label Hazardous Zones

Warehouse safety guidelines seem incomplete without the hazardous zones getting a mention. When it comes to a warehouse environment, it is important to label zones for safe walk and other non-professional activities. However, it isn’t advisable to arbitrarily assigned zones as proper signage and authorization are needed.

Black paint, tape and even white stripes can help if the enterprises are vigilant about the safety of workers and concerned employees. Having hazardous areas marked can easily avoid accidents.

  1. Incorporate Safer Techniques while Lifting

Most warehouse inclusions are heavy and need to be transported with care. Therefore, it is important to assess the best options available for lifting goods. Firstly, warehouse superintendents need to ensure the best possible route for the product in picture. Once an obstacle-free pathway is identified, safe lifting strategies must come into the picture.

Some of the best tactics include using push methods instead of pull. Moreover, it is also advisable to lean in the exact direction of the load— while moving the object. Enterprises using forklifts must train drivers and only authorize experienced personnel for lifting.

  1. Provide Refresher Course and Training

Warehouse staff should be updated about the workplace environment and even safe practices at work. Education and training are the important aspects to better adherence and staff members need to be fully aware of the risks involved. Cutting corners— in terms of staff training— often lead to catastrophic consequences. That said, warehouse management must be aware of the repercussions and this is why courses and training should be given precedence.

  1. Promote Warehouse Awareness

Probably the most overlooked aspect of warehouse safety— overall awareness is a pertinent aspect which needs to be promoted— in every possible manner. One way of achieving the same includes healthy communication between the staff members. Moreover, the employees need to be vocal about their requirements and even discrepancies at work. One example would be a simple yet important “coming through” alert which lets coworkers know that something heavy or inflammable is crossing the pathway.

Every person— within the warehouse— needs to learn about the terms and terminologies used by the coworkers.

Warehouse safety is a critical aspect and even plays an important role in customer satisfaction and retention. While most of the mentioned tactics are easy to implement, it must be understood that all of them are interlinked and readily work towards the betterment of the workplace environment.

 

Revamping Supply Chain Setups with Big Data Analytics

Supply chain management requires enterprises to deal with diverse data sets. Be it truckloads of structured data or even unstructured bits of information, supply chains have long been driven by quantifiable indicators and statistics. However, the revolutionized industry urges organizations to inculcate real-time analytics which in turn brings them a step closer to the concept of Big Data.

Adopting Big Data Analytics: An Innovative Start or A Lingering Issue?

Implementing Big Data within a supply chain schema isn’t expected to bear fruits overnight. The application requires an influx of data forces, mass validations and development systems for deriving vital insights regarding situations, products and other metrics involved. This, being a multi-faceted approach, requires customers and professionals to be patient. Therefore, it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that Big Data Analytics has arrived but companies are still falling behind when Big Data insights are being looked at.

In simpler words, the modern day application of Big Data analytics— targeting supply chain management— requires a deeper and surely a clearer sense of approach.  It isn’t surprising to see that many companies have been slightly skeptical when it comes to implementing Big Data analytics within the supply chain hierarchy as compared to other working areas like manufacturing and marketing. Although, analytics is innovative to work with, the apprehensions are still hindering seamless adoptions.

Driving Efficiencies Home

There are several factors pertaining to supply chain management which require immediate attention.  Be it the vehicle conditions, machineries associated with a setup or even inventory solutions— there are a host of structured intricacies to deal with.

The presumably successful application of Big Data has been quite significant in driving better sales as many enterprises have already embraced the concept— wholeheartedly.

Let us quickly analyze a few aspects that concern supply chain management and the improvements bestowed upon— courtesy Big Data analytics:

  • Handling Unstructured Data Sets— The likes of transportation logistics, inventory management and even warehouse management hardly offer structured data. Having Big Data analytics at the helm allows companies to use clocked digital cameras for monitoring changes, stock levels and a host of other requirements which are unstructured in nature.
  • Dealing with Forecasting— Flexibilities offered by Big Data analytics work perfectly when it comes to supply chain forecasting. The existing camera data can be paired with diverse algorithms and used for predicting stock management scenarios. This technology is suitable for distribution centers and warehouses where resupplies need to be essentially predicted— sans human interactions.

Pillars of Big Data Analytics

Analytics synonymous to Big Data needs to have two focal points— making it usable and scalable at the same time. Being ‘Predictive’ is the first pillar of Big Data science which tells enterprises about the course of action. Now with the data sets available, the analytics needs to be ‘Prescriptive’ as well— further determining the modus operandi associated with a specific supply chain metric.

Needless to say, every supply chain setup is better off with Big Data analytics in place and it’s time enterprises start identifying the true potential of this technology which has already been hailed by the customers.

Dealing with Unstructured Data

While analytics caters perfectly to structured data sets with defined fields, it is challenging to pair up Big Data insights with unstructured bits of information. One such example would be monitoring shelf space in real time. This is one aspect of supply chain management that doesn’t come with a predefined layout. Shelf space might vary with time and the only way analytics would work is by implementing sensors for detecting logos and brand names— based on visibility.

Unstructured data shall only make sense if collected in an innovative manner. The idea here is to gauge the sales systems for points of resonance.  With the influx of Big Data logic, supply chain managers have started looking at the underrated data elements— including the likes of forecasting, social media and weather. These elements have a massive impact on sales and the inclusion of analytics is expected to leverage them in the best possible manner.

As with every aspect of industrial proceedings, Big Data is slowly but steadily making inroads into the world of supply chain and logistics. Moreover, even enterprises are finding this technology easy to use with the sudden surge in the volume of unstructured data sets— clubbed with the usual levels of traditional data analysis. Big Data usage minimizes human indulgence and readily focuses on the broader time frame in hand.

Overall, it’s all about using data sets smartly and only Big Data analytics can help enterprises achieve the same.

 

 

 

 

 

4 Key Challenges in Manufacturing Labeling

In old days, labeling was simple. The manufacturer just pasted a piece of paper on packaging with the name of the product. It was simple quick and differentiated one product from another, which had the same packaging. However, today a label is a complex piece of product in itself. Branding, styling, technical information, the regulatory requirement etc must all fit on that little piece of paper, consistently. The complexities in labeling process are increasing at such a fast pace that they are baffling the manufacturers. The amount of critical data that needs to be printed even on a simple barcode label is much more than ever before. The supply chain information such as identification, grouping, shipping, tracking information, the product information such as Name, contents, branding, manufacturer information etc, the regulatory information such as production and expiry dates, ingredients, usage instructions, product warnings, all need to be printed often in a multilingual setting. Today due to its complexity the skill and expertise in manufacturing labeling itself can provide a business edge to the process. That’s because the problems in manufacture labeling can have cascading effects down the whole supply chain. Let’s take a look at few challenges faced by manufacturing labeling industry.

Key Challenges faced by the manufacturing industry.

  • Incorrect labeling There is too much information to be printed in too little space. A lot of this information such as lot number, batch numbers, manufacturing and expiry dates are dynamic in nature. Different variants of same products also have slightly different labeling requirements. With so much going on the shop floor, labeling is not the top priority on production floor manager’s mind who has specific job runs to manage. This means labeling is often working with incorrect data. More than 90% of print jobs are interrupted to reprint the labels due to incorrect data from the client. On average more than 5% of labels are rejected due to incorrect information. This in turns holds up the manufacturing line and causes delay down the chain. In some extreme cases where errors are caught late, just before shipping, the losses due to hold up in the supply chain can be huge. A well-defined process for label design approval and for communicating dynamic labeling data (dates, lot number, the number of labels required) can significantly reduce the incorrect label printing, and reduce the losses attributable to it.
  • Complex customer requirements. Businesses depend on multiple customers and each customer has different requirement for labeling. Failure to meet those requirements can result in fines, deductions or charge backs. Sometimes these fines can be more than the order value itself. Managing varied requirements, including the dynamic data from each customer is truly a complicated juggling process. One way to avoid this problem is to use checklists of the requirements for every label printing job run. The checklist will have all the information required to run the labeling job and should be approved by the customer. A second internal review stage should be added to ensure all data is correct and as per customer requirement. Automated systems should be used to capture the labeling requirements and data. These systems can reduce the typos and missing information that can lead to rejection of a complete lot of labels.
  • Multi lingual support. With increasing globalization, products are sold and consumed in many markets at the same time. This means that the labels need to be printed in multiple languages. This requirement presents its own challenges. The first challenge is in deciding the number of languages to be printed. While it may be sufficient to use the most popular languages across the world, some specific markets need to have labels in their own language only. The second challenge is fitting the required information in all the chosen languages on the same label. Repeating information in different language means there is less space for each language which means the font size is reduced. Smaller font size may render text unreadable, beating the purpose of printing the information. The printer must find a fine balance so that all information is printed in smallest of space and yet comfortably readable. The most important challenge is getting the translation correct. The incorrect translation may incur heavy legal liabilities for the seller and in turn for the labeler. Here too a strong well-defined process to work with translations and designs can help. Obtaining customer’s approval for language translation and other design aspects can reduce the labeller’s liability.
  • Disaster recovery plans. Most of the business have disaster recovery plans. However very few consider labeling in their business continuity plans. Labeling is a critical point in the supply The business won’t sell the products without the labels and labels cannot be printed if disaster has stuck the label manufacturing. The supply chain can come to the grinding halt because there is no recovery or continuity plan for labeling.

 

The label is the face of the brand. This the final point where the brand gets the chance to interact with the customer before he accesses the product. This is where the brand gets to make its most impact. Today’s customer is detail oriented. He can identify small differences and inconsistencies. This means brand consistency is crucial is labeling. The labels can be made to meet different regional or regulatory requirements but they must convey the same brand image on every individual unit. After all the product label is the final and most important touch point between the brand and the customer.

3PL, flexible Packaging

Flexible Packaging: Helping you stay Ahead!

Consumer preferences are changing all over the world. The portion sizes of products are also changing (usually getting smaller, individual sized). The consumer preference towards how the product is stored and consumed is also changing. A lot of food is now consumed while the consumer is mobile, without sitting on a table. There is a growing focus on providing the convenience of use to such consumers. Flexible packaging materials are designed to meet these needs. Products such as reseal-able pouches and twist off packaging for candies (e.g. Halls), where a single unit can be unwrapped without affecting other units are great examples how only a small portion of the product is consumed while keeping the remaining product sealed and fresh for next time.

Flexible packaging is beneficial for the supply chain as well. It consumes less space and is easy to store and transport. Due to such advantages, it is rapidly gaining market share over other packaging options. Its use is growing at such rapid rate that the market for flexible packaging is estimated to be about $350 Billion by 2018. Let’s take a look at some reasons why it is such a rage in Industry.

  1. Lightweight: A flexible package is usually made of thin sheet of plastic polymer. This means it weighs a lot less than usual packaging containers. A classic example for weight comparison is packaged water PET bottle. Over the years the bottle has got thinner and thinner to a point where it can no longer be reduced in thickness. However flexible polymer sheets are even thinner and stronger than current PET bottles. The next logical step for bottled water would be to become a flexible pouch of water. This is already a reality in many parts of the world. Another example is cling film packaging. Fresh food (such as cucumber, broccoli and other vegetables are wrapped in cling film without adding any weight or extra volume. It also keeps the product visible to the customer at all times. A lot of processed food such as cheese is regularly wrapped in flexible packaging so that its appeal to the eye is capitalized. Even for oversized bulk packaging bags (The Flexible Intermediate Bulk containers), flexible material is used for storing and transporting material in large volumes. It is lighter than drums and tanks and easy to transport and manage and provides similar volume and strength.Comp image
  2. Easy printing/branding: Packaging is used as a brand’s marketing canvas. It’s a great platform to catch customer eyeballs and no marketer will miss this opportunity. However with rigidly structured container printing becomes a challenge. The shape, irregular size of the container can pose a challenge to print on the surface of the container, which affects the speed and quality of prints. Many times marketers use external labels in such situations. The labels are printed separately and then affixed to the container (tins and trays) after the material is packed and is ready for shipping. This causes logistical problems. The printing is done by a separate vendor, which requires coordination for the exact requirement, changes in design, the volume of production and mistakes are usually caught after the delivery of label. Flexible material removes this problem to an extent. It can be printed onsite, which means the printing and production run can be customized, designs can be changed quickly and mistakes can be caught early.
  3. Barrier Properties: Many products such as juices, wines, milk and other foods need to be packaged in an oxygen free environment. Flexible polymers are easier to bond with appropriate barrier compound while retaining light weight and flexibility. Other packaging materials such as cans, drums, paper boxes etc need a thicker and separate layer of barrier material (such as aluminum) which increases the costs. Tetra pack packaging is a case in point here. It provides great protection to its contents but the packaging itself is rigid and expensive. Aluminum has been used as a flexible barrier for a long time. However, its use in the recent stand-up packaging makes it vulnerable to cracks and pores which can let air, water pass through. Newer products such as styrene-acrylonitrile address this problem. They are tough even in thin layers and can stay flexible when bonded with polymers.Comp image
  4. Variation in style and dispensing: Packages made from flexible plastic films can be made in virtually any shape. They can be made in pouches, bags, boxes, zip-lock style bags, narrow neck, easy grip pouch, screw top cap pouch or with a laser-score-tear feature or a simple wrap around packaging (cling film). It can be molded into any bag of any shape as well. This flexibility makes the packaging more creative and practical. Imagine a flat water container that fits in a handbag, like a book. It’s already being sold. Along with same, the dispensing of product through packaging can also be done in many ways. For example, the liquid soap packaging fits right in the dispensing machine which connects the valve of the dispenser to the packaging. The right amount of soap is dispensed without making any mess. Small screw-on tops or pierce through straws are equally well suited for flexible pouches.Comp image
  5. Varied sizes: As they are strong and flexible, flexible material can be used to pack very small quantities right up to large bulk material for industrial consumption. The large industrial bags or Flexible Industrial bulk containers (FIBC) are as common as large gunny bags made of the same material and are used to pack air tight materials such as cement.Comp image

Flexible packaging is finding applications in other nonfood industries as well. It is especially well suited for packing clothing material so that it can be rolled to save space and still stay protected from dirt and other environmental elements. In fact, they are especially suitable in the healthcare sector where even a slight tear renders the medicine unusable. Many medicines such as eye drops and injectable medicines are already available in single dose flexible packaging. All you need is a little creativity and you can start reaping the benefits of flexible packaging as well.

Nanotechnology and food packaging: A natural alliance

Although nanotechnology is quite well known, its uptake in the food industry has been slow. The food grown or manufactured using nanotechnology has not gained as wide an acceptance as it was expected to. However, on the packaging side, the story is completely opposite. The nanotechnology based packaging materials are proving to be very successful. They are safe and have additional properties that are beneficial for packaging of food products. As the technology improves, the nano packaging is getting cheaper and its commercial use is expanding rapidly.

What is Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is nothing but working with the material at the molecular level. This technique of manufacturing is used to create very thin layers (few molecules thick or just a few nanometers thick), of complex molecular structures that are not possible using conventional chemical processes. In its more advanced versions, this technology is also working in medicine and healthcare fields to create complex medicines. In the manufacturing industry, Nanotechnology is used to create thin coatings of active and passive materials to provide strong, flexible and inert layers to store volatile and highly reactive liquids and gases, or reacting with only specific substance while remaining inert to others. It is because of these properties, that nanotechnology is of great use in the packaging industry. It is now used in various kinds of packaging, especially in the food industry to extend the life of packaged food.

Nanotechnology in food packaging:

Traditionally the paper, metal (aluminum foils and tins) and plastic based polymer films of various grades are used for food packaging. However, each has its own disadvantages on various fronts, which nanotechnology overcomes. Some of the applications of nanotechnology in food packaging are listed below.

Barrier Packaging: Food material reacted negatively with Oxygen and becomes stale. The only viable solution is to remove all oxygen from the food environment (within the packaging) and prevent any infusion or leakage of oxygen into the packaging. Metal packaging such as tins are airtight, but are expensive and inflexible. Glass packaging is fragile and inflexible. The plastic polymer based packaging material is low in cost and flexible. However, it is slightly permeable to oxygen and other gases. Over time, the oxygen leaks into the packaging and the food get damaged. This is where nanotechnology is helpful. A coating of an impermeable substance which is just a new nanometers in thickness is sufficient to create a packaging that is impermeable to gases while retaining the flexibility of the base material. Typically a thin metal film which is only a few nanometers thick is applied to polyester or polyethylene films to create flexible, impermeable and inert packaging material that increases the shelf life of food by a great deal.

Antimicrobial packaging:

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Some nanomaterial can actively reduce the growth of microorganisms. These substances are applied to the food facing side of the packaging to reduce the growth of pathogens in the food, thus increasing the shelf life of the food. Silver is one such material which is well known for its anti-pathogen properties. With nanotechnology, a very thin layer of silver is coated on the packaging greatly reducing the amount of silver required and thus saving the costs. Other more active and cheaper materials are being investigated for their antibacterial properties under nanostructure conditions. For example, Zinc oxide nanoparticles become antibacterial as their size gets smaller. Chitin, a natural substance found in the shells of marine crustaceans such as Crabs and Shrimps is also effective in fighting pathogens.

Active or smart packaging: Nanotechnology has created possibilities of creating very small electronic components. Researchers are looking at the possibility of applying these nano electronic components onto packaging, which can actively sense and control the environment inside the packaged food. They can alert the consumer when the food starts to decay. It sounds straight out of a sci-fi movie, but it is getting real. Here are some examples of active packaging.

 

Active cooling:. Self-cooling packaging uses chemical and physical processes (such as evaporation) to keep the temperature inside the package cold and thus increase the life of food. Another very interesting technology under development is keeping the package cool by using a thin powered system, which is powered by the very thin photovoltaic cell. The electricity will be used by the thermoelectric system to lower the temperature inside the package. These systems would reduce the need for refrigeration along the supply chain.

Self-healing polymers: Self-healing polymers are making great progress. The packaging made out of such polymer can accommodate small punctures and tears thus reducing the wastage due to damaged packaging.

Nanosensors. Chemical compounds that change color based on the presence of a gas are applied on the inner side of the transparent packaging polymer. As the food goes stale, it emits various gases. This changes the color of the compound which is visible from outside the package indicating that the food has gone stale. The nanotechnology allows the layer of substance to be very thin to maintain transparency, bonded strongly onto the surface of packaging so that it does not mix with food and yet be visible when its color changes.

 

RFID:

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Radio Frequency Identification is already in use today. Advancements in nanotechnology allow for manufacturing of much smaller and much cheaper RFID tags. This will make them more common eventually replacing the bar codes altogether. This will further speed up the logistics processes and reduce the manpower requirement along the supply chain.

Nanotechnology has much to offer to the food industry. It provides for robust, flexible solutions that increase safety. The smart packaging solutions monitor and control the food environment, increasing its life and easing the logistics requirement. The future of the nanotechnology in packaging industry looks lip smacking.

Antimicrobial packaging: What, Why & The Real Benefits

People are increasingly consuming packaged food products. These come in both, cooked and uncooked formats. The shelf life of these products is usually limited by their degradation due to bacterial action present inside them. It is due to these microbes that food rots and get spoiled. It also increases the chances of food borne diseases. If these microbes can be removed or neutralized from the food, it can be stored for very long periods, vastly improving its shelf life. Most of the traditional methods such as air tight packing of food with removal of all air/oxygen or substituting air with nitrogen, achieve the desired effect to some extent, but they alter the taste and aroma of the food. This makes them less desirable.

Anti microbial packaging on the other hand involves an active packing material that act to reduce or inhibit the growth of micro organisms that may be present in the packed food. For example; silver has long been used to reduce the microbial or fungal content in food. The downside of using silver is that it’s quite expensive and can be prohibitive if used in large scale commercial application. This has led to development of other compounds that can achieve similar effect of reducing or inhibiting the growth of bacterial and fungal microorganism in packaged food products. They represent one of the most promising concepts in future of food safety and quality. Active packing system in one where the packing material itself interacts with the food substance to provide desirable effects and enhance the shelf life of the packaged food.

Anti microbial packaging can take several forms

  • Sachets filled with antimicrobial agent, which are added to food packages.
  • Antimicrobial coating onto the polymer surface. i.e application of antimicrobial layer onto plastic surface that is in contact with food.
  • Incorporation of antimicrobial compound directing into the packaging material itself.

 

Of these the first one, i.e the sachets that are either enclosed loose or attached to the wall of packaging are most successful. They absorb the oxygen, water vapour and also emit ethanol vapour, not making the environment inside the packaging inert for any microorganism growth. This reduces the spoilage of the food, such as off-flavour, discolouration and rotting by changing the initial conditions immediately after packing of the food. It also prevents the formation of toxic substances.

 

On the other hand, the antimicrobial layer on the packaging works by releasing an active substance into the food and headspace which actively renders the microbes inert in the food due their affinity to the food particle. The layer is designed to release the active component in a slow controlled manner throughout the designated shelf life of packed food. This type of packaging is slightly more challenging as it involves choosing the right packaging material that can withstand the application of active layer and choosing the right active compound that will not only not react with ingredients in the food, but act against the right set of microbes which have highest probability of being present in the food being packed.

 

The global market for antimicrobial packaging is over 250 billion USD already and is expected to grow at CAGR of 7% over next 5 years. The growth will be primarily driven by active and controlled release packaging (which will consist of enzymes, organic acids etc) which will in turn be driven by rapid rise of packaged food and beverage industry. Further, the advancements in technology will make it possible to apply more complex antimicrobial layers to packaging, increasing the shelf life even more.

 

Following are the key trends that will drive the demand for antimicrobial packaging

 

  • Increased consumption of processed food that is manufactured in factories instead of freshly cooked meals. More processed food will need better packaging for longer storage, especially the out of season food products that need to be stored much longer.
  • Smaller portion sizes requiring large number of individual units in retail market consuming more overall packaging, including antimicrobial packaging.
  • Repackaging of the food (Food not fully consumed once package is opened but stored for consumption at later time) will need antimicrobial packaging that continues to counter the pathogen that enter food once it is opened and exposed to air.
  • Increased awareness about health benefits of food packed in antimicrobial packing, leading to more demand for food packed in such packing, directly by the consumer.
  • Increase in competition, which will lead to cost pressures. Reduction in refrigeration requirement of food will be key attractor to use antimicrobial packaging (especially for organic raw food such as milk, meat etc.)
  • Processing of food across borders requiring longer storage and increasing the risk of foreign contamination. This will require stringent safety measures for the food to reduce the chance of foreign diseases spreading across the border.
  • Increased regulation to maintain health and safety standards of packaged foods by government.
  • Technology advancements, making it possible to use antimicrobial packaging for greater variety of food products, more economically.

 

 

Packaging industry is undergoing a rapid change. New materials are being discovered that are safe and sustainable. Old methods are being rediscovered that are efficient and cost effective. The changing global dynamics are changing the food habits of people globally. Food is being prepared long before it is consumed and far away from where it is being consumed. Retaining the quality and integrity of food in such situation has become essential to stay relevant to the consumer. Antimicrobial packaging serves to enhance the shelf life of food once it is packed and also after the packaging is opened for consumption.

warehouse, 3pl, food waste

6 ways to Reduce Food Wastage in Supply Chain

Each year more than 80 million tons of food is discarded in Europe alone. The overall cost of this wastage is more than 140 billion Euros.  Globally it is estimated that a third of all the food produced, is wasted. Most of this wastage happens before the food item even reaches the market. These figures assume higher significance when more than 750 million people around the world face food insecurity. In countries with abundance of food, people tend to throw away what they do not require or consume. This wastage not only has the environmental impact but it impacts the environment (In terms of energy and resources consumed in producing and packing the food that is thrown away). The Food supply chain along with its three stages i.e. Production, wholesaling and retailing has a significant contribution in this wastage. The cost of disposal of unutilized food adds to the cost of food wasted due reasons such as wrong or bad storage, no demand, wrong transportation, expiry before sale etc . Let us look at some of the ways that the food wastage can be reduced in the supply chain.

  1. Intelligent Packaging. Lot of food is sensitive to environmental factors such as temperature. A smart packing such as Time temperature indicator that tells how long an item has remained at a particular (generally high) temperature can indicate how soon the item will go bad and thus prioritize its sale/consumptions. Many fresh foods (many fruits) respire even after harvest. When packed, they can change the environment inside the packaging due to respiration and thus can go stale. Gas indicators built into packaging can indicate the level of gas harmful to the product. Similarly biosensors can be used to indicate the level of pathogens in the food and transmit the data to control centre. All such indicators and information about the level of freshness of food can be used to prioritize its sale and consumption before it’s spoilt and thus reduce the wastage.
  2. Packaging Considerations. Packaging of the food product has very high impact on it’s shelf life. A vacuum packed meat product stayed fresh without any significant pathogens for long time. Similarly a cling film wrapped cucumber stays fresh for over two weeks, while an unwrapped one loses moisture and becomes dull in 3 to 4 days. Apart from freshness, Fruits and vegetables packed in trays and bags reduce their wastage due to handling anywhere between 5 to 20 percent depending on the food item. Well designed packaging also speeds up the movement of the product, due to easy handling. There is a lot of innovation in packaging that food supply chain companies should look into.
  3. Transportation. Cold transportation is not new. There are active cooling trucks (with actual refrigeration and passive cooling trucks that are basically thermally sealed. Wha’ts interesting however is the temperature gradient inside the trucks, once they are loaded. Most transporters simply ‘stuff’ the truck with products without much thought to placement of product to maximize its shelf life. Even in regular trucks the temperature of food right in the centre of the truck is different than the temperature at periphery. This can have large impact on the life of the product. Even in cold trucks if they are stuffed and the center is not cool enough, the food loaded in the centre has higher chance of being spoiled. Not only the temperature, but the way fruits and vegetables are loaded can have large impact on their life. Can you imagine berries at the bottom and potatoes at the top, going over a bumpy ride?
  4. Increasing decision points in Supply Chain. Most products don’t go from point of production direct to retail shelf. There are multiple hubs and distribution points between the point of production and point of final sale. However with technology, more and more decisions are being centrally. The decision points need to be decentralized and local intelligence specific to the distribution point needs to be utilized for maximum utilization of product. Products with shorter shelf life should be sent to high turnover outlets so that they can be sold before they expire. The principle of ‘First Expiry First out’ should be followed rigorously. Smarter decisions about product movement can be taken locally depending on local conditions such as weather. If the weather is nice and sunny, the demand for barbeque related products will increase. If its cold, the juicy fruits (e.g. watermelon) would be expected to move slowly and can be shipped to other warmer areas.
  5. Cost factors. Food industry often operates on low profit margins. Subsequently all the processes are designed for cost optimization. However lower cost may not always be the best solution. For example, organic food needs to be delivered quickly. The demand for organic food is increasing and it also has higher margin. So supply chain invests a little more in quick delivery of organic food, it can capture both, the volume and the higher margin, thus offsetting the cost and making more money.  A retailer in USA capitalized on this model by making quick deliveries of Organic, less processed oils. The retailed made express deliveries right from the production point and thus maximized the shelf life of oil available to the consumer (about 3-4 months). it’s competitor’s distribution processes itself took 3 to 4 months and thus could not compete.
  6. Production Location. Point of production is also a key factor in supply chain. The closer it is to the consumer, the smaller the chain and lesser the chance of waste. Many organization prefer to have production plants closer to the source of raw material. It reduces the transportation cost of raw material, but increases the waste in subsequent supply chain. With modern technology and transportation options, it is easier to transport bulk raw material to the more distant plant. It also provides for the maximum shelf and storage life once the product is leaves the production plant.

 

Some Food wastage is inevitable. Food will rot, get spoilt and will face some logistical issues. However the amount of food that is wasted currently is unsustainable. The higher environmental cost of this waste will be borne by the next generation; all while there still 700 million hungry people around the globe. If nothing else, the economic cost of the food wastage in itself makes a great business case to stop the wastage as soon as possible.

Success in E-commerce: The distribution Strategies

Ecommerce business has become highly competitive. Apart from marketing and unique value proposition, efficient fulfilment & distribution has become a key successes factor for every ecommerce business. The challenges presented by the digital economy are unique and go beyond just warehouse distribution systems. There is not only seasonality of the products but also wide variety of products, orders and customers that need to be accounted for. To meet these challenges advanced methods such as Wave management, packing optimization and optimal picking of products is important. Here are a few key methods which can help companies much higher efficiencies in their distribution operations.

  1. Efficient SKU pickup area. Storing all stock for one SKU at one place will mean that the picker will need to walk past all that stock to pick only one piece of that SKU. If there are 8 such SKU’s lined up, with say with 3 feet of front line, the picker has to walk 24 feet to cover all of them. If the front area was only 1.5 feet, he would walk only 12 feet. Multiply this with the number of times he makes this trip and you get the idea of all the extra walking he does. The idea here is to increase the SKU density per feet, so that the picker can pick as many items as possible with as little movement as possible. The pick up area can be replenished by stock kept just behind the pickup area, or elsewhere (for slower moving items). In fact items that move very slow should not be in the pickup area. They key challenge here is to keep the pickup area stocked with right SKU, to the right level with minimal frontage at all times. Various tactics ranging from Visual Replenishment (bin is checked for stock by eye) to more complex Demand based replenishment (where incoming orders are analyzed by replenishing team to keep the pickup area stocked just right) using a warehouse management system can be used.
  2.  Pick strategy. A right pick strategy can make all the difference to the speed of fulfilment and capital investment of the warehouse. Manual picking carts are appropriate for a small size business. A larger business with many SKUs and high order run rate needs some level of mechanical solution. It could be vehicle based system (such as pallet jacks) or conveyer based system where items are placed on conveyer to move from one stage of order to the next stage, essentially creating an ‘assembly line’ of order fulfilment process, or much more efficient automated storage and retrieval systems using robots. Scale of business operations is an important consideration before deciding on the right pick strategy. For a business with smaller items or with large number of SKUs and high order volume, the manual cart may still be the best pick up strategy. They require very low maintenance when compared with other options. They can be scaled up quickly during high growth, high volume phase and can be simply kept aside during times of low order volume. Carts are available in various shapes and sizes and it is wise to experiment with a few different ones, before settling for one model that may be most suitable. These key factors should be evaluated while deciding the best pickup strategy.
    1. Pick up rates required.
    2. Size/volume/weight of SKUs.
    3. Spread of items across pickup area. (area of the warehouse)
    4. Upfront Investment and maintenance costs.

 

 

  1.  Pick Methodology. The method by which the items in the order are picked to assemble the order also makes a huge difference in the efficiency of the fulfilment process. Some of the most common method are:
    1. Individual order: Picker goes around the warehouse picking individual SKUs for one single order. This method is slow, but in absence of a warehouse management system, most accurate. For smaller business this may be a very practical solution, but for larger businesses it is definitely the slowest and very inefficient.
    2. Batch order picking: In this method multiple orders are grouped for pickers to pick items from multiple SKUs. These items are then sorted to make individual orders. This method works when there are fast moving SKU’s that form part of large number of orders. It reduces the walk time and number of trip for the picker. The sorting area is where the items are assembled into a final order and it becomes ready for delivery.
    3. Cluster Picking: In this method, several orders are picked simultaneously. Picker picks items for each of these several orders and put them in separate containers (in one cart) as he makes his pass across the bins. This method works best with a warehouse management system which tells the picker exactly which item to pick and exactly which container to put it in, as he makes his pass. Here again, a full pass (full round of all bins) may be needed for each trip. It is much more efficient than Individual order picking.
    4. Pick and Pass: In this method, one picker is restricted to one zone. After the items from that zone are picked, the container for the order is passed on, to the picker of next zone. After passing through all the zones the cart comes to final order packing, ready to be shipped. Here also several orders can be clubbed in one cart but in separate containers, to pick SKU items for multiple orders in one pass, across one zone. If Multiple orders are clubbed, those many orders are ready after each complete pass of cart across all the zones. The key advantage of this method is that it reduces picker’s walking in large distribution centre and order is ready as soon as picking is done. If similar orders are clubbed together (which they most probably would be), the order  cart is routed only through the required zone thus reducing the picking time.

 

These are some of the most common and quickly implementable solutions to achieve better efficiencies. However these are by no means the only ones.  Organizations should experiment where possible, between different options to find the most efficient methods and options for them. Organizations should also continue to evaluate their chosen methods on regular basis. New tools and techniques come up regularly which can help organization in improving their distribution operations.

Neo Pure: Food Safety achieved naturally

Seeds form an essential part of human diet. Seeds contain high amount of essential micro-nutrients that are required for overall wellbeing. They are eaten raw, by themselves, or as an additive on other food such as salad. However, seeds suffer from a drawback. As they are rich in nutrients, they also attract a large number of pathogens. Pathogens such as E.coli, salmonella etc thrive on seeds. There have been several recalls of seed products in recent past due to product being infected by pathogens.

Traditional disinfectant methods are quite successful in removing these pathogens, but they change the biological properties of the seed. Pasteurization changes the biological properties and taste of the seeds.

Neo Pure offers a safe alternative to traditional de contamination methods for seeds. Neo Pure is a safe and effective organic intervention step that is specifically designed to destroy pathogens and microbes on food that have low moisture such as grains and seeds (whole and sprouted). The solution consists of a liquid which is derived from plants and is completely bio degradable. The liquid is sprayed over food seeds in a high throughput turnkey system to ensure that every seed is uniformly coated with the neo pure liquid to achieve maximum efficacy. Neo Pure solution achieves higher than 5 log reduction in pathogens without affecting the Organoleptic or nutritional properties. The neo pure solution is approved by food safety authorities in USA and Canada and it ensures that neo pure treated food stays organic, raw and viable.

The technology that neo pure uses, is highly effective in killing bacteria and spore formers. It has been validated to achieve more than 5-log reduction in pathogens on a wide variety of food items that are dry. It uses Oxygen as a disruptor of the cell structure of the pathogen. It denatures multiple parts of the cell such as Cell wall, DNA, enzymes in a multisite action, thus completely destroying the pathogen without affecting the seed itself. Neo Pure is a broad spectrum solution that is equally affective for both gram negative and gram positive bacteria. Independent test at university labs such as university of Guelph have validate that neo pure achieves more than 5 log reduction for both gram negative and gram positive microbes. The solution is also very effective on non pathogenic yeast, molds and coliforms. Noe pure liquid solution is completely bio degradable. After the liquid has worked on the pathogens, all that remains is free water that is left behind on the surface of the seed or grain. That water is what gets dried up to get the original starting moisture of the seed. The dryers that are specifically built to work with neo pure liquid and are part of new pure system operate at low temperatures to maintain the sensory and nutritional characteristics of the seeds. The dryers operate at surface temperature of a wet bulb i.e. 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus seeds are always below 110 degrees, at which the food is no longer considered raw.  As it is the surface temperature only, the core temperature of the seed is even below 80 degrees, ensuring that the seed as whole remains viable.

The neo pure food system consists of an applicator and an air dryer that are made of a chamber and an air handling unit. The system has high throughput of up to 10 tons per hour. Further the system does not have any special storage requirement. The neo pure liquid solution has a shelf life of more than a few years, so it can be stored safely without losing its potency for well over a year easily.

Neo pure liquid is derived from plants. It is organic and bio degrades leaving no residue. The system meets ‘Generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS) criteria. Neo pure is also certified organic by Ecocert under US National Organic Program and Canadian organic regulations. The neo pure system treated products can be consumed by all communities as it is NON GMO, Kosher and Halal.