Tracing Food Quality and Safety, or We Are What We Eat, After All (Part II)

Part I of this blog post introduced the burning issues of food safety and the ensuing need for traceability. To the end of providing entire food supply chain traceability and information visibility, mid-March, during its CUE 2008 annual user conference, Lawson Software announced the availability of Lawson M3 Trace Engine 3.0, the first version offered within the US market.

The application is designed to help companies in the food and beverage (F&B) industries improve product quality and help prevent and manage potential food safety and quality risks. It specifically helps companies strengthen and simplify the process of tracking ingredients and finished products through complex global food supply chains.

Lawson M3 Trace Engine is a web-based traceability system that operates with the Lawson M3 Enterprise Management System and, agnostically standalone, with many other non-Lawson enterprise resource planning (ERP), farming or food lab software systems as well. It has helped many F&B companies manage risk and protect their brands by allowing them to share trace data, such as product origin, transport data and other attributes online with retailers and regulators.

This type of information not only helps build stakeholders' confidence in a brand, but also helps companies validate their corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability initiatives in areas such as product safety, sustainable development and animal welfare.

Lawson developed its solution in conjunction with one of the world's largest aquaculture feed production companies, Nutreco (a minor part of whose business is also poultry processing). Trace Engine is a standalone, web-based, configurable repository that can receive, filter and interpret any trace line information from virtually any system within the user enterprise, its suppliers, transporters, customers or any other third party.

This product overlays other enterprise systems already in place and enables the generation of an information database (Microsoft SQL Server) containing all the information required in tracking the products. It allows for tracing of raw material/batches, semi-finished product, or finished product anywhere along the supply chain nodes, upstream or downstream, and starting at any point.

The product traces the process along the food supply chain through all pre-defined steps, occurrences and activities. Trace Engine ensures that the enterprise, its suppliers and customers are all involved and have access to this critical information, with the aim of thereby creating transparency and trust along the supply chain.

In addition to automating both internal and global track and trace processes, the new Lawson solution helps quality and food safety managers continually improve business processes. For example, the application enables users to visualize internal production processes in near real-time, identify potential ingredient issues and respond to events or problems before a product leaves the production facility.

A company can manage enterprise quality initiatives through visualization and monitoring capabilities, since Trace Engine establishes a repository for data never before available for analysis in one place. This is accomplished with techniques such as data mining for patterns and associations between events, which can enable prediction of future values of variables, find new associations between events or classify data into clusters of related values. This information can enable enterprises to analyze quality characteristics that can help them continuously improve products and processes within their supply chain or enterprise.

Lawson Trace Engine also helps simplify compliance with current US and European Union (EU) food safety regulations (as mentioned in Part I), while providing tools to help users adjust to future requirements. For example, the application can reduce the time needed to prepare for regulatory audits by providing tools to help automate product quality and traceability reporting. It also can help companies quickly provide evidence about product trace lines and history in the event of specific food safety events.

Differentiation -- Total Supply Chain Traceability and ERP Agnosticism

It is important to note here that almost every other ERP system tracks transactions well within the four walls of the enterprise (mainly via the traditional Lot Control and Location Control features) - from the first receipt (from supplier) to the last shipment (to customer). Standard Lawson M3, as well as peer process ERP products like Infor Adage, CDC Software's Ross Enterprise, BatchMaster, SYSPRO, Technology Group International's (TGI) Enterprise 21, SSI-TROPOS, or CSB System to name only some, accomplish this.

However, this new product from Lawson extends the traceability in both directions: back (to the "farm") and forward (to the "fork"). It sits on the Internet and accepts transactions from suppliers and suppliers' suppliers upstream and from distributors, retailers, etc. downstream to allow the company to achieve full farm-to-fork traceability. Actually, it can go back to the feed eaten by animals or the pesticide used on the plants.

In addition, it can collect various data from these external sources (for example a veterinarian report on the health of an animal or the specifications of the feed they were fed) to allow quality analysis going from farm to fork. In fact, many government agencies are focusing on the establishment of an external traceability network in a region or nation. An external/global traceability system can only be functioning if:

  • All involved parties agree on the same data exchange standard (and in the EU it looks that will be TraceCore XML [Extensible Markup Language]); and

  • The internal traceability is in place within each enterprise with enabled connections to the global traceability network.

The use of a "lightweight" (meaning non technology intensive, yet easy-to-use and functional) solution such as Lawson M3 Trace Engine can help display the big picture to all parties in the supply chain. The Web-based product enables the harnessing of segmented information and the delivery of results all the way to end users or any party in the chain.

Trace Engine allows the user company to enable any interested party to have secured access to the trace information. The system can be accessed over the Internet and/or via the intranet or extranet environment. The enterprise's own personnel, suppliers, customers or any other third party can see the information.

To recap, Trace Engine assists in creating a more collaborative environment, not only internally within user's own organization, but also with all the stakeholders in the supply chain.

Lawson Trace Engine Architecture

In simplified terms, Lawson Trace Engine extracts data from several source systems (ERP, warehousing management system [WMS], etc.), whereby the extract, transform & lead (ETL) layer cleanses and prepares data for the Data Queue. By using Trace Configurator to set a number of pertinent rules, validations, exception alerts, etc., Trace Data and Quality Assurance (QA) Data can then be presented in the Trace Explorer.

The solution has been developed to ensure that all transactions entering the engine are valid both in terms of data content and trace line content. When creating and configuring a transaction type in the software, basic data layout and content checks are described. When the engine receives such a transaction, any errors found will hold the transaction in an error/exception queue and an e-mail message will be sent to the responsible party.

The second phase of validation checks for trace line validity ensuring that the transaction has the correct parent(s) within the database. If it does not, the transaction is held in an exception queue and the responsible party is informed. We should note here that some consulting/professional services involvement is typically required in order to properly configure the system, given that every food chain will have different constituents with underlying systems and data sources.

Trace Engine can even handle events such as maintenance reports and temperature information, which can be attached to a site based on date and time. Users can attach and analyze non-trace line information to a number of trace lines that overlap or are connected to the lots/batches from a time perspective. This means that users can include any outside effect in their trace repository for advanced investigation of trends, associations and patterns, all with the idea of continuous improvement.

Budding Install Base

In addition to Nutreco, Trace Engine is currently serving dozen customers all around the world within different areas such as fish, feed, pork, poultry, fruit and vegetables. Other sweet spot prospective customers could come from the Livestock industry (Meat, Poultry, Pork, Fish/Aquaculture, Feed and Crop) and other high risk F&B Manufacturers (Diary, Fruit, and Fresh Food). Only time will tell whether the engine can be retrofitted for use in other process industries, such as chemicals or pharmaceuticals (e.g., to combat the drugs counterfeiting problem).

Some other notable customer names (coming primarily from Europe thus far) would be Skretting (an aquaculture feed producer); Cermaq (an animal feed producer considering entering salmon processing); Vion (a pork processor); Camanchaca (a salmon processor); South Pacific Corporation and Corpesca (fish processors), while Ariztia, a poultry processor, is currently implementing Trace Engine.

Featured here is Norway-based Marine Harvest, the world's leading seafood company and a Lawson Trace Engine 3.0 pilot customer. Lawson Trace Engine is helping the company enhance its brand's reputation by capturing detailed product information it can share with customers.

The application also helps Marine Harvest more efficiently manage and adjust production across the farmed salmon operations to help ensure it consistently delivers quality products. Marine Harvest produces one-third of the world's farmed salmon and trout with integrated fish farming, fish processing and distribution operations in 20 countries and customers in more than 70 countries.

Lawson Trace Engine captures critical information throughout the entire value chain starting from feed material (supported by raw material quality systems), fish feed production (supported by laboratory information management systems [LIMS], programmable logic control [PLC] production systems, labeling systems and transportation company systems), smolt (supported by egg hatching systems and genetic info systems), fish farming (12 fish pens supported by LIMS, medication systems, and well boat systems), slaughter, processing and distribution (supported by LIMS, labeling systems and transportation company systems) to supermarkets and consumers.

Of course, each node in the above supply chain is also supperoted by a variety of ERP systems like Lawson M3, Microsoft Dynamics NAV (formerly Navision) and Microsoft Dynamics AX (formerly Axapta), to name but a few.

On a personal note, as a notorious meat-eater, after learning here about a three year cycle of farming salmon (with a notable mortality rate despite all necessary health precautions), I might start appreciating the hefty price of seafood.

For a visualization of Lawson Trace Engine and the flavor of its "Three T's" (i.e., Traceability, Transparency & Trust), see the product's screen shots here.

What is your opinion, will Lawson establish even more its food & beverage expertise (and its vaunted CSR profile) with this solution and possibly even penetrate its ERP competitors' install base? Also, what real-life experiences have you had with traceability and what solutions have you used in that regard?
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