This last year revealed many vulnerabilities and challenges for food suppliers. The pandemic exposed a vulnerability in manufacturers’ reliance on human labor. Regulatory bodies like the FDAUSDA, and GFFA are compelling supply-chain participants to adopt common standards and digital technologies. Retailers – who are under pressure from consumers demanding more variety, sustainability, transparency, and ethical sourcing – are increasingly willing to go around manufacturers to create the products they need if they can’t get the relationship they want with the manufacturer. These challenges will continue beyond 2021.

In response, many manufacturers are exploring factory-automation technology to reduce their dependency on labor, improve regulatory compliance, optimize production efficiency, and increase supply-chain visibility. After an overwhelming year, it’s understandable that adopting Industry 4.0 technologies may feel overwhelming to food-industry leaders who were inundated with challenges throughout 2020. Hopefully, the holidays provided an opportunity for rest, and news of the vaccine rekindled a sense of optimism. Below are some practical steps to help food manufacturers hit the ground running in the new year:

  1. Understand your processes.
    Developing a process map gives manufacturers a visual understanding of processes occurring on the plant floor, what data is being measured during those processes, and how that data is flowing across their network. Having a clear understanding of what data is being gathered and how it flows across the network helps manufacturers identify operational value drivers and develop measurable KPIs for data-driven decision-making.
  2. Adopt common language and standards.
    For digital technologies to be interoperable, common data standards must be adopted across the value chain. The most widely used is GS1, which is used to identify, track, and trace critical tracking events and key data elements.
  3. Build a culture of knowledge sharing.
    Regularly meet with plant leadership to establish standards, share best practices, and hold each other accountable. Likewise, meet with trade partners to discuss opportunities to integrate traceability data and streamline transaction processes. This will improve efficiency and traceability across the supply chain.
  4. Develop approaches to consumer education.
    Many consumers have misconceptions about how their food is produced. In a survey conducted by Purdue University, consumers were asked whether broilers are given growth hormones, only 8-percent of survey participants answered the question correctly. Industry 4.0 technologies open new opportunities to educate consumers about how food gets to their table and show them how to handle and prepare it safely. Sharing traceability data with consumers builds trust by addressing their concerns for safety, sustainability, and humane treatment.
  5. Register for the 2022 User Summit!
    The CAT Squared User Summit will be held atop Petit Jean Mountain at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, August 16-20. Learn more about CAT Squared’s approach to Industry 4.0. Early bird registration ends March 31.
Kathy Barbeire

Written by Kathy Barbeire

Kathy Barbeire is a seasoned professional with a strong track record in leveraging new technology, data analysis, and storytelling to drive organizational success. As the marketing manager at CAT Squared since 2015, Kathy stays updated on industry trends to ensure our products remain adaptable to evolving standards and prepares our customers for disruptive technologies. She actively participates in a blockchain learning group associated with Blockchain for Arkansas (BC4AR), an initiative led by Governor Asa Hutchinson. Kathy's expanding knowledge and expertise enable her to create informative content that educates our supply chain partners and helps them navigate upcoming transitions. Kathy's educational background includes graduating magna cum laude from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) with a Bachelor of Arts degree in professional and technical writing, along with double minors in sociology and information technology. She later completed the MBA program at UALR. Prior to joining CAT Squared, Kathy applied her passion for data-driven storytelling to assist nonprofits in defining goals, tracking program metrics, and engaging donors and community stakeholders. She served as a program manager at the Our House Homeless Shelter in Little Rock and later at The Salvation Army Central Arkansas Area Command.