The Untold Story of ProMat 2013: Inventory Control for Small Food Manufacturers and Distributors
ProMat 2013 is in the rear-view mirror. The show happens every other year at Chicago’s McCormick Place. Hundreds of thousands of square feet allow exhibitors and attendees to view some interesting, and no so interesting material handling products. Expertly produced by Material Handling Industry (MHI), the shows attendance was easily in excess of 40,000 despite temperatures well below zero degrees Fahrenheit.
MHI is the nation’s largest material handling, logistics, and supply chain association. MHI members include material handling and logistics equipment companies, systems and software manufacturers; consultants; systems integrators and simulators; and third-party logistics providers and publishers.
ProMat 2013 featured products that save backs, avoid injury, and honor the very best in ergonomics, from Southworth’s Hydraulic Scissor Lift Tables to the Wall Street Journal award-winning Lift’n Buddy two wheel automation-rich hand-trucks.
There were major corporations represented among the attendees with titles ranging from vice-president of supply chain to senior executive operations directors. There were also thousands of small manufacturers, distributors, 3PLs, present to see what products could help their operations.
Some were looking for replacement wheels; some were looking for a new forklift. Some came to see if there was an affordable conveyor system for their small plant others were impressed by leasing deals offered by robotic industrial truck pioneer Seegrid. Attendees from smaller industrial firms, many with fewer than a hundred employees, are facing the challenges of complex assembly, picking, distribution, and inventory control.
Sadly the various solutions found at this most important material handling event did not address the vital and comprehensive issue of inventory control. From cloud-based solutions to hardware and software vendors, solution providers for the small food and beverage manufacturer and distributor were not present at ProMat. What many in the food service sector shared was their need to specifically address the inventory control and asset management issues. Warehouse Management Systems, Supply Chain technologies, picking and packing solutions galore, but the rudimentary accounting software and corresponding manufacturing needs were left unaddressed.
Automate the co-located event across the hall at Chicago’s McCormick Place during ProMat was visited by more engineers and “hard” industrial applications firms. Thousands of food and beverage executives visited ProMat and shared some of the issues they faced.
Far from the world of SAP, Oracle, and MicroSoft ERP solutions, is the information space occupied by tens of thousands of small and midsized food and beverage manufacturers. An increasing percentage of these “mom and pop” food producers turn to QuickBooks by Intuit for accounting functionality. For some of these very small companies the QuickBooks solution alone has been sufficient to streamline critical workflows, solve unique business needs like inventory and order management, and permit the owner to work anytime, anywhere, and still access data.
As these companies grow in sales, orders, and complexity, Fishbowl Inventory has been the most frequently requested inventory solution for QuickBooks users for more than a decade. As small-to-medium companies grow and face increasing competition, the flexible cost-effective combination of Fishbowl Inventory and QuickBooks grows alongside small food manufacturers.
More than eighty percent of small food manufacturers (fewer than 250 employees) report the belief that they must spend significant sums of money or undergo the arduous learning curve to move to a bigger accounting and inventory platform. That belief notwithstanding, inventory management has a profound effect on the bottom-line of nearly all food manufacturing and processing companies.
The Special Needs of Traceability Among Food Manufacturers and Distributors
Delving deeper into the needs of food manufacturing, processing, and distribution companies is the intersection with regulatory compliance. From new Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA) to FDA mandates to Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP), food companies cannot avoid compliance; it can be the cause of the company’s downfall. Traceability capabilities are critical in this sector…lives are at stake.
Fishbowl Inventory addressed this element of regulatory compliance in a series of tools and reports, starting with lot history. Having a complete history of raw materials from where they came and where they were used in finished food product is necessary in the food industry. Specific lot numbers can be entered to see complete history, including the purchase orders from which ingredients came into inventory. Small food manufacturers can also view the customers who received finished inventory where that lot number was used as a raw material.
Similarly a Lot Recall Report shows the customers and contact information for all customers that have been shipped product that contains a specific raw material lot number.
Batch Manufacturing are special food manufactures who usually make large batches of unpackaged product. They require flexibility in being able to adjust raw material counts on the fly and accurately enter how much finished batch was processed.
Since many food manufactures have multiple different package types and sizes, packaging processes must also be reportable. They regularly have large bags or boxes that are used to store the batch material until it is ready to be packaged in smaller units. Fishbowl can be configured to keep track of any packaging processes and allow for multiple package types to be created from one batch of material.
This cost-effective solution also allows for different units of measure to be used at each step in the manufacturing process. Material can be purchased in one unit or measure, stored in inventory as another, and consumed on a work order in another. Food manufacturers have very specific units of measure that need to be tracked during each of these processes.
No aspect of the food business is more required than the ability to track a wide variety of data. The best solutions must allow for Lot number, Expiration date, Revision, and any custom tracking fields. It is important to easily capture this information and reference for auditing purposes.
Perhaps food manufacturing events throughout the rest of the year will address some of these needs and requirements. By ProMat 2015 the scope, range, and conversations heard this past week in Chicago will influence the products, services, and needs of many of the small food manufacturers who shared their issues at ProMat 2013.