Icicle’s Food ERP software provides real-time monitoring of the food processing supply chain, delivering a constant stream of information with actionable insights for food and cannabis producers. We’ve written recently on the ways that automation technology like Icicle can help food and cannabis companies fight the COVID-19 pandemic; in this article, we will go over six key ways that Icicle’s sophisticated automation technology enables data-driven decision making and processes at every stage of production.
1) Work with Real-Time Data for Better Collaboration and Decision-Making
The benefits of automation are many. First up, we take a look at the way automated, data-driven systems can help businesses be more responsive and efficient in their day-to-day operations. The unavoidable consequence of using a manual system is that your staff – especially QA staff – is working with stale data. In some sectors, like the egg industry, the margin for error is already thin and small mistakes can cost a lot. “With Icicle, we can catch the problem before we lose control,” Chris Foster from Ontario Pride Eggs told us.
“Our immediate return on investment for Icicle is real-time reporting that can capture non-conformities as they happen. If you receive real-time information and alerts, then you can act on it within minutes instead of hours – and fix it before it becomes a problem. It’s all on my dashboard; I can access Icicle through my computer, my tablet, or my phone.”
Chris Foster, Food Safety and Quality Coordinator at Ontario Pride Eggs
A centralized, real-time food ERP application also helps employees communicate with one another more effectively, maximizing the time they can spend on the important tasks. Quality assurance staff continuously struggle to find current information. In high-risk industries like meat and poultry, timeliness and accuracy for inspectors is crucial. Dave Maguire of Hayter’s Farm, which produces turkeys and turkey products, explained to us that, with Icicle, his quality control staff can pull up all their verification procedures and inspection records in one place. “So they could do their auditing right from their own office without having to track us down,” Dave said, “and it is seamless.”
If you are doing the work of inputting real-time data into a centralized system, it doesn’t make any sense to stop there. As Icicle users enter more data into their food ERP software, the more powerful it becomes. This virtual model of their business offers predictive analysis, displaying trending data related to many of Icicle’s core features, including production, maintenance, and data-driven dynamic costing. For Chris, this meant ensuring high-quality data at all times to deliver maximum benefits: “An automated system uses your data for trending and the graph is never cut; there is never a last good check to measure against. There is so much more data available so your risk is dramatically diminished.”
2) A Food ERP System Can Centralize All Data to Be Ready for Audits at Any Time
With real-time data, preparing for audits transforms from a months-long preparation process to instant results. Chris told us that, “In Icicle, I can pull up the last six months of records in the span of five seconds.” During audits, Icicle enables you to be responsive to all questions and requests from auditors, as the CEO of Honest Dumplings explained:
“I love when I talk to some of the other food manufacturers that we know and they spent like four or five hours with an auditor because they picked something hard, and I can just click a button. Sometimes I end up spending more time with the auditor arguing with them that I don’t need to complete more steps – Icicle is already doing it.”
Chris Lerohl, CEO of Honest Dumplings
The availability of real-time information across the enterprise helps consolidate multiple disconnected systems. Documentation always stays current and compliance requirements are automatically reinforced, aligning staff with industry best practices. As the Operations Manager at Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry put it:
“Icicle is the central spot for all our information. This is not a dusty binder on the shelf, it’s a real-time solution that is accessible to our staff, and that is key.”
Joe Falk, Operations Manager at Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry
3) Use Smart Suggestions to Make HACCP Compliance Faster and Easier
Icicle provides expert system intelligence in a number of its core feature areas, especially to align operations to documented food safety, fraud, and defence plans (HACCP, VACCP, and TACCP.) Icicle’s Food ERP mines its existing database of over 1.1 million products to provide smart suggestions regarding the potentially hazardous biological, chemical, physical, and radiological hazards that may be introduced by incoming ingredients, materials, or packaging, and also those introduced and/or controlled by production processes.
For food manufacturing companies just getting started with HACCP, Icicle’s smart suggestions feature saves them time and helps them learn the HACCP principles. Steven Crutchfield from the olive oil producer Villa Cappelli shared that, “Smart suggestions streamlined things and helped me understand what was needed at each step, with flow charts that made everything clear. This saved me a ton of time and paper.”
Dave from Hayter’s found Icicle’s smart suggestions to be particularly useful for training employees. “[Icicle] actually almost pre-writes it for them,” Dave explained. Removing the laborious process of filling out forms saved employees a lot of time and removed some other problems entirely, such as bad handwriting or papers getting wet or smudged. “With the Icicle system, it’s fantastic,” Dave said. “It’s very hard to make a mistake.”
For the more seasoned users, Icicle’s predictive smart suggestions expedites changes to products or introduction of new ones into production runs. As operational complexity grows, there is an increasing number of critical control points to process, monitor, and track. With Icicle’s smart suggestions tool and other time-saving features, Chris from Honest Dumplings can easily add new products into his HACCP program:
“Icicle is phenomenal at handling that complexity. Once Icicle is set up, it’s so easy to add a new product or do a product extension and implement that into the HACCP program because [Icicle] is already pulling from the generic product that has already been set up.”
Chris Lerohl, CEO of Honest Dumplings
4) Build Threat and Vulnerability Assessments for VACCP & TACCP Compliance
VACCP (Vulnerability Assessment and Critical Control Points) and TACCP (Threat Assessment and Critical Control Points) plans are a newer requirement for the food industry that build upon HACCP methodology to address the growing risks of bioterrorism and food fraud. Icicle’s statistical analysis engine assigns risk levels for these types of threats and automatically generates VACCP and TACCP plans for users. For Paul from P&S Frozen Foods, this meant that an unexpected requirement right before an audit was easily addressed, even at the last minute.
Users can easily build threat and vulnerability assessments, and Icicle will automatically generate a weighted risk rating for suppliers, raw materials, and employees, based on a simple series of range responses to specific questions.
In order to further reduce risk, Icicle users can require that threat and vulnerability assessments be verified before certain tasks are carried out, such as issuing orders to new suppliers or releasing ingredients from QA hold. With Icicle’s Supplier Management infrastructure, you can easily monitor existing suppliers and track their certifications, with handy reminders sent when certifications are about to expire.
5) A Food ERP Helps Optimize Operations and Maintenance Workflows
Using Icicle’s predictive and intelligent algorithms, Icicle’s Food ERP also offers planning, scheduling, and optimization by providing suggestions regarding:
- the processes that are most likely to be employed and specific facility types;
- the quantity and timing of raw material orders to ensure optimal inventory management and lean production processes;
- the quantity and timing of precursor and finished goods production to ensure optimal fulfillment rates;
- the order in which inventory should be consumed or shipped in order to maximize shelf life;
- the timing of equipment maintenance and repair in Icicle’s Maintenance Management;
- and much more.
With these dynamic and intelligent suggestions, Icicle Food ERP users can easily manage their day-to-day operations and ensure maximum efficiency and uptime during production processing. But while they are useful on an everyday basis, they shine even more during an emergency. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Chris from Honest Dumplings had access to a live report on inventory at all times. He explained:
“Having that cloud-based system, we were able to monitor our inventory and were able to jump on securing our meat supply as well as building inventory and raw ingredients to ensure that if there was a supply chain disruption, then we would be able to keep producing. Having that information through Icicle was very valuable.”
Chris Lerohl, CEO of Honest Dumplings
All of these are also connected to Icicle’s task management infrastructure, which provides reminders – including recurring reminders – to individuals within an organization or to a particular role within an organization (for example, a maintenance team member) until the task is completed. Notes can be added to each task for clearer communication and upcoming and outstanding tasks are displayed in user-friendly dashboards. Chris loves the freedom that Icicle gives him as a manager, knowing that all of his employees know exactly what needs to be done:
“I don’t have time to really “project-manage,” but Icicle is doing it for us. And it’s even more than that; we have amazing people who are able to execute their roles in the system we’ve developed through Icicle.”
Chris Lerohl, CEO of Honest Dumplings
6) ERP Systems Reduce Spoilage and Improve Production Outcomes with IoT Integration
Regulatory requirements mandate the keeping of detailed records on the food manufacturing process, but at Icicle, we see all that data as an opportunity to make things work better – and so we are always looking for more ways to make your data work for you. IoT (the Internet of Things) is part of the rolling waves of automation, automating the collection of data and integrating it with Icicle and other systems in use in a production facility, warehouse, field, truck, etc.
By bringing Icicle’s Food ERP together with IoT devices that can send Icicle real-time data automatically (without any manual steps), Icicle enables you to:
- Identify Pattern Deviations: Once normal operating ranges are set for IoT sensors, automatic system alerts notify you as soon as something’s wrong or headed down an irregular path;
- Foresee Food Safety Failures: A strong food safety plan goes a long way when it comes to preventing errors, but when everything is monitored manually, you’re bound to miss things. The software, however, reads data in real-time, can find abnormalities without delay, and alerts you when set ranges are broken;
- Isolate Problems When They Occur: As new products and processes are set in place, unexpected food safety issues can still occur. Thankfully, with a strong set of data behind you, your software can help you discover the source of the issue and identify the affected products faster than you could on your own.
Let’s look at a simple example of how this could work in practice. Say you are producing poultry products, which have to be maintained at certain temperatures depending on the stage of production. With IoT temperature monitoring devices connected to Icicle, you can pre-set thresholds in Icicle and if those thresholds are exceeded, Icicle automatically sends notifications to appropriate users and incident management functions are launched to ensure rapid response – long before a problem becomes a Problem.
Just as IoT integration helps you prevent problems, including reducing risks of spoilage and other hazards, it also helps you look to the future and bring an unprecedented level of intelligence to food producers. The growing array of available IoT sensors are also helping cannabis producers capture valuable data that helps maximize yields and optimize resources for precision farming.
Conclusion: Data-Driven Decision Making with Icicle’s Powerful Automation Engine
With data-driven decision-making, Icicle Food ERP users can leverage the power of their data and automation to optimize operations and costs. Icicle doesn’t accomplish all this just by making a digital binder: it is constantly working and employing advanced technology to minimize bureaucratic tasks and maximize productivity. As Dean from TMRW Foods explained to us in a recent case study:
“We definitely don’t want a highly bureaucratic micromanaged culture as we keep growing… and it’s not just having a bunch of processes and steps in place to inundate people with reporting and data capture. It’s more really distilling it into what are the most important elements of our operation, building this centralized system that helps ensure that we keep doing the right things at the right time without constantly needing to be reminded, or without constantly needing to have somebody driving that.”
Dean Blignaut, Co-Founder and President of TMRW Foods
With a user-friendly system that pulls together all the important information in one place, Icicle users can focus on growth. “One of the things I really like about Icicle is that it can be that backbone,” Chris told us. “When we add the next facility, it’s really simple for us to transition everything we’ve already developed over to that second facility as well.”