Eric Ludwig was seeking a solution, «We were looking for a system that would provide accurate barcode labeling, finished product inventory control, real-time yield information, improved recall efficiency and GMP control.» The plant manager at Cooper Farms-Cooked Meats — a division of Cooper Hatchery, Inc., a supplier of cooked deli and sliced turkey products to large, private-label customers and national restaurant chains throughout the US — wanted to upgrade antiquated equipment and communicate remotely with the Defiance, Ohio, warehouse and distribution center. «We also needed a system the operators could easily use,» says Ludwig.
CAT² designs turnkey interactive solutions for companies like Cooper Farms. «Our team reviewed proposals from several suppliers. We ultimately implemented CAT²’s solutions, and the system is doing exactly what we needed it to do,» says Ludwig.
Selecting hardware was the first order of business. To avoid wiring the Van Wert, Ohio, plant and to eliminate the costs associated with cable and maintenance, the implementation team used radio frequency (RF)-based equipment, including RF hand-held units, portable barcode printers, and RF interfaces for scales and other plant equipment.
Now, any part of the system can be used anywhere in the plant. CAT²’s Further Processing Tools collects data from every process on the production floor. With intelligent Labeling, barcode scanning, and live scale weighing, the progress of a product mix lot, down to final product packaging, can be monitored. Many aspects of yield can also be analyzed as they occur, not days later. The end result is total management based on real-time data.
Ludwig appreciates that CAT²’s modules are designed specifically for ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook plants: planning, receiving, mixing, inventory control, and processing control through cooking, cooling, packing, and distribution are easily documented and controlled. Full lot/batch tracking is implemented throughout the process. Production date, time, lot/batch number, and other relevant information associated with each case of final product are retrievable through the software.
The Further Processing module accepts customer orders for final products for future delivery. Cooper customer orders from supermarkets, restaurants, and delicatessens are converted into mixing quantities for all ingredients: raw meat, spices, and other additives. The conversions to meat-block quantities are achieved through detailed formulations for each type of mix product. A bill-of-materials is calculated from product specifications, including packaging materials. The system then splits meat blocks into mix lots according to machine capacities (base weights) and assigns each lot a number. Mixed products, like injected meats that require equipment (pump) priming, will automatically increase mix weights by pre-defined prime volumes. Injected products, like breast meats, automatically show the required pick-up weight based on a specified injection percentage. Once the mix-lots are planned, preparation sheets are printed that show both the planned mix-lot details and complete instructions for raw meat mixing and spice preparation.
Raw Meat Receiving
As raw meat is received at Cooper Farms – in totes, vats, or on pallets – each unit is weighed, and the temperature of the meat is sampled using the Receiving module; at this point, other QC/HACCP checks, including visual grading, can also be conducted. The system then generates a unique receipt number for the raw meat product, and a portable RF printer outputs a label, which includes the weight and current date. Other details, such as kill-date, plant of origin, and the name of the person receiving product, are stored in the database.
CAT²’s software provides aging reports for all raw meat inventory and tracks which meat blocks consume which raw product. Any number of partial releases of the raw product to production is allowed and tracked individually. Losses from totes are explained by shrinkage. Raw spice receiving and pre-mixing raw spices is tracked by vendor and spice code. Each receipt is identified by a serial receipt number, and a label is printed. Raw spices are combined into controlled formulations – pre-mix lots – which are also uniquely numbered and labeled. Inventories of raw spices and pre-mixed spices going into any Cooper products are maintained in real time.
The preparation sheet generated by the production planning module is scanned by the RF hand-held, which is then loaded with the complete mix requirement. An operator scans the required meat tote labels for raw meat and a spice pre-mix label. All ingredients scanned into the mix-lot are validated by the Mixing system to prevent mixing incorrect ingredients. Substitution is permissible, but only according to rules set in the product specifications. The weight of all containers used in the mixing process are taken into account when measuring ingredients. Weights are recorded automatically by the RF hand-held, using the RF network.
All cooked products are racked before cooking by scanning the batch label generated after mixing. Each rack has its own metal barcode tag. By cross referencing the rack destined for a particular batch, product can be weighed prior to oven loading. Inventory reports now track the racks through each stage. The rack master file keeps track of each rack’s tare weight and the number of cycles the rack has served.
Racks are scanned into unique load numbers before entering the oven and are associated with a particular oven number. The system tracks which racks (and associated lots) are part of each load. The system offers options to weigh during or before oven loading. Weighing choices are based on scale locations within the plant to reduce the amount of reconfiguration needed for the system.
Rack Tracking, Pre-Cook, Post-Cook, Post-Chill, and Cooler Inventory
Racks with cooked products are weighed out of the oven for cook yield and sent into chilling. After chilling, the racks are weighed again to acquire the post-chill weight and cool yield. If racks are weighed a second time after cooler storage, the system will track the second cool weight and calculate a further storage loss. Cooper uses the second cool weight and yield point to account for further processing loss like stripping, browning, and deep frying.
Pack-Out and Palletizing
Pack-out is controlled by an in-line check-weigher with an auto-apply labeler for batch runs of product across other scales. Cooper uses a wireless mobile scale/printer combination for packing out sliced and special packaged products not run on the in-line labeling system. The mobile system can be moved to any location in the plant. Each case of final product is labeled with a serialized barcode, which associates that case of final product with an oven load and the relevant mix-lot. Racks are scanned onto pack-out lines with the RF hand-held, which tracks the associated mix lot by depleting the weight in the queue with weight in each case. Cases belonging to specific pallets can be tracked; the distribution system dispatches entire pallets by scanning one label. The system also monitors catch weights and reports on give-away of fixed-weight products.
Tracking and Recall
Recall could be conducted from either direction: forward from a raw meat or raw spice direction or from a final product direction back to the raw ingredients. Cooper hasn’t had to use this feature of the software in an actual recall. But during an independent audit, the CAT² system provided a worst-case recall (only the use-by date and product were provided) in 35 minutes, including all rework.
Ownership of the palleted finished product is transferred from production to the Warehouse Management System (WMS) module when the pallet is positioned in a slot in a freezer or cooler. The WMS freezer inventory control system integrates to the palletizing systems and provides integration, product flow, and distribution information. This function manages the freezer inventory. Placement of the product from palletizing to picking orders is controlled to reduce handling and related costs. The WMS is designed to receive pallets (mixed or same products) from the plant floor palletizing systems and either locate or dispatch the products. Pallets are dispatched using hand-held barcode scanners. The system stores the weight of each case for fixed or catch weight. Lot tracking is extended through the module. Each case is assigned a unique serial number at the box-end label scales. This unique case label is key to the weight, dates, and origin of the product. Cooper uses the WMS module to control dispatch in multiple locations.
Wireless RF hand-held units control dispatch and inventory functions; reports are available in real time. The software handles the dispatch of either pallets or individual cases. Pick lists for customer orders can be made, or products can be scanned onto a manifest for relocation to other dispatch facilities.
The six-phase installation of the CAT² monitoring, recall tracking, and process control system at the Cooper Farms plant wax completed in fewer than six months with no additional personnel needed.
“The installation was smooth and well-planned so we didn’t miss a beat during the changeover,» says Ludwig. «I like the system because I’m able to generate information in reports I could never track before.»