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Spotlight: Tracking technology

Systems that provide A-to-Z product history can save time, money along entire supply chain

By Lauren Kramer
February 01, 2009

Product tracking is an integral part of the seafood industry, a process that, if done efficiently, can save time, money and headaches in the future. Whether for monitoring inventory, tracking the movement of seafood from origin to point of purchase or understanding shrinkage points, implementing a good tracking system makes great business sense every step of the way.

Like many seafood processors, David Brindle, plant manager at Pacific Star Seafoods in Kenai, Alaska, needed help tracking production, warehousing and shipments for the salmon and groundfish his company processes. When Pacific Star purchased a system called Seafood Inventory Management with Barcode Accuracy (SIMBA) five years ago, the tracking system answered all of the company's needs.

"We have it in place as a tracking inventory system that also enables us to comply with recall regulations," Brindle says. "While we've not had to deal with any recalls, we've done some sample recall work and self-auditing with the system, and it works extremely well. It's relatively simple to train people to operate the system, and Dynamic Systems offers good support."

Based in Redmond, Wash., Dynamic Systems markets SIMBA to the seafood industry as a plant tracking system.

"This system allows plant owners to start tracking product as it comes into the factory," says Kevin Cook, Dynamic's account manager.

SIMBA costs approximately $25,000 for a typical two-line production system, which includes hardware, software, training and support. One of its key features is a touch-screen computer at the point of production that features easy-to-identify icons.

"If your employees don't speak English, they can still easily recognize the product attributes on the screen," Cook says.

The computer is attached to a dedicated bar code label printer. When processors start boxing fish they can assign variable attributes to it, such as the number of fish in the box, the owner code, production area and catch vessel. When the information is filled, a compliance bar code label is printed for the box so that when it is shipped the product has an easily recognizable history.

"This system basically offers a cradle-to-grave solution for capturing product information," Cook says.

Among Dynamic's large clients are Trident Seafoods and Ocean Beauty, but SIMBA is also used by a host of smaller seafood processing plants and cold storage companies that handle fresh and frozen seafood and canned salmon. The most recent change to SIMBA is its adaptation to automated sorting equipment used by seafood processors.

"We're using a RYCO system grader now to sort fish on size and accumulate them until they reach a planned box weight," says Cook. "The only area SIMBA doesn't cover is accounting, so many of our customers will use an export feature to send data to their host computer accounting systems. SIMBA can be synchronized with systems like JD Edward, CatchManager and Great Plains, and we help feed the data stream, but we don't pretend to do accounting or sales."

NetYield is another tracking program for the seafood industry, manufactured and sold by LAN Info Systems in Plymouth, Mass. The company "specializes in managing weight-based inventory for companies that buy raw materials in one form and sell them in another," says Mark Bennie, CEO.

"It can be as simple as a single person buying fish on a dock with his laptop, to large clients like Ocean Beauty, which uses 32 versions of NetYield."

Like SIMBA, NetYield is geared toward users who may not have a college degree or who speak English as a second language. The software program, which costs $1,995 per user, uses simple coding schemes to enable users to recognize what product is turned into another. Training time depends on the complexity of a company's needs. "We provide about 10 hours of training per user, but not every user needs that much," Bennie says.

When a processor acquires product, NetYield enables the tracking of its attributes, including date of acquisition, country of origin and in the case of shellfish, data such as the harvest area and date and the license number of the harvester.

"Most of the time our customers store that information on the computer until they're ready to repackage or resell the product, at which point they'll create a barcode," says Bennie.

These days, NetYield is implementing changes as food manufacturers move gradually from the Electronic Data Interchange standard of company-to-company communication to the XML system.

"For awhile it will be both," says Bennie. "Most of the supermarkets are still using EDI but we are seeing the emergence of this new XML standard, which is going to be the future."

 

Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia

 

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