With pressures to meet regulatory and safety requirements, companies are taking their concerns about tracking, tracing and potential product recalls to vendors such as 3M Corp., Agile Software Inc. and MatrixOne Inc.
"It is critical to make the food supply more safe and have the ability to track, trace and recall when necessary in minutes or hours instead of days," says Mike Haldane, business manager for industrial services and solutions at 3M. Information in PLM software won't prevent product recalls based on events beyond the user's control, like the mad cow scenario in Washington, but it will enable companies to react more quickly by pulling a report that lists the outlets that ultimately received the items, he says.
3M in 1998 developed for internal use the 3M Integrated Package Management tool, complete with track and trace functionality, and released version 3.0 of the software for commercial use in January 2002. Now 3M is targeting companies in the food and beverage and consumer packaged goods industries, among others. Its acquisition of HighJump Software last week is expected to bring the company a tighter integration of its PLM technology with RFID-enabled supply chain technology. "It will give you an ability to capture the information or unique barcode number of all the raw material that possibly could have gone into the finished product," Haldane says. "You can tell pull a report that will tell within minutes where the product is or where it came from."
Agile officials report that a private label food company that uses meat in its soup turned to the vendor for advice shortly after the Canadian mad cow scare in 2002, because it wanted to ensure that it could identify which of its products were made with beef from Canada vs. beef from the U.S. The PLM software can record the country of origin in the product record, so the food company, which Agile wouldn't identify, can run reports to track down not only the origin of the meat used in the soup, but also that of other items like carrots and potatoes.
"The automotive and electronics industries have used PLM for years to track recalls and replacements," says Mike Adami-Sampson, vice president of product development at PLM vendor MatrixOne Inc. "The beef industry can benefit from lessons learned in these industries that have a proven need for PLM software."
Together, RFID technology and PLM software should eventually allow companies to track and trace raw food materials through the entire supply chain, industry experts say.