Each year, nearly 1.5 billion tons of perishable food is wasted due to inefficiencies found within the food supply chain, and 55 million tons of milk is thrown out before it even reaches the consumer. While there are many factors that contribute to food and dairy waste — and the ensuing pollution it causes — many have yet to consider the impact of one seemingly small aspect: label management. Yet the impact of this piece of the puzzle is considerable.
The truth is, poorly performing label management methods, legacy IT equipment and older software place a significant burden on supply chains across many levels. And to keep up with ongoing demands, support agility and ultimately become more sustainable, many food manufacturers could benefit from taking a more modern, digital and standardized approach to label management.
Streamline quality control: a key to success
Many still rely on manual practices that result in unsafe and inefficient labeling. For example, a method known as “six eyes” requires at least three individuals to physically inspect labels for approval.
Although this process provides some level of quality control, it’s time-consuming, highly prone to human errors and very labor-intensive. It also opens the door for troublesome scenarios such as an error only being noticed once on the line. This can drastically slow down operations and even cause workers to painstakingly apply new labels by hand, scan them into the system and then unpack them.
With a standard, enterprise-wide label management approach, human error can be reduced, and many issues can be prevented before problems arise. For example, standardized templates containing the right data can be stored centrally, and access can be granted based on a user’s function, which enables more oversight of who can use, edit and create label templates.
With a simple-to-use and deploy solution, standard label templates can also be easily extended to suppliers and other third parties. This further guarantees the right labels are used and reduces errors leading to recalls or relabeling. Additionally, if labeling is standardized, unplanned downtime and other delays can be decreased because there are fewer disparately operating points of failure.
Recalls mean lost opportunity and spoilage when shipping dairy products. A standardized labeling approach can help prevent this by simultaneously streamlining operations and improving efficiency.
For instance, many dairy manufacturers use direct marking printers to ensure expiration dates and batch numbers are correctly displayed on products. All too often, the label info inputted into these printers is from manual processes — for example, users physically punching data into a touch screen.
Manual data entry increases the chance of many common errors such as the wrong “best before” date or lot number. And when these mistakes occur, many perishable dairy products must be scrapped or quarantined — leading to lost business and waste.
A standard, centralized labeling approach via cloud and other means streamlines direct marking and makes it safer because it enables the ability to connect labeling with enterprise-wide functions. For instance, many manufacturers don’t integrate direct marking with larger systems such as manufacturing execution or enterprise resource planning systems. In these cases, individual locations in the same network may use varying procedures, making it harder to support, standardize changes or automate labeling.
Make labeling more sustainable
Cloud-based labeling can provide numerous advantages, including the ability to centrally store and access labels from any location, as well as the ability to digitize quality assurance and integrate labeling with enterprise-wide applications and sources of truth. Additionally, cloud and other digital labeling solutions often require less infrastructure, which can reduce electricity consumption during largescale efforts to create and manage labels.
Some cloud labeling solutions can even be configured to easily integrate with cloud-connected printers and other technologies as part of a highly connected ecosystem. This enables users to print labels from any cloud-connected device or mobile application in their network, which can eliminate the need for multiple pieces of local infrastructure such as servers or PCs that are always left on and consume power continuously.
A cloud-based approach can also do more with less equipment because it reduces excess created from siloed operations. By leveraging the cloud, organizations can centralize operations, requiring less IT assistance and hardware. Businesses can also reduce shipping between suppliers and different locations because cloud-based labeling does not force users to print labels at one specialized facility.
Future-proof dairy supply chain labeling
Labeling inefficiencies are not only wasteful, but also costly, with one recent study even finding manufacturers worldwide lose more than $1.31 million annually from production line shutdowns caused by labeling. However, much of this inefficiency and waste can be avoided by updating or replacing legacy solutions and manual approaches, which will no longer be maintainable in years to come. This is why a modern, standardized approach to label management is now more critical than ever, with a considerable impact on overall sustainability.