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Getting better visibility of your manufacturing process really is a matter of life and death
By Kevin Hibbins

At the time of writing, food safety and health authorities have been piecing together events that led to a widespread contamination of baby spinach found in retail-ready cut salads in supermarket outlets throughout Australia. Most theories as to the contamination’s cause are focusing on the presence of an “unwanted plant material”, most likely a noxious weed that has been harvested alongside the spinach and unwittingly included in the products sold to customers.

People have fallen ill, and some admitted to hospital. Products have been recalled nationwide, an investigation is under way and a food brand is in major reputational damage control. Without pre-empting or speculating on what authorities might find before the investigation is complete, the spinach contamination is a salient reminder of what is at stake when it comes to manufacturing, particularly food. 

At mQ Intelligence, we work with manufacturers of all types of goods to improve their capacity and capability through the power of data, technology and automation. We often emphasise the need for operational efficiency, cost optimisation and improved workplace health and safety as the reasons for lifting manufacturing performance.

But whether you are producing widgets or watermelons the objective is the same: without end products that are safe, high quality and reliable, there will be no trust with the consumer. 

Without trust, there is no business. 

However, trust starts long before the products are dispatched from the factory gate. Trust must be at the very heart of the manufacturing process and it begins by allowing staff to have visibility of all the moving parts that work together to turn raw material into a marketable, saleable product.

The more awareness staff have of what it takes to get product out the door and the more eyes they have on the operation, the lower the risk of potential problems being managed without transparency, minimised or missed. Visibility fosters collaboration, which leads to better decision making.

Our experience has shown that a large majority of manufacturing businesses are unfortunately still blind to this reality and operate their factories accordingly. It’s a bit like driving your car with no dashboard lights and a tinted windscreen at night. 

At mQ Intelligence, we have a six pillar framework to help factory managers achieve manufacturing excellence. Visibility is one of the six pillars. In our business, the first step towards improving your visibility is having the tools to see what is directly in front of you and being able to interpret its meaning to your business. 

We come across many manufacturing businesses where simple, yet fundamental metrics, are not measured at all, simply because the information is not visible. Or if they are measured via paper-based systems and spreadsheets, the business knows the collected data doesn’t present a true, accurate and timely view. 

At mQ Intelligence, visibility means being able to see the information, when and where it is needed through real-time data recording and reporting. It also means housing data into streams that seamlessly flow throughout departments across the business, rather than locking up information in data silos where accessibility is restricted. 

Visibility into the manufacturing process provides insight into the production supply chain, which affects the ability to track and trace, as well as record its genealogy. This is what investigators in the case of the spinach contamination are doing now - sifting through the evidence and probing all the supply chain links to find out what went wrong, where and how. 

Contaminated or unsafe products that have the potential to harm customers are the very worst of outcomes. But a lack of visibility still has myriad ways of hurting a business even if this disaster is averted. Lack of visibility generates inaccurate views of production, leading to inventory errors at both ends of the chain: raw materials and finished goods. 

Any manufacturing process running on incorrect stock levels creates orders for products that are out of sync with what customers need. And so the business chases its tail. This leads to either stock-outs (poor customer experience) or over-stock, which unnecessarily ties up working capital.

Providing visibility into the very workings of your processes is possible, so that at any time, you can see what’s happening where, when and by whom, and be notified of deviations. 

Data visibility is fundamental in protecting against catastrophe, but it also supports a culture of continuous improvement in your business, allowing you to shore up your areas of weakness and capitalise on your strengths.

Surely, the best time to increase your visibility is right now. mQ Intelligence provides a no obligation assessment of your manufacturing operations, which has helped some of Australia’s biggest brands improve their performance. 

To take advantage of this opportunity, reach out to Michael Woodruff at 
mQ Intelligence