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With production data driving the digital era, food safety specialist Fortress Technology reviews how, at the push of a button, automated data collection and record keeping provides valuable insight that powers decision-making and operational effectiveness on food processing lines.

Marking the roll out of the latest update to the company’s data collection package and Contact 4.0 software, Nathan Tankard from the European Technical Support team reviews how food factories of all sizes can streamline traceability, testing and maintain food safety compliance.

At the start of 2023, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) New Era of Smarter Food Safety rolled out. As with many developments initiated in North America, the UK and Europe are converging towards these rules, which place greater emphasis on enhanced recordkeeping, tech-based end-to-end traceability and improved predictive analysis. “A standardized, data-driven approach to traceability recordkeeping helps create a harmonized, universal language of food traceability. This will help pave the way for the industry to adopt and leverage more digital, interoperable, and tech-enabled traceability systems both in the near term and the future,” stated the former FDA Deputy Commissioner and food traceability pioneer Frank Yiannas.

Creating a centralised database of live and recorded data that assists food processors to automate QA documentation, Fortress Technology’s Contact 4.0 monitors the performance of inspection equipment, tracks events and documents all potential product risks. Turning potentially massive data streams into tightly monitored operational insight.

WHY GO DIGITAL?

Food processors are dependent on accurate data to ensure the distribution of safe food to consumers. The current approach to food safety requires stringent recordkeeping procedures. Automating the entire data logging process, alongside prompting operators to repeatedly test inspection equipment, Contact 4.0 removes the risk of human error jeopardising food safety.

Manually monitoring food inspection machine performance can be extremely labour intensive and impact productivity. Even those that have upgraded legacy systems continue to gather data on a machine-by-machine basis rather than integrating and analysing information side-by-side and building up a performance picture.

“Automated and networked data extraction and real time monitoring are proven to enhance production efficiency and minimise machine downtime,” reflects Nathan.

A real-time web-based remote machine monitoring solution, Contact 4.0 enables food processors to review, collect data and securely oversee the performance of an unlimited number of Fortress metal detectors, checkweighers or combination inspection machines connected on the same network. Developed in-house by the food safety specialist, Contact 4.0 eliminates many of the cumbersome functionality challenges that enterprising companies usually encounter. Most notably, infrastructure, data storage, security and scalability.

From viewing live event logs and performance verification checks, to quickly accessing records to support a recall event, Contact 4.0 offers processors a robust, simpler and safer way to rapidly stream and share performance data.

COHESIVE, PERSONALISED DATA VISUALS

Providing secure access via a web appliance and 24/7 monitoring of multiple units, Contact 4.0 sits on the same network as the Fortress digital metal detectors, checkweighers or combination systems. Compiling and communicating data events channelled through a compact Adapter box located in close proximity to the inspection machines, Contact 4.0 complies with all international food safety management standards, including HACCP, BRC and GFSI/SQF.

The interoperability of the OPC/UA Adapter allows customers to feed defined data and production parameters into a central server and auto-populate the files in real time. Adding the two-way communication facilitated by the Ethernet Adapter means that processors can extract and send data, as well as control and change settings remotely.

Capable of connecting an unlimited number of Fortress inspection machines on the same network, food processors can use Contact 4.0 to define and customise their data filters. Rejects, faults, changes in parameters, passed tests, failed tests, are all accurately logged and time stamped for regulatory compliance. Statistics can also be batched together and visual histograms generated.

To extract the data, authorised users simply log into the browser from any networked device, including laptops and tablets. “This is one of the critical benefits of a web based interface,” notes Nathan. In addition to retaining security within the firewalls of the food processors’ network, the cohesive reporting system allows authorised staff to troubleshoot performance issues remotely. Reports can be configured and emailed daily, per shift or weekly. Test failure, fault or non-conformity events trigger an automatic email alert, detailing when an event occurred on a specific machine, as well as the corrective actions required.

With Contact 4.0, event and machine performance information is stored securely for a minimum of 10 years. There is also the option to extend storage capacity to 20+ years. Data can be automatically transferred from the machine fleet to a centralised computer via a secure, password protected connection.

THE FUTURE OF MACHINE MONITORING

Better traceability, accountability, faster identification and taking corrective action when faults arise, leads to a safer food supply chain. Investigating contaminant events can be initiated by simply pressing a button.

“For businesses with multiple data sources, web-based solutions offers the flexibility required to collate meaningful information from different machines, with minimal effort or human intervention,” adds Nathan.

Fortress intentionally kept the front-end structure simple as it helps to keep data manageable, as well as delivering meaningful quality oversight for production and quality managers. “In addition to recording data, the software analyses data generated in real-time. It will immediately highlight critical parameters, such as contaminant reject trends and weight overfill costings, but will also red flag processes that might be drifting from specification,” expands the food inspection expert.

Once installed, the subscription-style data collection package can be easily scaled up to incorporate more systems, providing they are in the same inspection machine category. Additional reports that can be extracted include line efficiency, production rates, batch performance, compliance records and audit data.

Detailed records can be produced for any defined timeframe detailing what was happening during the inspection of product packs. Extra Adapter devices, locations and sites can be also added to the Contact 4.0 package, without having to repurchase the software.