Mars is a truly global company. Their confectionery products, such as Mars, Snickers and Wrigley are household names around the planet, but they are equally big players in other, less obvious fields. For example, they are the manufacturers or distributors of no less than fourteen major food brands, most notably Uncle Ben’s rice, a staple found in kitchen cupboards around the world. They also have a huge health and life science business, Mars Symbioscience, which is a market leader in evidence-based product development.
In addition to all of this, Mars is probably one of the biggest names in petcare although few people might realise it. Based in Brussels, Mars Petcare employs more than 33,000 people in 50 countries and produces many of the market leading petcare brands in the world. These include Pedigree, Whiskas and Royal Canin as well as Kitekat, Cesar, Chappi, and more than three dozen others.
Mars Petcare has a modern and highly automated pet food manufacturing and packaging facility in Novosibirsk in central Russia. Almost the entire process, from delivery of the raw materials for the pet food at one end of the plant, to the packaging and shipping at the other, is computer controlled. To enhance product and ingredient traceability Mars Petcare wants to improve on their existing software, introducing modules specifically designed to allow them to look back along the process and identify the origin of every constituent part. In April 2012 they contact Softage and ask for our assistance.
For a company of this size, complexity, and occupying such a leading position in so many markets, product reliability is fundamental because reliability drives company reputation. A key facet of reliability in any food manufacturer, including pet food, is the ability to determine almost instantly the provenance of every single ingredient of every single product. Only then can the company react swiftly to identify the origin of a product that has become a cause for concern, allaying customers’ fears, restoring confidence, and even enhancing reputation.
Every ingredient arriving in the Mars plant is given a unique code which describes its nature and origin. Unfortunately the existing system at the Novosibirsk plant loses much of this data when ingredients are combined to form new intermediate products. The key for us is clearly to devise a system which not only allocates new identifiers to these intermediate products, but stores all the information about the original ingredients in a manner which allowed rapid tracing. This allows full transparency of the overall process be achieved and the ability to track every product and process delivered.
The Softage team’s first task is to extend the utility of the existing management package, a special type of InSQL application industrial database known as Wonderware Historian. We are able to adapt the application to enable not only the tracking of ingredients, but also the production of records of each and every event during the entire production process. Each is a unique code which allows plant managers to determine the origin and history of every ingredient associated with any particular event at the click of a button.
Mars also asks our team to look at how that information is displayed to the plant management. They want a simple, interactive, and intuitive on-screen interface to present shift managers with the newly available information about source and composition, which they can then use to make quick decisions about operational issues. This information must be presented to them in a way as to highlight the critical information foremost, but still allow the operator to drill down into the details, without drowning the users in a wall of information.
Our team is able to reconfigure the existing Factory Management System to display the events taking place on the production lines as well as the data on the batches and origins of the ingredients being processed. All of this information is corralled onto a simple and intuitive visual display. The display is touch sensitive and allows the shift manager to isolate any part of the process and access any of the data about provenance that he or she needs.
The Mars team is delighted with both aspects of the project and immediately invited Softage to continue their collaboration throughout 2013.
Tools & Technologies
The Mars project demanded of the Softage a deep understanding of the technology on which the inventory management software and the Factory Management System were based. This required a deep understanding of Java, Oracle and InSQL. It also required that they familiarise themselves with the software and firmware in certain pieces of equipment used to populate the inventory databases, such as bar code printers and scanners. Our team was equal to the challenge.