Ensuring Food Quality: Measuring Is the First Step

Tiffany M. Donica
Continuous Improvement Coach

Food quality metrics tell a compelling story of how well your company is performing. The cost of quality can significantly impact your bottom line, but tracking quality metrics allows you to address issues proactively. Through robust automated solutions, today’s food and beverage companies are taking control of their quality by identifying and eliminating variability and reducing costs related to rework and returns.

What Are KPIs in the Food Industry?

Tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) clarifies opportunities for manufacturers to minimize costs, maximize profitability, and drive effective continuous improvement. Using KPIs efficiently allows manufacturers to take a proactive approach rather than constantly reacting to rework, returns, and recalls. While KPIs can vary widely from one process manufacturer to another, there are several that many facilities share in common. KPIs may be broad or highly specific but should directly relate to one of the following key attributes:

  • Safety

  • Quality

  • Yield

  • Productivity

One drawback of focusing on KPIs is that sometimes, enterprise-level or operations can fall into the trap of emphasizing the wrong KPIs or may try to track so many that the data are no longer helpful. When this happens, employees may alter how they perform processes, resulting in inaccurate operational measurements. Tailor KPIs to your process within your part of the industry, and identify areas of challenge and opportunity. Rampant or irrelevant KPIs can not only muddy the waters when attempting to drive improvement, but they can also cultivate unwanted behaviors and unintended consequences, so it’s crucial to consider the aftereffects.

What Are Examples of Quality Metrics?

Here are some critical quality metrics you can track to ensure you are meeting your quality goals:

  • Number of Complaints

Customer complaints are important to track and provide insights into how well your facilities meet expectations. A sudden increase in complaints always warrants further investigation. A sense of safety can lull manufacturers if they only track whether a product meets industry or manufacturer specifications. While products may meet specifications after testing, if a facility sees a sudden uptick in customer complaints, that is a sign that there could be too much deviation within batches.

  • Number of Product Defects

The number of defects relative to the total volume of products made can shed light on inefficiencies or processes with room for improvement. One line could be operating with older equipment, or the manufacturer may have issues with the quality of ingredients from the supply chain. Developing a robust supply chain program by implementing supplier management software can streamline processes and drive product consistency. Manufacturers must also ensure that facilities adhere to scheduled maintenance for equipment.

  • Overall Equipment Effectiveness

Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) can help determine whether a manufacturer actively optimizes its resources. There are three parts to OEE: availability, performance, and quality. Tracking this metric helps companies determine when it might be time to consider replacements. OEE does not only apply to the physical equipment that produces the product; it also encompasses all the processes that are part of the manufacturing time. Manufacturers track OEE as a percentage score, and many set a goal of achieving 85%. 

  • Downtime

Time lost during production is a critical metric to track, as it directly correlates with profitability. When a machine breaks down, or there is a stop in production for another reason, you are losing revenue—so pay special attention to this critical metric. Downtime can be planned or unplanned; an example of planned downtime would be scheduled maintenance or repairs, and unplanned downtime could be an unexpected malfunction that requires part or all of a line to be shut down for an unknown period of time.

  • Count

Facilities should track good or bad counts over shifts and time frames such as weeks or months. Consistent counts are key. With these counts, facilities can use this essential metric to drive engagement among employees by encouraging them to meet new goals. However, data collection for the sake of collecting is inefficient. Many manufacturers are turning to statistical process control (SPC) software that tracks counts and creates real-time notifications and reports.

  • Rate

Process manufacturers often produce goods at variable rates, so tracking the factors that contribute to (and result from) variations in speed is essential to achieving consistency. While a sharp increase in speed can impact quality control, slow processes can cause your profitability to suffer. If your facility is tracking OEE, you’ll want to include variations in speed in your calculations. While the concept of OEE is relatively simple, adding in speed variables can complicate the calculations. For accuracy, consider integrating an OEE software that can create actionable reports that drive OEE-focused improvements.

  • Number of Corrective Actions

In addition to tracking the corrective actions themselves, tracking the actions taken in target time is also a good idea. Manufacturers may take corrective actions in processes for several reasons. While some reasons may be difficult to control, such as natural disasters or ingredient sourcing challenges, many others are due to failure to adhere to standard operating procedures (SOPs) or industry and manufacturer regulations. Too many corrective actions mean a rise in rework and scrap and can also eat into productive working hours for employees. Some manufacturers don’t efficiently track corrective actions and accept that “this is just the way it is.” Taking a continuous improvement approach counteracts this stagnation.

Optimizing Operations for Manufacturers with World-Class Software

Tracking metrics can benefit the entire facility from enterprise-level down. The key is identifying the most valuable and relevant KPIs and then developing a holistic approach to implementing them. From data collection to integrating improvements, manufacturers must find a way to use KPIs efficiently to remain competitive. A robust software platform can make all of this data visible for tracking and improving on. 

See why 2,000+ Facilities use SafetyChain

Book A Demo