Andrew McAfee at Manufacturing 2.0. Source: Rockwell.

Get on board with IT or fail

Andrew McAfee, Harvard Business School professor, lecturer and author, delivered a stern warning to manufacturers during his keynote address at Rockwell Automation’s Manufacturing 2.0 Conference: if they haven’t embraced the latest IT tools, they stand to lose the battle for market dominance to their more up-to-date competitors. McAfee demonstrated that since corporate spending on IT tools began to increase in 1995, manufacturers who invested considerably more in IT began to see an unprecedented, large payoff reflected in sales and performance compared to companies who simply maintained IT spending levels. Before 1995, there wasn’t much difference in spending for IT between the low and high performers in manufacturing. With the emergence of Web-based technologies, forward-thinking manufacturers realized that a sound IT investment would more than pay off in the future.

Today, McAfee points out, the larger IT spenders are the leaders in their industries-running the gamut from retail to food to pharma. And for those market leaders who spent the largest sums on implementing IT, there is no way to opt out today without taking a major hit from the competition.

According to McAfee, manufacturers who have adopted the latest tools-many of them Internet- and Web-based-have seen a variety of benefits, provided they’ve adapted to the cultural changes the tools tend to create. While the tools foster better analysis, more experimentation and corporate innovation, manufacturers also have discovered that the new tools have broken down walls of responsibility and encouraged input from workers who may not have had access before to functions such as product design or business processes. 

This new level of communication allows cross-functional teams to participate globally. Work flows are changing, inventory turns are shortened and marketing can involve more participants from non-marketing areas of the company. Best of all, analyses can be performed in real time, and there is always a window open to what’s going on in the enterprise.

In his book, Enterprise 2.0, McAfee examines the growth of new tech companies in the mid-90s and discusses the ways in which their products contributed to the tools available today: “Web browsers, PDAs, XML, modern ERP systems, RSS, the Blackberry, the iPod and iPhone, Java, wikis, and Google’s Page Rank algorithm. Large and influential companies, many of them founded since the mid-1990s, have either generated or profited from these innovations,” says McAfee. Some of these companies include Amazon, eBay, Google, SAP, Oracle, Cisco, Microsoft,, Apple, Facebook and RIM.

According to McAfee, few people at the time expected the appearance of new and powerful information technologies for corporations. And even fewer expected these digital technologies to come from online communities rather than a university research center or a high-tech lab. But a new suite of technologies developed to support communities on the Web is entering corporations and having a large impact on them, he says.

Now it’s up to processors to adopt them or not-to become market leaders or to be distant followers.

General Mills: Best place for IT workers

IDG’s Computerworld magazine named General Mills as the best place to work in information technology (IT) in the United States. General Mills has made the annual Computerworld Best Places to Work in IT list for 11 years, advancing to the No. 1 spot from No. 3 in 2008.

PACK EXPO 2010 to include processing

The board of directors of the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI), owner and producer of the PACK EXPO trade shows, voted to expand the shows’ focus on the packaging supply chain to include processing solutions. The new integrated approach will begin with PACK EXPO International 2010.

“Today’s consumer and industrial goods companies are combining the engineering teams within their companies in order to support total systems solutions for their enterprise,” says Charles D. Yuska, president and CEO of PMMI. “Their focus is clearly on overall operational excellence across the production line. It is abundantly clear that PACK EXPO needed to mirror the industry it serves by broadening its exhibitor focus to include processing solutions.”

The first event featuring the expanded show will be PACK EXPO International 2010, scheduled for October 31-November 3, 2010 at
McCormick Place
in Chicago, IL.

Automation News

Cloud computing could make it easier for small- and medium-sized processors to afford sophisticated software applications.

Cloud computing: Pie in the sky?

You’ve got a job to do. Your computer connects you to your process, supply chain and customers. Windows, Linux, Mac, Solaris, Blackberry: Do you care what operating system your computer runs? Probably not, but you do care about your connection to the Internet and to your process, supply chain and customers.

According to Bob Palumbo, Progress Software vice president of partner marketing and partner development, the Internet will become the “operating system” of the future. “We’re a big proponent of what is called software as a service (SaaS), or some call it ‘cloud computing.’” The terms are sometimes used interchangeably.

Progress Software provides the tools (Open Edge) for application developers to craft the software end users, such as food processors, run in their day-to-day jobs. Think of these basic tools as the platform that hosts your ERP, warehouse or customer relationship management (CRM) system.

You’re probably familiar with cloud computing because you’re already using it. A good example is Web-based banking or income tax software. The software doesn’t reside on your personal machine. Instead it runs somewhere else in the “cloud,” and your machine and its Web browser is simply a client.

“Does anyone really know what OS or database Google uses? Do they care? The user just wants to login to his/her software. As we move in the direction of SaaS and cloud computing, the choice of an OS, tools or database-other than for the company providing the services-is irrelevant,” adds Palumbo.

Progress Software may write platform software, but it also purchases software. And Palumbo says, if there’s a choice between a software product that runs on native servers in his building or off premises on the Web, his company will opt for the Web-based SaaS or cloud version because it represents much less of an impact on the Progress IT staff. So, why wouldn’t a food processor look for a SaaS application when it doesn’t have the time or an adequate staff to handle IT chores?

An important consideration for cloud computing is the user interface, which must support the application and not be overly complex. While most end users want access to their systems over the Web with a GUI-based desktop look-and-feel, the GUI may be overkill for someone in the warehouse environment who needs a simple character-based wireless terminal. What’s important, adds Palumbo, is that users want to get the job done with the appropriate technology. Cloud computing can make this happen more easily.

A decade age, purveyors of SaaS applications were known as application service providers (ASPs), says Palumbo. “Clearly then there were data concerns, reliability and security issues,” he adds. Because users’ data resided off site, there was a concern for protecting the data from prying eyes and worry about the longevity of the ASP itself. Some users were stuck when their ASP went Chapter 11 without a word of warning. Now, tools are in place to protect data from theft, corporate espionage and Chapter 11 scenarios, says Palumbo. And the Internet is far more reliable as well.

Small to medium-sized food processors stand to gain from cloud computing. They don’t have to spend a lot of money on software. Instead, they pay as they go-just like a month-to-month lease. Their applications are kept up to date by the SaaS provider, and the hosting and database management is done off site, requiring no expensive hardware investments. While small processors may not have an IT staff, they still can take advantage of sophisticated applications the big companies use.

Of course, this model won’t fit every processor and every application, says Palumbo. While processors wouldn’t want to run a process control system with SaaS, it might make sense to investigate cloud computing for tasks like ERP, CRM and inventory management, says Palumbo.

For more information, contact Bob Palumbo via e-mail or 781-280-4627.

Can you trace me now?

While Wi-Fi and licensed radio technologies can serve the bulk of wireless applications, wireless cell phone communications may fill in where the first two can’t, says Mike Day, vice president and chief technology officer of ADC, a wired and wireless networking solution provider.

Cell phone technology, of course, doesn’t work like TCP/IP, but it can “dial in” from remote locations where cell phone base stations exist. And, according to Day, it’s getting harder and harder to find locations in the US where people exist and cell phone technology doesn’t.

A primary advantage to cell phone technology is its reasonably low cost hardware, which often is reduced to a single chip or two. In countries like India and China where cell technology is the primary communication medium requiring no wired infrastructure, the costs are relatively low in comparison to a wired network. 

As far as food industry applications, one application could use a cell-based temperature sensor that monitors the temperature of refrigerated/frozen foods on a truck as it moves from plant to warehouse to distributor. In a refrigerated warehouse, various monitoring applications would lend themselves to wireless cell technology. According to Day, cellular coverage is improving to the point that cellular technology could be a good solution in a multi-acre distribution center.

Another potential application where Wi-Fi or even licensed radio technology often is used is the vineyard-for monitoring ground moisture, air temperature, humidity, etc. Day says there is existing cell coverage in most vineyards that could handle the job. With a high-valued product such as wine, monitoring these parameters is a necessity.

How would costs compare? Obviously, with licensed radio and Wi-Fi, the costs are fairly easy to determine, except when there are unanticipated wrinkles in coverage. While messaging (“texting”) fees have been known to be exorbitant to many consumers, rates for data transmission can be very reasonable, says Day.

While cell technology isn’t a panacea for all wireless applications, it does have some advantages. Day lists them:

  • Near ubiquity of service over a wide area of the developed world;
  • Can also work within distribution centers and processing centers using indoor coverage and capacity solutions;
  • Availability of low-cost, data-only service from some carriers;
  • Technology available in dual and tri-band configurations for additional coverage and performance options;
  • Mature technology with known propagation and quality of service characteristics;
  • Large-scale technology on aggressive, continuous improvement technology cost and capability curve: cost effective for many applications now, will be more cost effective in the future;
  • Can be easily integrated with a variety of sensor technology, e.g., temperature sensor, vibration sensor, location services, GPS and (through Bluetooth interface) many other technologies;
  • Cellular technology available in all developed and most developing countries in the world to address global supply and distribution chains;
  • Technology and service is easy to maintain and diagnose due to widespread understanding of cellular capabilities and locally available service and maintenance technicians;
  • Standards-based technology has more vendor options and lower costs than most proprietary solutions.
Mike Day can be reached at 952-917-0150 or via email.

Food Safety News

Federal court says no to GE alfalfa

In a decision handed down in San Francisco, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has re-affirmed its previous decision upholding a nationwide ban on the planting of genetically-engineered (GE) Roundup-Ready alfalfa, pending a full environmental impact statement (EIS), according to the Center for Food Safety (CFS). The court determined that the planting of genetically modified alfalfa can result in potentially irreversible harm to organic and conventional varieties of crops, damage to the environment and economic harm to farmers.

Although the suit was brought against USDA, Monsanto Co. and Forage Genetics entered into the suit as defendant-intervenors, according to CFS. In September 2008, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling, but the intervenors continued to press the appeal alone, requesting the appellate court to rehear the case. The latest decision denied the request and re-affirmed the earlier decision in full.

“This ruling affirms a major victory for consumers, ranchers, organic farmers and most conventional farmers across the country,” said Andrew Kimbrell, CFS executive director. “Roundup-Ready alfalfa represents a very real threat to farmers’ livelihoods and the environment. This ruling is a turning point in the regulation of biotech crops in this country,” added Kimbrell.

Cookie dough takes its toll

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are warning consumers not to eat any varieties of prepackaged Nestlé Toll House refrigerated cookie dough due to the risk of contamination with E. coli O157:H7.

FDA advised consumers who may have any prepackaged, refrigerated Nestle Toll House cookie dough products in their home to throw them away. Cooking the dough is not recommended because consumers might get the bacteria on their hands and on other cooking surfaces.

Retailers, restaurateurs and personnel at other food-service operations should not sell or serve any Nestlé Toll House prepackaged, refrigerated cookie dough products subject to the recall.

Nestlé USA, which manufactures and markets the Toll House cookie dough, is fully cooperating with the ongoing investigation by the FDA and CDC. The warning is based on an ongoing epidemiological study conducted by the CDC and several state and local health departments. Since March 2009 there have been 66 reports of illness across 28 states. Twenty-five persons were hospitalized; 7 with a severe complication called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). No one has died.

Too much sugar!

USDA urged to reverse Bush-era gag rule preventing criticism of soda

Bush-era rules at USDA prohibit states from using federal nutrition education funds for discouraging soda consumption, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is urging Secretary Tom Vilsack to reverse them. The Bush Administration’s policy was adopted shortly after the soft drink industry complained to state officials running campaigns that urged consumers to cut back on soft drinks, according to CSPI, and is out of sync with the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

“Soft drinks are the only food or beverage directly linked to obesity,” said CSPI Legal Affairs Director Bruce Silverglade. “Yet under the Bush Administration, USDA gagged state health officials and blocked important nutrition education efforts. We hope the Obama Administration will quickly reverse course and instead actively support state campaigns aimed at reducing soda consumption and obesity.”

According to CSPI, the policy has its roots in a 2003 USDA memorandum prohibiting the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funds for disparaging or criticizing any food, issued after the state of Maine ran an ad campaign encouraging people to cut back on soda. In March 2009, the USDA restated the gag rule in a guidance document for state health officials.

In 2008, USDA told California officials the state could not use federal funds to run a “Soda-Free Summer” campaign. To obtain funding, California had to change the campaign motto to the milder “Rethink your Drink.” Just last month USDA’s western regional office objected to the state’s “Be Sugar Savvy & Soda Free Summer Campaign.” According to CSPI, that campaign is not funded with federal funds, but regional USDA officials believed it was “disparaging” to soft drinks and objected because they feared it might appear to be funded by the federal government. USDA blocked similar campaigns conducted by the state of Wyoming.

According to CSPI, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published jointly by USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, advises people to “choose and prepare foods and beverages with little added sugars or caloric sweeteners.” USDA’s Food Guide recommends that people who consume a reasonable amount of fat and calories should consume no more than 8 teaspoons of added sugars a day-which is less than the amount of sugar found in a typical 12–oz. can of soda.

“This is just a matter of permitting states to run nutrition education programs that are consistent with the federal government’s own dietary advice, so this should really be a no-brainer,” stated Ilene Ringel Heller, CSPI senior attorney.