Maintaining quality standards across batches of finished products in the food and beverage industry can be difficult. There’s a thin margin between a spectacular and a terrible outcome in this industry. Therefore, quality control (QC) is necessary to minimize the chances of these “bad products” from reaching the end consumer.
As companies strive to maintain thin profit margins, QC lab managers may be under immense pressure from their senior leadership to speed up product vetting processes. Small mistakes here and there are all it takes for a subpar product to slip into the supply chain, which may increase a company’s number of food recalls and jeopardize the brand as a whole. Lawsuits are also a possibility. If you are a contract lab operation, you risk losing clients and looking unprofessional in the eyes of potential clients.
As a food and beverage QC lab manager, you must work quickly and efficiently to ensure that the period of time between supply chain selling out and restocking your products is short. Accuracy is equally crucial to ensure consistent product lifespan and a positive brand image. These qualities can be tough to combine when considering the number of stages each product will have to go through. Here are some ways that traditional workflow systems can fall short — and how you can avoid wasting precious time and resources.
The Shortcomings of Traditional Workflow Systems
Despite the technological advancement and the development of cloud-based QC workflow software, it is not uncommon to find some labs using tried-and-true paper or spreadsheets to document their processes.
Some of the most common productivity issues associated with traditional paper and spreadsheet methods are:
- Processes cannot be automated
- Computation with spreadsheets and paper wastes time
- Record-keeping becomes tedious as your lab grows
- Inability to take on more customers because of limited time and resources
- Challenges retrieving data and historical analysis
- Difficult to track growth rates and other key performance indicators (KPIs)
- Additional time managing processes can result in a failure to meet deadlines
- Duplicative entry of data across tools may skew results
- Quality audits are difficult and time-consuming
You may be familiar with paper and spreadsheets; however, you must look past your comfort zone and opt for more efficient methods. They lack the refinement of more modern tools like laboratory information management systems (LIMS).
How To Run an Efficient Food and Beverage QC Lab
The first time that a defective product reaches the consumer, they may make excuses for its producers: “It must have slipped past quality control.” They may hear a friend make a similar complaint. The following week, the product they just bought is slightly off—and it's yours.
Events leading to product issues may have been due to circumstances beyond your control. But that doesn't matter to the customer. By this time, they have formed their own biases towards your products, and they may tell anyone who cares to listen about their experience.
Your lab must be reliable and effective enough to prevent such a narrative. Here are a few ways to run an efficient food and beverage QC lab.
1. Understand Your Responsibilities as a QC Lab Manager
As a QC lab manager, it’s your job to ensure a healthy balance between efficiency and prompt execution — you should be both on time and accurate. An abundance of orders and clients may prompt you to rush QC processes. However, you should ensure that an increase in production does not come at the expense of accuracy. If you feel rushed, communicate with your team members about which steps in production take the most time and brainstorm to develop creative solutions.
2. Train Your Staff To Be Independent
It can be tiring to manage QC while supervising the activities of your staff. Aside from being tedious, juggling managing tasks eats into time that would have been delegated to other activities. Organize workshops and seminars intended to enhance team members’ skills, ensuring that processes run as smoothly as possible. Moreover, employees will feel more comfortable working with less supervision – reaching out to you only when necessary.
3. Utilize Sophisticated Tools Like LIMS
A laboratory information management system (LIMS) is software built to polish laboratory operations by improving and optimizing workflow across departments, data tracking, and interactions with other management tools. With a LIMS, information transfer is automatic and occurs digitally. Given that it interacts well with other management systems LIMS eliminates the need to enter the same data on multiple platforms.
Laboratories that utilize a LIMS are well-equipped to take full advantage of their lab resources, have smaller teams with higher efficiency, clear up accumulated projects, and have a more detailed workflow. In addition, as the processes are better documented, investigations and audits become more accessible and more rewarding.
A LIMS creates a kind of buffer that protects your labs against emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic, where hiring new staff becomes nearly impossible. If you maintain the same number of workers who understand their roles within the company, reduce the time put into laborious data recording and maintain fast data throughput, you will keep up with projects.
4. Improve Your Production by Tracking Relevant KPIs
Thanks to the volume of data documented in a LIMS, you can measure specific metrics you couldn’t with Excel or traditional paper processes. Moreover, a LIMS allows you to scale your company’s growth without wasting precious time and resources. This means that you can measure the average amount of time it takes to evaluate specific products, the number of recalls, and even the number of products yet to be assessed. When properly implemented, a LIMS ensures that you never have to choose between speed and accuracy.