Traceability software for the seafood industry becoming industry standard
Leif Anderson is the director of sales and services for Kirkland, Washington, U.S.A.-based Dynamic Systems Inc. He spoke with SeafoodSource about the company’s SIMBA traceability and barcode labeling software, its use in the seafood sector, and the trend for industry standards.
SeafoodSource: You have noted increased demand for traceability products from the seafood sector. Is that demand coming from a requirement from the government to be able to do recalls, or other factors?
Anderson: Recalls are part of it, but with sustainability, it’s also about making sure companies aren’t fraudulently substituting one whitefish for another. So, it’s all those elements of traceability. It’s knowing where your food came from for a recall if there’s a need for that, but it’s also the sustainability, it’s reducing fraud and/or overfishing in certain areas. So, there’s lots of different things that drive companies to look at products like ours.
Those are the external driving forces, but then internally – like recall – how quickly can they connect out-product to the source and know where it’s been, or even just down to simply managing their production and inventory, and just utilizing barcodes and technology to be more efficient, and therefore make more money. So, there’s definitely the external driving forces, but predominantly, unless they’ve failed an audit or an inspection, it’s usually the internal driving forces that get most companies excited about barcoding, QR codes, or technology in general.
SeafoodSource: Could you give a comparison of barcodes to QR codes and RFID tags?
Anderson: A QR code is a two-dimensional barcode, compared to your standard, one-dimensional, picket-fence kind of barcode, a UPC code, or all of those. QR codes are basically designed to hold larger amounts of data in a smaller real estate area. Most systems like ours can use the 1D, 2D, of RFID. Most of those can be utilized.
The QR code has become more popular for the retail sector. That’s where the consumer can take their phone, scan the QR code, and everyone with a smartphone understands what a QR code is, because you use it for five million things. You pass by a poster, there’s a QR code, you scan it, and it takes you to a website. The QR code is typically used in that fashion, for the end-user to scan and confirm whatever the supplier wants to tell you. Usually, it’s where that product came from – basic information – but it’s really just a link to a website of a database. A QR code would be on the finished goods product for the retail person.
Other barcodes would be used usually internally. Larger companies can use RFID tags, which are programmable tags that can be used over and over again. Typically, those are going to be used on larger bins with fixed gateways in the facilities, so when the forklift driver passes through what’s called an “RFID tunnel,” it would scan the RFID tag and then update the software with, usually a location of where that’s being stored at. But those are on the pricier side.
SeafoodSource: How is SIMBA differentiated from other similar systems?
Anderson: SIMBA is what’s called an “on-premise software,” so the database resides on their server in their facility. They own their own data, they basically own the software once they purchase it, so that’s very different from an SAS model (software-as-a-service), where they pay a monthly fee typically and then the software is stored in the cloud on a server, usually in a different state.
SeafoodSource: Are there companies that feel that they don’t have the expertise to manage their own data and would rather have someone else do it?
Anderson: That’s kind of the two realms of customers. Some companies don’t have an IT department and they outsource that to a third party and they don’t want to deal with a potential headache or hassle of maintaining servers or a database. But the biggest thing for most of our more rural customers – a lot of them are in places like remote [parts of] Alaska, or cranberry farmers where they’re out and they have to rely on satellite services – they can’t really use a SAS model, if they have an IT department or not, because the internet is not reliable. An then the other thing SIMBA brings the advantage of is, even if their internal network is down, SIMBA independently keeps functioning, so they can still produce, print labels, print barcodes and then when their internal network is back online, it syncs all the data. So, there’s those kinds of back-up elements that SIMBA has, because we’re used to operating in very unsophisticated IT infrastructures because of the nature of fresh food facilities.
SeafoodSource: Will SIMBA prevent a worker from mislabeling a product, for example, using an existing code as a shortcut to avoid setting up a new product code, or lot code?
Anderson: I don’t know of any system that would prevent that, but SIMBA will prevent a label being printed for a product that doesn’t exist in the inventory in the ERP system. The way that SIMBA does lot numbers is dictated by the customer. For some customers, lot management is based on data points. So, if they select the area, boat, captain, or what-have-you, the system auto-generates the lot number. We have other people that use time codes, so the lot number automatically changes based on the time of day – like every two hours the lot number changes. So to manage some of those potential issues, SIMBA can be configured to auto-generate appropriate data, especially when it comes down to the data based on traceability for those key elements. Typically in SIMBA, when they buy the software, all of that’s going to be configured and set up ahead of time, so the users are just selecting buttons, and those core data points are auto-generated, to hopefully eliminate those core data mistakes or assumptions/substitution.
SeafoodSource: What are some other differences between your product and those of competitors?
Anderson: First of all, I would say our biggest competitor is paper and pencil. Honestly, because most food production within this multimedia arena have not really embraced a lot of capital investment or technology. But over the last five to 10 years, they’ve started to recognize the importance of technology in their businesses. The other biggest one is accounting-based software that are geared for the fresh food industry. The biggest thing for them is that they’re full accounting systems, whereas we’re not – we’re a production management system. Where we differ is we can integrate to just about any accounting system, but we provide the plant floor data collection. Whereas Famous and some of these other ERPs, they still require you to take and record on spreadsheets, tally sheets. So, you’re still manually creating the data, and then you have to enter the data in the front office. Once you enter it in, you get that full traceability that SIMBA gives you automatically because we’re collecting the data at the point of contact, not typing it in later into a larger ERP system.
And then we have other companies that are more similar to us, using tablets and touch screen and barcode scanners on the plant floor. I would say I only know two competitors that utilize that on the plant floor. One of them is a SAS model versus on-premise. Their predominant focus is just meat production, where since the mid-80’s we’ve worked in seafood, meatpacking houses and produce, so we are more familiar in the three core verticals of the fresh food market.
SeafoodSource: You’re using IBM blockchain. Do all of your competitors use blockchain nowadays?
Anderson: IBM would love them to! There’s our first customer that’s using IBM blockchain in seafood. There’s other ones – there’s a company called Trace Register that utilizes the cloud and subscriptions from seafood processors to upload their data. So there are other companies like IBM that you can subscribe to in order to get your information into the cloud so that retail users can scan a QR code and get that data. There’s at least four or more players in this cloud data arena for retail customers.
SeafoodSource: So that’s not so much on the production side? That’s just for customers to be able to look it up on the website?
Anderson: Exactly! And it’s kind of like when Walmart came into the produce industry years ago and basically said, “[We] need to clean up [our] supply chain efficiency. If you guys want to sell your produce to us…” then they instituted, with the help of industry people, what’s called the PTI (produce traceability initiative) label. And they created what’s called a GS1 industry standard for the produce industry. And pretty much because Walmart is Walmart, they were able to dictate this requirement.
Meat production has started utilizing the same GS1 barcode. And what this does is – kind of like a QR code, but it’s still the old type of picket fence – it stores all of the core data points so the next person in the chain can scan that barcode and take the data from that. So you’re seeing a lot more uses within the supply chain demanding efficiency, which is driving companies that use SIMBA to institute these barcode standards. Because everyone is trying to clean up and make the supply chain more efficient. And that’s done at the smaller processing levels of utilizing barcodes and the GS1 standard, to that data can be shared from facility to facility.
SeafoodSource: So in produce it has already happened and now it’s happening in meat?
Anderson: Produce, probably for a decade, has had the PTI standard label format. The meat production on a more broad scale probably over the last four years. There’s still no standard in seafood, but SIMBA is starting to use that standard across all of our platforms. So, even though seafood’s not utilizing it, we’re already adopting the GS1 standard, because that’s where all the indications are things are gravitating to – GS1 as the global standard for barcoding. That’s so data can be shared, and it cleans up the supply chain, handing over accurate data from facility to facility.
SeafoodSource: Do you have to register the item with GS1?
Anderson: Yes, the GS1 is a global standard, just like the UPC, so companies register with GS1, they get their company prefix just like UPC, and then they register each item and when you go back to traceability that’s really the core. You have each company registered and then each of their items registered. And then that goes with the other data points that are in the barcode. The barcode would then have the lot number, the weights, all those key traceability data points would be in the GS1 barcode. So, it’s similar to a UPC, but that’s a retail code. The GS1 was developed for the supply chain.
SeafoodSource: So you would expect GS1 to be adopted by the seafood industry as well?
Anderson: In the 15 to 20 years we’ve been working in seafood, there seemed to be more of a spirit of independence. But as it moves to a more global market, and distribution becomes a bigger concern, compliance labeling is going to be in that solution mix. It just has to be. GS1 was already a global standard for large container shipments. Walmart didn’t invent it, they just adopted it for their supply chain and for their vendors. I don’t know if India, or China, or even Japan, if they have their own common barcode, but pretty much the dominant player in the arena is going to be the GS1 global standard.
SeafoodSource: I think you have good penetration among the big seafood processors in Alaska. But are there segments within seafood that you’d like to know more about your product?
Anderson: We’re fairly well-known in the Alaska seafood processing market, but stateside there’s so many small fish farms. In aquaculture, we're seeing an upspring in interest. And also the value-added processors – those that are doing like “teriyaki salmon.” Also, regional distribution companies, more in the central part of the U.S., where they’re buying from multiple aquaculture farms and then they’re sending it to multiple distribution centers, and then out to their customers. Those would probably be the areas that are the least serviced with barcoding technology.
SeafoodSource: Is there anything else that you’d like to emphasize?
Anderson: For technology in general, a lot of people think that it’s a huge investment in capital equipment and infrastructure, but the payoff is in months typically, not years. And therefore, I think there’s a false fear of technology that does hold people back. There are affordable solutions for every size of company, and if they’re still doing it with paper and pencil, then there’s room for improvement.
Photo courtesy of Leif Anderson/Dynamic Systems Inc.