Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery was recently able to talk to Yuegang Zhao, chief commercial officer, KPM Analytics, Westborough, MA, about its key performance indicator (KPI) solution.
Liz Parker: What are some of the basics of your KPI solution?
Yuegang Zhao: KPM Analytics is a manufacturer of synergistic quality assurance technologies that help the baking industry make data-driven decisions virtually everywhere in the production process. Some examples include:
- Near-infrared (NIR) analyzers to measure moisture, fat, protein, ash, sugar, and several other quality parameters. Companies use these technologies to verify incoming ingredients (flour, seasonings, etc.) for quality specifications, to monitor seasonings applied to finished products, and to ensure their products are meeting nutritional label specifications before packaging.
- Functional analyzers to characterize critical properties of flour and grains. These unique analyzers help bakers measure damaged starch, solvent retention capacity (SRC), and impurities in flour and grain, providing multiple indicators for quality control.
- Rheological analyzers to measure dough properties (extensibility, baking strength, proofing, and baking behavior) at the early stages of baking. These technologies help bakers predict final product quality, reduce waste, and improve efficiency.
- Vision inspection technologies to measure food products—either grab samples or products on a production line—for consistent size, shape, color, and other essential features. Many baking operations use vision inspection technology to develop stronger standards for product appearance while reducing instances of human error common with manual product inspection.
All our technologies provide critical information for various quality control KPIs in the baking industry relating to customer satisfaction, incident reduction (complaints), reduced waste of product or ingredients, and improved efficiencies.
LP: How do you identify areas that need improvement?
YZ: Baking operations must evolve to meet consumer demands while navigating through today's challenges, like high ingredient prices, ingredient shortages, and workforce retention. In all these cases, technologies like ours can help operations address these challenges and open new opportunities for advancement.
However, each baking operation has unique measures of success. Our approach is always to listen to each customer and learn about their process before making suggestions. Through this approach, we have been instrumental in helping these companies collect measurable data for their KPIs in ways they never could.
In some instances, these conversations have uncovered that the cause of their production issue was something the baker never considered. For instance, we worked with a bread company that routinely struggled with product appearance inconsistencies. Initially, they thought their oven or other equipment in their production facility was to blame.
However, with the combination of an NIR analyzer to verify flour properties, a rheological analyzer to simulate the baking process before a production run, and a benchtop vision inspection system to assess final product appearance after baking trials, we helped them determine that flour quality from their miller, and not their production equipment, was the cause of their quality issues. This helped the company avoid a significant capital investment in a new oven while also improving communication with their miller.
KPM Analytics is unique to other companies because we offer a range of quality assurance instrumentation that provides bakeries with end-to-end control of their process.
LP: What is the current industry demand for these solutions?
YZ: We are definitely seeing a growing demand for automation in the baking industry to achieve greater production volume or to help streamline manual processes. These kinds of quality assurance technologies help modernize operations while enabling QA and QC teams to make better-informed decisions.
However, especially regarding labor shortages the industry faces today, there is an equally high demand for analytical technologies that are not just repeatable, but also require little training to operate. While most quality assurance technologies are performing rather complex measurements, companies favor the option that is easy to use and takes the guesswork out of data interpretation.
The more methods companies can integrate into their process to control variables that impact quality, without overcomplicating the responsibilities of the operator, the more proactive they can be to make necessary adjustments without a skipping a beat.
LP: Why is process control and improvement important?
YZ: In an industry loaded with fierce competitors, companies need to remember that the baking process is a science. As companies scale their operations to achieve greater product yield or craft new product recipes to suit the tastes or preferences of their consumers, it is vital to have a strong quality assurance program supported with analytical instruments to manage the scientific aspects of baking. This, in turn, helps ensure product consistency and maintain brand standards.
Companies that value process control and prioritize continuous improvement and are willing to invest in ways to ensure their process is sound and consistent are always at an advantage.