While most companies focus efforts on improving supply chain efficiency by looking at the supply chain process itself, a few realize that other departments can have an impact on efficiency and speed. One of these departments is Quality, which is tasked with inspecting incoming raw materials, in-process work and final product before it is shipped. If there is a way to help the Quality department get its job done faster, then, by definition, the operations process can move along faster, thus reducing time in the supply chain.
One company that realizes the value of quality and operations working together is Kao Worldwide, which used to be the Andrew Jergens Company (now Jergens). The company manufactures personal care products such as hair care products, skin care products, and soap products for brands like Jergens, Biore, John Freda and others.
"About 10 years ago, I started to get tired of listening to the people in our planning group complain about how long it took to get micro results," says Mark Entrup, USA corporate microbiologist for Kao, based in Cincinnati. (Micro results come from the lab work that is done to test for contaminants in Kao's products before they are released for shipment.)
In looking around for a solution that could speed up the lab process, and thus the quality control process, Entrup focused on a company called Celsis, which manufactures microbial detection equipment for biological testing. The technology uses a luminometer, combined with the recommended reagents, to test consumer-bound products for microbial contamination, such as bacteria, yeasts and molds, in as little as 24 hours. It offers the fastest time to confirm the absence of microbial contamination, even slow-growing molds.
Quality's Link to Efficiency
Celsis's Advance system is designed to help customers improve cash flow and reduce working capital requirements, while ensuring quality and increased responsiveness throughout the supply chain. "Even before coming here, I was always interested in working with rapid microbiology methods," Entrup says. "When I heard about Celsis, I became interested. We ended up purchasing the Celsis Advance system in 2000."
Celsis serves a number of different industries. Personal care was one of the early adopters because of the large consumer product volumes they have, as well as having an early understanding of the value of saving time in the supply chain. In fact, a number of large consumer product manufacturers have been Celsis customers for 15 years or more.
Many of them mandate Celsis technology in their production facilities. Some even mandate it for their contract manufacturers and their packagers.
There also is a new interest in the technology as a result of two phenomena. One is related to recent economic pressures that have pushed companies to seek ways to streamline their supply chains even more. The other is related to what seems to be an increase in contaminated products being manufactured and even released. By being able to identify contaminated products faster, companies are able to respond faster to contaminated batches and thus prevent more from being manufactured. They may also be able to prevent contaminated products from getting into the market in the first place.
The Celsis technology tests for bacteria, yeast and mold in raw materials when they first arrive, in in-process work and in finished product. In the past, such testing usually took three to five days. As noted earlier, Celsis can provide results in as little as 24 hours. Customers that use the technology for all three phases – incoming raw materials, in-process work and finished products – can thus save a week or more, which translates into a significant improvement in supply chain efficiency.
Six- to Nine-month ROI
To truly benefit from the technology, Quality and Operations need to work together. Once the technology is in place, the Quality department likes the results, and the Operations department appreciates the speed. However, unless and until both departments sit down and discuss the mutual benefits beforehand, it can be difficult for either department to want to make the effort to seek funding to purchase the technology.