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Voice of Users

Process Record Management System

Customer : Nichirei Foods Inc.

In a situation challenged by powder and water,
Toughbook serves in frontline process record management

The Nichirei brand of Nichirei Foods Inc. is a household name in Japan. Committed to maintaining progress in making ever safer and more reliable food products, at their Shiroishi Plant in southern Miyagi Prefecture, the company has been introducing a process record management system. Here, Toughbook laptops are doing service as client terminals. Unaffected by the severe environment in which powders and water are a hazard, Toughbooks are working to support safer food production.

Focused on providing processed foods that are tasty, safe, and reliable

Front from right, Mr. Kobayashi, Mr. Murakami, and Mr. Nishida. Rear from right: Mr. Yajima, Mr. Adachi, and Mr. Bun.

Nichirei Foods Inc, as a major maker of processed foods for household and commercial use, uses its superior process technology to provide high quality frozen and pouch foods, and other products that are tasty, safe, and reliable.
One of many facilities deployed all over Japan, the Shiroishi Plant produces cream croquettes, gratin, doria, and non-fry spring rolls, which are provided to customers nationwide.
“The advantage of this plant is that it is close to excellent local ingredients, including Zao well water and fresh milk. Moreover, since 1958 we have formed close ties with the local community. Working closely with local people, it has been possible to develop production and build up process technology, and this supports the production of highly reliable foodstuffs at the Shiroishi Plant.”
(Shroishi Plant Manager Hisaichi Kobayashi)

Mistakes prevented through complete management of process logs

The Shiroishi Plant uses locally produced milk to make the white sauce used in cream croquettes, gratin, doria, spring rolls, and other products.

Nichirei Foods Inc. has established a quality assurance system, centered on the Nichirei Quality Assurance Committee, to ensure the safety and reliability of food products all along the flow from ingredient procurement to production. Strengthening this quality assurance system, to further raise the level of safe and reliable production of foodstuffs, since 2003 the company has been building and operating a process record management system.
“Besides checking the expiry date of ingredients in stock, the process record management system keeps records, from weighing out and formulation to filling and cooking, of each task performed by the production technician and its results. If a problem occurs, it becomes possible to trace what occurred at the time of the problem. But the system is not just about record keeping. In logging what happens in the production process, our main priority is preventing the production of substandard products from suitable, properly prepared ingredients. That’s why we built the system.”
(Tuyoshi Murakami, Engineering Group, Production Technology Section, Production Headquarters)

You need a robust PC to withstand the powdery atmosphere and water splashing

Touch panel input supports both pen and finger input: operation found to be quick and easy

Selected as the model factory for the process record management system, the Shiroishi Plant proved the system prior to installation at other sites.
Currently the process record management system runs an application developed in house and uses Toughbook laptops for the client terminals. Initially, however, commercial software and handheld barcode readers were tried. Reflecting on that experience, Mr. Murakami remarks, “After introducing the software package we tried to adapt onsite operations to it. We spent about two years in trial and error, but it didn’t go well for us.”
Kazutoshi Adachi of the Shiroishi Plant Quality Assurance Group feels, “The biggest problem was the new burden imposed on the production staff required by operating the package software and barcode for process record management.”
At this point, aiming to reduce the burden on the production staff, Nichirei Foods changed their approach and produced a software system modeled on actual on-site operations. During development of the new software, previously encountered problems were eliminated. For the client terminals, they chose the Toughbook.
“We were looking for a terminal computer that would work under three conditions. First, it had to be resistant to a powdery atmosphere in which water splashing was a hazard. Second, in a worst-case scenario, it had to stand up to being dropped. Third, it had to provide touch-panel operation. We decided that the best choice was the Toughbook.”
(Mr. Murakami)

Robust performance even in an environment where powdered ingredients are used

If you were wondering just what kind of environments Toughbook laptops are used in, we were allowed to see part of the plant.
Ingredients are weighed out in the seasoning room where appropriate amounts are removed from bags and containers. The type of ingredient and how much of it to use is shown on the Toughbook screen and the production staff prepare the recipe by weighing out, from the ingredient bags, the appropriate amounts of each ingredient. The weighing scale used for this is connected to the Toughbook LAN port. When the amount of the ingredient reaches the prescribed weight, the production technician touches the Register button on the Toughbook screen with the pen. The next ingredient and amount is then shown, and the process repeatedly moves on to the next weighing task.
Even though not visible to the naked eye, quite a lot of powder is suspended in the air of the seasoning room and this adheres to the body of the Toughbook. Even so, so far, the Toughbook laptops have operated without any problems.
Toughbook laptops are also used in the cooking room of the Shiroishi Plant. The atmosphere here is quite humid and, in the summer, temperatures can reach 40°C. Besides this, the production technicians also operate the touch screen when their gloves are wet and, when the equipment is washed, water splashes on to the terminal. Here too, with a robust design that resists water, the Toughbook has demonstrated it strength.

Toughbook in the seasoning room.
The weighing scale at the front is connected via LAN cable to the Toughbook.

Quite a lot of powdered ingredients end up sticking to the Toughbook, but it has operated without any trouble.

Production technicians find, “Operation is easy using the touch panel”

When software developed in house was introduced at the Shiroishi Plant, Toughbooks were chosen as the interface: concern was expressed by technicians who had little experience with PCs.
“Technicians who didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of PCs were reassured by comments such as ‘Touch panel operation is possible, so it feels like using an ATM.’ Or, ‘It’s strongly made, so it’s hard to break.’ I think that the touch panel was a major help in gaining acceptance. Actually, once the system was introduced, it didn’t take as long as I thought it would for the technicians to get used to production management using the Toughbook. (Shiroishi Plant Production Group Coordinator Hidetaka Bun)
These days production technicians reckon, “Compared with having to make written records, we can get our work done quicker using a touch panel computer.”

Customized to the local situation, the system is being extended to other production facilities

Nichirei Foods has dealt with upgrading its system for ensuring the production of safe foodstuffs by introducing a system tailored to the onsite production process. We asked about subsequent deployment of the system.
“Using what we have learned at the Shiroishi Plant, during the next few years we intend to introduce our in-house software, along with Toughbook laptops, to run process record management systems at other facilities. We can make use of the basic software as it is and customize the application to the particular situation at other plants. I hope that we can keep developing the system in such a way that it can be happily used by our production technicians.” (Mr. Murakami)

Nichirei Foods Inc.
Head Office, 6-19-20 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Shiroishi Plant, 1-16-2 Shiratori, Shiroishi-shi, Miyagi Prefecture
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