With food and beverage manufacturers under increasing pressure to maintain high safety standards, it’s vital to work with suppliers on tool traceability

Health and safety in manufacturing is an issue that receives the utmost respect from companies in the food and beverage sector. Most manufacturing firms prioritise the safety of their workers in potentially risky environments, but in the food and beverage sector there is the extra dimension of protecting the customers who will be consuming the products they have made.

Organisations in the food and beverage industry are responsible for ensuring that no foreign elements or contaminants enter the products they produce – getting this wrong could have drastic consequences for a business.
 
Nonetheless, accidents involving employees are also a significant factor, with more than 5,000 injuries reported to the Health and Safety Executive[1] every year. With the current international standard for food safety (ISO22000) under revision, and an updated version due out this year[2] to further clarify requirements of manufacturers, it is more important than ever for organisations to review their safety strategy, both for employees and consumers.
 
An essential aspect of this is a manufacturer’s maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) strategy. It is important that the products and parts ordered for MRO provide part of the solution, rather than causing further problems.
 
Andy Fisk, UK Sales Manager for Stanley Black & Decker's Industrial Division, manages a technical team who help support manufactuer's with their tooling requirements in addition to helping support sites with 5S Solutions, Tool Control, Specialist Safety Tools for working at heights in addition to looking at supporting health and safety requirements on site. In recent years the technical team have worked closely with a number of large blue-chip companies in the food and beverage sector to provide MRO solutions around tool traceability and safety so that these companies can better protect their products.
 
Supermarket pressure
Fisk points out that companies are under significant pressure to maintain the highest safety standards from their customers. “The major supermarket chains are incredibly careful when it comes to safety standards in their suppliers,” he explains. “They regularly audit the premises of suppliers and these visits are not booked in, so it’s vital that manufacturers have the best safety standards at all times.”
"The RS sector team provide customers with a consultative service around the best workplace safety solutions"Del Tiwana, Industry Sector Manager, RS Components
One of the factors that companies will be judged on is the traceability of their tools. Del Tiwana, food & beverage sector head at RS explains that this is a crucial element of safety compliance for food and beverage manufacturers: “Tool traceability is absolutely key to this sector – all tools need to be accounted for at all times so that these companies can be confident that no objects find their way into the production and no contamination takes place,” he says.
 
In practice, this means that when engineers go into the food processing plant to carry out repairs, it’s essential that no errant tools or parts get anywhere near the consumer product. As such, companies need a way to ensure that every tool that goes into the factory is safely returned to a storeroom once work has been completed.
 
“At RS, we work with a company to decide on the right tool brand that suits their individual needs and then we look to tailor the toolbox so that it is bespoke for the engineers’ needs,” explains Tiwana. “The idea is to have nothing in the set that doesn't get used. In addition, tools are provided in colour-coded foam cut out housing so that it’s obvious when something is missing at a glance.”
 
Fisk Edwards explains that this type of storage solution also means that it is quicker and more efficient for managers to audit the tools to ensure that they have not been misplaced, left on the production line or taken home by engineers – a practice that’s not unknown in the industry and which creates a high risk of contamination. Other steps companies should consider is introducing a clear method statement for engineers so that if a tool breaks, the engineer will write a report clearly saying what has happened and where it happened so that a risk assessment can be carried out.
 
Clear safety procedures
Maintaining these sorts of safety procedures is vital because when a supermarket audit happens, the inspectors will look at tools closely to make sure that everything is accounted for and there are no signs of contaminants present on the tools or around the areas where they are stored. The consequences of getting this wrong range from an official warning to fines, through to having products dropped from a nationwide supermarket chain, which could be devastating for the business.
 
Putting the right safety measures in place, particularly when it comes to tools, requires a collaborative relationship with suppliers and tool manufacturers according to Tiwana. “It's mutually beneficial for tool manufacturers, suppliers like RS and food and beverage companies to all work together to get tool safety right,” he says. “The first step is to visit the company, discuss their set-up and the sort of issues they want to resolve, and then to look at the type of products that will enable them to do that.
 
“We work with key suppliers like Stanley Black & Decker who are supporting us so that we can provide total traceability for tools,” he adds. “That can mean toolboxes and shadow boards, all the way through to electronic tags to identify where the tool is, and where it should be. We’re constantly evolving and developing new technologies which fundamentally help change the face of maintenance in the modern world. It’s key that we understand these technologies and use them to create value for our customers.”
 
"Customers are always making new demands of their suppliers, and as tool manufacturers, we are always innovating and producing new products"Del Tiwana, Industry Sector Manager, RS Components
Consolidate suppliers
Overall, when it comes to MRO as a whole, there are clear advantages in consolidating suppliers and standardising product ranges. This is both in terms of cost, but also around the continuity of service companies receive and the warranty they get on tools. By choosing a single or small group of suppliers for access to the type and quality of tools, it will help ensure maximum efficiency and safety.
 
“By rationalising the brands that a company uses, to ideally just one brand across multiple sites, it’s possible help the business to be more efficient and to reduce costs by removing unnecessary duplication of tools or spending too much on non-approved products,” says Tiwana. “We are currently working with a well known bread manufacturer, to help them with this issue. They buy tools from a wide range of suppliers using a variety of brands, so we are now putting together bespoke tool packs for their individual engineers using one brand across the business.
 
“This allows them to monitor their spend on these items, they can also easily see if any tools are missing since they are housed in foam inserts, and if any tools break they will know what warranty they have on them.”
 
The relationship between suppliers and customers is always evolving and new innovations can help to improve tool traceability and efficiency. “Customers are always making new demands of their suppliers, and as tool manufacturers, we are always innovating and producing new products and solutions,” says Fisk. “It’s important to communicate and find the best way to use products to enhance safety levels and improve efficiency.
 
“An example of this is the use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology in tools, which means an engineer can use a pass card to access the tool while their ID is logged, then if that tool is not back in its cabinet within a set time, an alert is sent to the engineer’s line manager,” he adds. “There are also scanners that can search for missing tools and identify where they are via their chip. This will be the future for tool safety.”