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  July 3rd, 2017
Less is More: How SKU-Keeper by Voodoo Robotics is Redefining Traceability Technology
by Thomas R. Cutler
 

There is certainly efficacy for fully exhaustive and comprehensive technological traceability, yet with 90 percent of small food and beverage manufacturers employing fewer than 100 people, rarely is the Rolls Royce affordable and never cost-justified.

Seeking to provide alternatives to the deluxe options, a new solution entered the market, SKU-Keeper, offering inventory management with basic, yet important, traceability functionality. The Texas-based Voodoo Robotics brought the product to market because there was a need for an affordable solution, a system that keeps track of received inventory and movements through a warehouse or manufacturing operation.


Voodoo Robotics SKU-Keeper Tablet with Picklist
What is tracked by SKU-Keeper are 'merge points' and 'diverge points' where inventory comes together or is separated. Similar inventory is tracked together after a merge, inventory that is separated is tracked separately after a diverge.

The truly innovative element of this new offering is that as inventory is combined (through kitting, or other manufacturing process), it is still traceable. If there are raw materials received and later combined to make finished goods, the system provides an ingredient level traceability. Trevor Blumenau, Voodoo Robotics CEO, shared, "If the raw material that comes in, call it SKU#001, and it is combined with SKU#002 to make SKU#007, then SKU#007 is combined with SKU#008 to make SKU#010, then you can run a traceability report looking for SKU#001 in the warehouse and you have some SKU#010 sitting there, it will flag that SKU#010 as part of the original SKU#001 inventory. You can also look at when the remaining SKU#010 was shipped. Of course, the system will also show customers all information for the SKU#007 that was involved in creating the finished good."

For simple recall use, SKU-Keeper is an innovative way for even the smallest food processer to capture the HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) requirements.

Process manufacturers may find it a great application. Process manufacturers require the ability to operate their businesses more effectively with less effort and at lower costs. This is particularly true for small to mid-size process manufacturers including the following industry sectors:
  • Food and Beverages
  • Paints and Coatings
  • Cosmetics
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Chemical industries
Formulation management with version tracking and rollback capabilities are essential for the process manufacturer. Formulas must be scalable and materials must be measured in any defined unit of measure. Despite the claims of most ERP (enterprise resource planning) solutions, very few provide multi-level formulas and easy material substitutions. Process manufacturing is formula-based and not BOM-based, with ingredients added by prescribed proportions measured by either volume or weight.

SKU-Keeper knows the value proposition and does not pretend to define raw materials, work in process, and finished goods in terms of any unit of measure with automatic conversion from one unit to another. Nor does it offer the capacity to manage order processes, schedule receiving or choose shipping carriers. If those features are required there are larger, more powerful (and more expensive) WMS or ERP systems. Ultimately for a small process manufacturing company, producing less than 100 finished products, SKU-Keeper will provide sufficient controls and confidence necessary to reduce materials inventories.



Even the smallest process manufacturers are constantly seeking solutions which will ease the complexity of compliance reporting. Providing traceability allows process manufacturers to follow an item from incoming raw material through multiple bins to the finished good sent to a specific customer. Lot tracking can be used for both purchased items and manufactured items. It is critical that process manufacturers can choose from several lot issue methods and create custom serial and lot numbers for any item.

Blumenau is humble and does not suggest Voodoo Robotics' traceability solution has the dexterity of a full MRP (materials resources planning) solution. The full MRP has the versatility of planning materials and resources across an extended timeline that can be measured as a lean efficiency. MRP's can analyze plan demand, including anticipated seasonal fluctuations. Part of the planning and scheduling workflow includes automation of placing purchase orders and production orders, so that an item planned in January can have its raw materials purchased in May and not enter production until June. Valuable, yes. Expensive, yes. Needed by 90 percent of the market, no.

Process manufacturers often seek technology solutions which allow for production planning within the constraints of facility production capacity. The associating of formulas with given process cells - groups of machines, all working in concert - makes it possible to assign the productive capacity for a single process cell or a group of process cells for maximum throughput.

At the end of the day, Blumenau believes that small process manufacturers, with special needs in compliance and lot traceability (among many other requirements) are seeking flexible, easy to learn, and affordable technology solutions that are scalable to grow with the company's requirements. SKU-Keeper is sold month-to-month by the license so that customers can scale up or down. The system even includes very economical Pick-to-Light devices to help manage inventory in the warehouse. These devices associated with the traceability reduce their capital outlay based solely on use and need.


Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., (www.trcutlerinc.com) Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 6000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector and is the most published freelance industrial journalist worldwide. Cutler can be contacted at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com and can be followed on Twitter @ThomasRCutler. See More Details.

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