Gerber Products Company

Gerber's data mart brings quality online


Jan Relford
Duffy Smith
Leo Wright
Max McLeod
Ed Thomas
Ann Baker

In the manufacture of baby food, quality is key. To keep to its high standards, Gerber Products Company, Fremont, Mich., left no stone unturned in its effort to build a process control system that gives management a significantly improved ability to an-alyze information stored in a new quality data mart.

"The old program was first built in the 1970s, so we were looking to replace that and build an enterprise quality solution," said Ann Baker, director of quality assurance at Gerber, a unit of Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis International AG. "We wanted to link consumer data to the shop floor data. We [also] wanted to link all of the shop floor data, and provide access to management and to the people in research and development."

The older system was updated regularly but could not meet new corporate goals due to a lack of data management capabilities, an inability to adequately link to other systems and a need for basic data capture functions, Baker said. The older system also could not support advanced analysis techniques and suffered performance degradation as data files grew. In addition, the older system could not integrate with any of Gerber's quality information management systems, had limited statistical analysis capabilities, and was said by operators to be laborious and difficult to use.


Project: Integrated Process Control System (IPCS)

Purpose: To perform detailed analysis on supplier quality performance.

Benefits: Provides management with a previously unavailable level of data analysis; immediate availability of information during processing.

Platforms: AS/400, Unix, NT, mainframe

Databases: Oracle, DB2

The QA team found that available packaged solutions could not meet all of the requirements for the needed system; a decision was therefore made to build it in-house, Baker said. She noted that in addition to the features planned for the new system, it required tight integration with the corporate data warehouse. On the advice of its parent company, a longtime user of tools from SAS Institute Inc., Cary, N.C., Gerber developers decided to use a variety of SAS offerings in the project after a three-day evaluation and testing process, Baker said.

The new system, called the Integrated Process Control System (IPCS), gives Gerber's quality management operation 100% electronic capture capabilities compared to 40% in the older system. Through last fall, Gerber ascribed more than $450,000 in savings for the firm to the system's improved accuracy, precision and control of product overfill.

Baker said the development team worked closely with several specific user groups, including representatives from the three food manufacturing plants, as well as the purchasing, engineering, research and quality assurance units. At the start of the process, the user team listed inadequacies they saw with the older system and created a "wish list" for the new IPCS system.


SAS/ADX Interface, SAS/Warehouse Administrator, SAS/QC, SAS/Share, SAS/Analyst, SAS/Insight, Base SAS, SAS/Access, Prism Warehouse Manager (now part of the Informix Data Stage Suite)

The group created a strategy for the new system that first and foremost called for a plant floor statistical control system that could provide middle and upper management with electronic reporting tools for assessing and monitoring quality performance. This would provide so-called high-end statistical users and corporate-level users with statistical analysis and reporting capabilities. Baker said the system provides such capabilities using color-coded process flow diagrams that allow users to spot trouble or potential troubles immediately.

Requirements also included an extremely aggressive defect rate goal of two parts per billion. Baker noted that such an aggressive goal is typical of food manufacturers, "that can't have intolerances in the thousands. We're not the auto industry."

Baker said the new IPCS system allows plant managers to view the entire production floor quality performance of their plant via its new process-flow reporting capabilities. Simple tree diagram interfaces let managers drill down to gain further performance, product and comparative statistics.
— Michael W. Bucken