This is the first attempt by Thailand's shrimp-export industry to adopt RFID technology for food-traceability purposes. It aims to build an advantage for local shrimp-exporters, which have to compete globally in food safety and traceability. The project is being subsidised by some funding from the National Innovation Agency.
IE Technology is providing the RFID tags and terminals. Silicon Craft Technology provides the RFID chips embedded inside the RFID tags, and FXA Company provides the software for traceability.
The project to implement the RFID technology in two plants, Chanthaburi Frozen Food and CP Frozen Food, is worth around Bt14.6 million.
Ronarit Prachet, assistant plant manager, said the high volume of production, around 50 to 60 tonnes per day; many fresh-product suppliers, around 20 farms; and various types of finished products, over 100 items, packed in about 10,000 packages per day; are driving the company to implement RFID to facilitate the entire production processes and traceability system.
RFID has been deployed to monitor frozen-shrimp safety at every step along the production line, from fresh products arriving at the production facilities through to the finished products.
"At the end of the production process, the barcode number on every package of our finished products can be used for tracking. I can know immediately where the shrimps came from, which farm and when," said Ronarit.
Previously, the company implemented a manual traceability system on the production line but it could not trace products immediately - it usually took a day. The manual system remained prone to error because it had less accuracy than an electronic system like RFID.
To effectively implement RFID for traceability, in the first step, the plant has to select suppliers and generate a supplier code for them. RFID technology is involved since 50 tonnes of shrimp arrive at the plant each day, and is then turned into more than 100 finished product items.
The production line for frozen-shrimp products is complex.
Ronarit said the production was very changeable as it depended on the orders and therefore the requirements at the end of the production line.
A complication is that the production line for frozen food is not as constant as, for example, automobile production. Instead of involving many parts of standard sizes, the plant has to deal with numerous raw-material components in sizes that vary. Frozen-food production requires many more changes and flexibility.
Along the complex and changeable production lines, information is recorded at each step. Thus, there is a great variety of information which is prone to error unless data is recorded electronically with RFID technology.
Once fresh products arrive at the plant, step one is weighing them and recording the details of the farm supplier such as name and code of farm, and date of manufacture. Then comes the sizing process and the removal of heads, followed by peeling or boiling, steaming or freezing.
"It depends on the finished-product orders. A shrimp does not go straight through the whole production line. It goes through a variety of processes, but at each step we need to record information about the product. In the past, we processed manually, and that made our process slower with more errors, and at the end of the day there was always a pile of papers waiting for keying into the computer system," said Ronarit.
The plant has implemented 15 sets of RFID terminals connected to the local computer server as well as links to the head office's server in Bangkok.
Weerasak Jetpipattanapong, assistant managing director of the marketing department, said this system allows the company's executives at the head office in Bangkok to do real-time monitoring and trace the entire process easily. This information can be analysed and used for management purposes as well.
The company can monitor the plant's yield and employees' productivity. This information can be used to improve the plant's efficiency.
There are three main finished-product types - uncooked shrimp, boiled shrimp and value-added products such as breaded shrimp and shrimp tail spring roll, with a ratio of 60:30:10 respectively.
"Implementing RFID in the production plant helps our customers, most of them concerned with food safety and require traceability to be more confident about our production. It gives us an advantage, especially if we move first," said Weerasak.
Weerasak said as the next step the company planned to implement RFID in the other plants of the group. Chanthabuti Frozen Food is under Patana Group's frozen-seafood export business, which also includes Phatthana Seafood, Chanthaburi Seafood and Phatthana Frozen Food.
The group's products are 95 per cent for export, and customers include Japan, Australia, European countries, the US and Canada. Last year, the group's revenue was Bt8 billion. It expects to achieve revenue of Bt10 billion by the end of this year. The largest portion of revenue comes from Chanthaburi Frozen Food.