A Tough Nut to Crack

Customized software helps pistachio operation revamp its receiving system

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Handheld wireless bar code readers are used to associate each load of incoming pistachios with a debris-and-product sampling collection line. 


Each trailer-load of pistachios is equipped with a unique radio frequency identification (RFID) tag that tracks its status, location, license plate number and tare weight. The new software includes drop-down lists and pre-defined data attributes that abbreviates the data- acquisition process. By reducing the amount of paperwork and manual data entry steps required, the transaction time for initiating a new load has been cut by 60 percent. The resulting increase in trailer throughput prompted Paramount to scrap expansion plans for its scalehouse facilities.


"By analyzing the information from the RF tags, our operations and finance teams have been able to optimize our equipment scheduling and utilization planning to reduce the number of trailers we need to lease by 30 percent," says Andy Anzaldo, Paramount's director of grower relations.


The RFID tags are read by scanners positioned next to the truck scales, and allow operators, located inside the scalehouse, to quickly initiate receiving and weighing tasks. At each step throughout the receiving, grading and payables process, all manual data entry has been eliminated or significantly reduced to accelerate the speed of information flow and remove the risk of error.


Handheld wireless bar-code readers are used to associate each load of incoming pistachios with a debris and product-sampling collection line. With integration software developed by MagTech, the grower receiving system manages the debris (branches, leaves and other organic material) collection and measurement tasks of each line in conjunction with Allen-Bradley PLCs and various scales to generate bar-coded sampling tags and capture trash weight data. As the bar-coded tags are scanned, weight and other information pertaining to the load is transmitted to the application's servers, ensuring real-time data capture and up-to-the-minute reporting capabilities. Operators and group leaders can access turn time and operating efficiency reports and make line-balancing and resource-allocation decisions on the fly to keep the pistachios moving. All of this occurs with adherence to internal processing specifications and good manufacturing practices.


Samples taken from each load are tagged and processed for grading. Following Paramount's stringent hulling and drying procedures -- monitored by SPC Online statistical process control software, also licensed from MagTech Systems -- each sample is weighed and hand-graded. Internal inspectors and USDA personnel audit the grading process and use an easy-to-interpret move matrix graphical interface component of the receiving system to track the performance of each grader. This information is used to support Paramount's continuous improvement and training initiatives as part of its ISO 9000 certification practices. With additional weigh-scale and wireless scanner integrations, the grower receiving system monitors the various grades of nuts within each sample. Grower Receipt reports are generated and distributed to grower partners for each load received, processed and graded.


Coupled with the new technology, the streamlined process has allowed Paramount to reduce the seasonal processor headcount by over 30 percent. In the short-term, the processor has realized operating cost reductions and, more importantly, overcome the daunting challenge of maintaining quality while processing more pistachios amid a shrinking seasonal labor pool. 


Payments to partners


Along with better production-side management of its transactions with grower partners, Paramount's new receiving solution includes components that enhance the accuracy and timeliness of payments to them. The payables software modules leverage much of the relevant information gathered during the receiving and grading processes, as well as  grower partner contract data -- such as advances and interest payments -- extracted from various repositories. It then calculates payable figures and generates financial and management reports at the load, field, grower-partner, processing plant or enterprise levels. Plans for enhancements to the system include integration of the payables component with Paramount's financial systems, such as J. D. Edwards software.

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