WSU Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center

Postharvest Information Network

Sunday, March 24, 2019

WSU-TFREC/Postharvest Information Network/Improving Plant Operations Using Information Technology

Improving Plant Operations Using Information Technology


Pressures on our industry will force us to sharpen our pencils and to search for even more ways to improve the efficiencies of our businesses. Information will be critical for helping us find opportunities to improve and to measure our progress. The data we already own is one of our most underutilized plant assets. However, tools are now available to unlock this data and make it available for management use.

What Can Information Technology Do for Me?

In five minutes or less each, can you find answers to the following questions? Ask yourself: in your existing system, could you ever get these answers without asking a programmer to write new reports for each of them?

Inventory issues:

  • Do you know the location and age of every pallet and bin in your inventory?
  • Do you know how frequently you don't ship on a first-in, first-out basis?
  • How confident are you in the inventory numbers on your sales screen?
  • What is the average number of days a pallet sits in storage between packing and shipping?

Production issues:

  • What line speed settings optimize productivity for each individual lot change?
  • What is your overtime cost this month as compared to the same month for each of the past three years? How about downtime costs?
  • Did your production costs today hit the target necessary to meet this month's budget?
  • Can your plant supervisor measure progress toward his/her goals each day?

Quality issues:

  • Can you track cull analysis data historically on a grower, lot, year to year, or variety by variety basis?
  • What percent of all growers culls were discarded due to stink bug last year?
  • How consistently is your color sorter working today as compared to last year?
  • What were the pressure averages today, yesterday, crop to date, for each grower?

Sales issues:

  • Who are your best customers?
  • Which customers pay the highest FOBs indexed across all like items? How do brokers compare?
  • Which salespeople earn the highest FOBs when comparing like items?
  • What is the cost of adjustments by salesperson and customer?
  • How do your prices for each item compare to the industry for each item, for the past xx weeks?
  • By variety, size, grade, and package, how are industry prices trending during the past xx weeks?
  • Within the next 60 seconds, and on one page, show how many boxes of Stripe USEX 100-25 Tray, Gold WX 100-125 Tray, Granny WX Blush 100 Tray are available for packing and shipping. How many are CA, and how many are regular?

What Are Shippers Doing with This Information?

Process improvement:

  1. Decide for yourself to improve.
  2. Take an honest measurement of your current status in a chosen area.
  3. Benchmark your performance against some external source if possible.
  4. Set a goal and establish a plan to hit it.
  5. Measure your progress.
  6. Analyze ways to help meet your goal, and measure your progress on those.
  7. Continue at step #1.

Common analysis process used in our industry:

  1. Think of a question.
  2. Ask an accountant.
  3. Accountant requests closest report.
  4. Wait (perhaps hours -- or days).
  5. Receive big green-paper report.
  6. Read report and highlight lines.
  7. Hand-key numbers into spreadsheet.
  8. Get an answer.
  9. Analysis spawns more questions.
  10. Start again at #2 and wait.

New analysis process now available: same data, different tools

  1. Think of a question.
  2. Go to your own PC.
  3. Design a query using point and click.
  4. Wait (usually seconds or 1-2 minutes).
  5. See answer on screen.
  6. Print, drop into spreadsheet, make a graph, or e-mail it to someone.
  7. Analysis spawns another question.
  8. Go back to #2. Get next answer in seconds or minutes.

Available Data Sources

  • Existing shipper sales, shipping, inventory databases
  • YVGSA / Wen. Traffic reports (won't it be great when you can download secured and cleansed data electronically?)
  • Growers clearing house
  • Industry financial benchmarking project
  • Customer supplied data
  • Internet trading provider

Feasible Data Sources

  • Sensors and meters installed on packing lines
  • Bar code tracking systems
  • Manual entry databases (e.g., QC, Receiving)
  • Sizer computer
  • Ink jet computer
  • Packing line switches
  • Electronic scales
  • Digital cameras on network and database

What Makes It Possible?

  • SQL databases
  • ODBC database connectivity drivers
  • Graphical user interfaces
  • Higher speed PCs
  • Networks
  • Bar code technology
  • Integrated electronic devices
  • Much of this technology is 5+ years old


  • Industry situation will drive need to look for improved efficiencies.
  • Payoffs are realistic.
  • Information is critical to improvement.
  • Information can provide a strategic edge.
  • Tools are available, powerful, inexpensive, and learnable.
  • Data may already be owned and accessible.

Welcome Sauer

Washington State Apple Commission
P.O. Box 18, Wenatchee, WA 98807-0018

16th Annual Postharvest Conference, Yakima, WA
March 14-15,  2000

Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center, 1100 N Western Ave, Washington State University, Wenatchee WA 98801, 509-663-8181, Contact Us