We look into the supply chain production process of Easter Eggs and the journey to their final destinations in supermarkets
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Chocolate is arguably the world’s most popular sweet treat. Depending on who you ask, of course.
After, perhaps Christmas, it is the most common time for people to indulge in chocolate if they don’t do so anyway throughout the year.
And synonymous with Easter are the eggs themselves which are loved by children and adults alike all over the world.
The journey to Easter Eggs
The supply chain process is split into eight stages of production: cultivating, harvesting, splitting, fermentation, drying, winnowing, roasting and grinding. Following production, the supply chain process is extended further with logistics which is the final step to providing customers with their favourite seasonal sweet treat.
The journey actually begins with cocoa tree plantations being established which is done by scattering young cocoa trees amongst new shade trees or by planting the cocoa trees between established trees. These are planted in humid tropical climates, with temperatures between 21 and 23 degrees Celsius. This is consistent rainfall periods and a short dry season because these conditions provide good quality cocoa.
Each tree produces 20-30 cocoa pods a year which grows straight from the tree’s trunk and main branches. With this tree also yielding fruit, the crop is carefully pruned, and as a result, it is easier to harvest the cocoa pods. The next step is the labour-intensive task of harvesting the crop.
The harvest is a whole community affair on small West African farms. Large knives are then used to detach the pods from the trees and placed in large baskets on workers’ heads. The pods are then manually split open to remove the beans so they are ready for the two-step curing process. Each pod consists of between 20-40 purple cocoa beans.
The curing process consists of fermenting and drying the beans to develop the chocolate flavour. There are several fermentation methods but the most traditional is the heap method. This requires placing mounds of wet cocoa beans in between layers of banana leaves on the ground for between five to six days. Following this, the drying stage begins. This involves the wet bunch of beans being spread out in the sun or using a more advanced method of special dying equipment.
From plant to factory
Often, a lot of large chocolate brands then buy the cocoa through intermediaries. The beans are then packed into sacks ready to be exported to the brands processing facilities in other locations globally.
After arrival, the beans are cleaned and quality inspected before the winnowing stage takes place. The dried beans are cracked to separate the shell from the nib which is where the small chunks are used to produce chocolate. Afterwards, the roasting phase begins in which the nibs are baked at high temperatures reaching 120 degrees Celsius in special ovens. This is where the colour and flavour is acquired.
Subsequently, the next stage is grinding which creates the basis of all chocolate products. The roasted nibs are grounded in stone mills until a thick liquid chocolate consistency is achieved.
Chocolate to egg
The final step is creating the chocolate egg masterpiece by using highly efficient computer-operated technology which has been used since the mid-20th century. The molten chocolate is placed in heated egg molds which are rotated so there is an even thickness. Following this, the eggs are left to cool and then removed from the molds. Once cooled, the eggs are wrapped in coloured foil and packaged into individual boxes before being sent out for retail. The transportation and exportation throughout the various supply chain stages is vital being a seasonal product. This means they are heavily relied upon for their timings to deliver to large supermarkets and independent stores.
Interface Magazine talks to Vladimir Arshinov, IT Director at steel producer SIJ Group regarding the company’s massive digital transformation
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Going into 2017, SIJ Group (Slovenian Steel Group) – Slovenia’s biggest steel producer and one of the largest manufacturers of stainless and special steels in Europe had typical IT structure with semi-independent IT departments on each plant. And like many modern enterprises, SIJ was at work drafting a strategy to transform its operations, systems and processes into a more unified structure in a bid to improve productivity, safety and the all-important bottom line.
Vladimir Arshinov is SIJ’s IT
Director and his initial focus in 2017 was trained on the digital
transformation of SIJ’s IT department to a more transparent organization with a
clear workflow. Previously, IT was a department of innovation with each individual
plant having its own independent function, none of which connected with each
other, often across varying geographies. “This meant that lots of efforts were wasted
solving the same issues with different solutions,” Arshinov reveals.
At the end of 2017, SIJ
established a Project Management Office. PMBOK was selected as a master
methodology and the Head of PMO received PMP certification and developed
internal regulation documents, rules and methodology. After finalizing the
initial establishment phase, hiring project managers and the organization of
the operational work, SIJ came to the conclusion that to raise the scope and
complexity of the projects program, they needed a tool. The MS Project
Management Server was duly selected and implemented allowing SIJ to simplify
observation of the progress of projects and control, while ultimately reducing
duration. Project team meetings were almost eliminated, and the distribution,
control and execution of project tasks, were assigned to the project team
members who managed and controlled projects including budget consumption. Each
project member would then be measured for effectiveness.
Turning the IT department
into a leaner function was a massive first step for SIJ as it needed a firm
foundation upon which all future innovation could sit. And so, the next step in
SIJ’s internal IT transformation was aimed at the most sensitive and critical
area: software development. As with many metallurgical companies SIJ had a bulk
of different IT systems, which were supplied or developed in the past and had
to be either permanently supported, or, due to the business requirements,
changed. One concern with the legacy system was the reliance on locally based
productive software developer engineers developing new solutions and then,
after, supporting them, resulting in a massive drop in development speed, as
development and the subsequent support increased. This situation was causing
overloading, burnout and frustration, triggering a desire to change something;
sometimes resulting in employer change. However, SIJ IT considers people as its
major asset and were determined to break the vicious circle of “one system
– one person – forever”.
“What we did from an organizational point of view was to unify all geographically distributed developers from 4 different companies into the several virtual groups in each department,” Arshinov explains. “Each group has a Team Leader role, who assigns tasks to the group members and controls the execution of each individual task.”
at SIJ is now organised according to an agile approach using scrum boards and
Microsoft Project Server to control all the time sheets of the people involved
in the projects, plus their schedules and budgets. SIJ uses
Microsoft Azure DevOps Server for unified storage of inter-company source code
and Change Request Scrum board monitoring and control. Process and technical
solutions now allow SIJ to involve external software development partners into
the development process while controlling their activities, deliverables and
costs. Developers can now use the Azure DevOps Server
with the scrum board and are now able to register change requests in their
system by themselves, where they see the progress of all individual change
requests coming through the process with the integration of the IT Director
informing the exchange and updating the status of the task development.
In October 2019 SIJ revamped
and migrated its Corporate Business Intelligence system to a new MicroStategy
platform. The project took six months and provided SIJ with an extensive
corporate Business Intelligence system with more than 180 different dashboards
covering production, finance, sales, procurement, HR, Legal and investment
functional areas. The overwhelming majority of the data now uploads
automatically and the business intelligence tool has
created a unified reporting system across the group utilizing the same source
of data in order to integrate it. “There was huge involvement of the business
customers with Oracle BI and this year, we moved to this new platform,”
Arshinov explains. “The front end of the system was changed (from Oracle BI) to
MicroStrategy for usability and a unified interface. Now, SIJ has a system that
looks the same no matter the device it’s accessed from. This project allows us
to organize and develop the team that tests the trial usage and develops the
processes of the PMO (Project Management Office) inside the IT function.”
The BI System contains the
entire spectrum of corporate data and allows SIJ to move quickly and
transparently when taking a management decision, while reducing the number of
mistakes, misunderstandings and time-consuming meetings.
The next system to be unified across the group was the Salesforce CRM system, which is now fully integrated. Then, an Oracle supplier portal followed, which opened the possibility of organizing tenders, thus massively simplifying the purchasing process. Oracle Innovation Management is another successful implementation, which, although a relatively small project, has had a big influence on the business transformation and innovation through increased flexibility. “It is also used to motivate people to suggest improvements and new innovative ideas,” he says.
what have been the major successes, according to Arshinov, following the
ongoing digital transformation at SIJ? “The main difference between now and
then was that each individual company was living alone, and I see now that the
IT function in this case is unifying the people and allowing them to speak in a
single language. It doesn’t matter if it’s a steel center or a big plant,” he
explains. Costs have been dramatically reduced too, outsourcing being a prime
example. In 2016, SIJ was spending more than 70%
annual budget for operational external services.
For 2020, that part of budget reduced to 40%. Meanwhile, the capital investments part of the
budget has grown from 4% in 2016 to 56% in 2020.
implementation of a Supply Chain Planning system (from Quintiq) incorporating
the Oracle Business Suite, has improved the delivery, safety and performance of
SIJ’s plants. “We improved Delivery Performance OTIFF (on time and in full) of
a stainless steel plant by 12.8% in six months,” he enthuses. “And we shortened
the production cycle by 15,4% from ordering to shipping, which is a brilliant
result within six months of going live.”
SIJ Matal Ravne has replaced the melt shop technology system and entire plant
manufacturing execution system to replace the obsolete legacy system – which
had zero planning functionality – with PSI Metals. “First of all, we’re increasing the level of understanding
and the knowledge of the internal IT team, while dramatically decreasing
project cost by involving internal specialists into the supplier team. That
allows us to save several hundred thousand Euros of project budget and it’s a
win-win situation for the supplier as well. First of all, the supplier is
receiving our team, which knows the production and the limitations and has
extensive inside knowledge. At the end of the day, the commercial value, in
this case, is the cheaper price. Cheaper than anybody else is able to receive.”
and no less important project for Sij Metal Ravne is the joint development work
with Comtrade Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). Laboratories in
metallurgy companies are complicated and highly demanding environments with
unique processes required for quality control of all products and this solution
covers and improves core laboratory processes and will be highly integrated
with the PSI manufacturing execution system from one side and Oracle ERP on the
Through this massive digital transformation, SIJ has also managed to increase quality control through sophisticated AI, which has massively impacted its operations. The acquisition of scrap metal, a major influence on SIJ’s bottom line, can now be influenced through advanced detection systems that can detect impurities, thus representing huge savings when it comes to procurement. “The conservative saving is €1.4m,” he says.
digital transformation at SIJ is touching every aspect of the company’s growth and
is certainly an ongoing journey rather than a destination. “We are not an IT
company, that’s understood,” Arshinov says. “But we are supporting services
inside the business, and of course our main concern will always be supporting
the production of steel. But we’re not there yet.”