Integrated Food Chain Center (IFC) Launches At Georgia Tech

Long neglected as a significant area of supply chain analysis and exploration, the efficient transport of agricultural and food products is now receiving a high-profile platform for research and development at Georgia Tech.

In May, the Georgia Tech Integrated Food Chain Center (IFC) launched as an international research hub focused on designing, analyzing and improving the food chain for cold and perishable products.

The center – established by Georgia Tech’s Supply Chain & Logistics Institute and Memphis-based Sterling Solutions LLC – is envisioned as collaboration between academia, government and industry.

The goal: assure that growers, processors, retailers and logistics providers can deliver quality perishables via greater efficiency throughout the supply chain.

“Supply chain research to date has focused very little on food chains compared to the extensive efforts spent on supply chains for other products,” said IFC Executive Director Don Ratliff, noting the lack of attention the cold chain has previously received. “Because food is both perishable and is consumed by people, there are fundamentally different integration issues and challenges to be resolved to keep the food safe and control waste.”

The time, though, is ripe.

Consumer interest in food safety and practices has never been stronger. Retailers and wholesalers desire the same assurances, along with consistent product safety and quality management systems that maximize sales while minimizing waste.

With the U.S. being the biggest importer and exporter of perishable food goods, it was vital to focus energies on the complex system of cold chain shipping and receiving that currently exists and refine it for an evolving society and economy.

Specifically, there are three current trends that will force more attention on and resources to integrating food chains:

  • Pending food safety legislation will likely require time limits be placed on product tracing, which can only be satisfied through automation and integration. This will also require cooperation among the food chain entities, along with standardizing data requirements. New technologies, processes and infrastructures will be necessary to reduce the costs that accompany these regulations.
  • Improved product quality monitoring will help predict the post-harvest life and the end of shelf life of food products. New types of data will need to be captured regarding product status and performance along with the advent of variable transfer times, temperatures and the opportunity to enhance product transfers.
  • Improved analytics are needed to better address the increase in food chain complexity. Today’s food chains offer more perishable products, additional participants as well as complex transportation logistics plus additional processes, technology and security. This requires new predictive models to best assess inventories and the need for replenishment throughout the chain.

“There’s not much visibility back up the food chain, even in the best of circumstances,” said IFC Director of Research John Bartholdi. “What we are really focusing on is knowing the history of food and when we receive it. If we can have much better estimations of shelf life, then we can move the product more efficiently through the supply chain here.”

Less waste, more efficient replenishment and better product quality is the end result.

Georgia Tech’s IFC will be housed in the Supply Chain & Logistics Institute at the Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering.  For more information, visit http://ifc.scl.gatech.edu.

The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

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