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OM in the News: Tyson’s Computer Vision Technology Improves Inventory Accuracy

February 14, 2020

Tyson is rolling out a computer-vision-enabled inventory tracking system at facilities where it packs chicken into trays for grocery stores, writes Supply Chain Dive (Feb. 11, 2020) The system can read SKU information and weight, replacing what Tyson described as communication by hand gestures followed by manual inventory entry. By the end of the year, Tyson’s automated inventory tracking technology will combine computer vision, machine-learning and edge computing to expand its speed and processing capability.

Automated inventory tracking using computer vision led to a double-digit increase in inventory accuracy in the 3 facilities currently using the technology. The company plans to expand the program to all 10 of its poultry plants.

Though cold, wet storage environments make implementing new technologies difficult, the payoff of real-time accurate inventory information is already evident for Tyson. The company recently opened the Tyson Manufacturing Automation Center, where it works with manufacturers and suppliers to develop new technologies and trains employees to use it. The company has spent $215 million on new technologies in the last 5 years.

Precise, real-time inventory visibility can increase the frequency with which Tyson fulfills grocery customer orders on time and in full in the best of times. But inventory management is particularly key in times of uncertainty, and Tyson is dealing with plenty. The disruptive forces of shifting global trade policy, a fire at an important Tyson facility, and African swine fever, which all distorted usual supply and demand patterns, made a relevant forecast next to impossible.

Major meat companies are leaning toward similar monitoring technologies and automation, whether through production or processing. Cargill is starting to use computer vision to track animal health in dairy operations. But a more consumer-directed application inspired Tyson’s work. Similar technology enables Amazon’s cashier-less stores, which led executives to explore applying it in poultry plants.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Describe what a vision system is (See Chapter 7 of your Heizer/Render/Munson text).
  2.  How will this help Tyson control inventory?
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