Forms follow function

A Canadian meat processing facility is beefing up its ability to handle forms across the enterprise.

Cargill Foods, which processes pork, beef and poultry into case-ready meats for distribution to retailers from a Toronto-based plant, is preparing to expand its use of Abbyy Software House Group’s

FormReader product in its human resources department.

FormReader is designed to allow the automatic capture of data from forms and export them into IT systems and databases.

Cargill Foods, which has a larger plant in High River, Alta., recently installed FormReader Desktop Edition to handle the processing of its Safety Observation Cards. These are used in a program whereby Cargill employees conduct inspections of their peer’s working habits, in order to isolate potential causes of injury or accidents.

David Iturri, Cargill Foods’ IT project leader, says he hasn’t had any trouble getting support for the expansion of FormReader into the HR department.

“”They’ve already given me a bunch of forms,”” he says. “”My problem now is I have to prioritize some of them.””

Previously, Iturri says, Cargill employees had to manually key in results from the handwritten Safety Observation Cards into Excel before FormReader was installed.

Now the product allows users to combine the software with a PC and a scanner to process more than 800 forms in an hour.

Along the way, Cargill redesigned the formerly two-page forms into a single page to make the process more efficient.

The forms are then put into the company’s Microsoft Access database, and Iturri says FormReader makes sure the results conform to the company’s business logic.

“”You run a certain number of rules, for instance the date,”” he says. “”Some people write a three like a ‘five,’ things like that. You will catch that.””

Artur Vassylyev, an Abbyy Software field engineer based in Toronto, says his company is already preparing a new version of the product that will help process forms submitted by fax or by different printers.

“”The problem with those forms is that they look almost the same, but they’re still a little bit different — like the fields might be shifted two or three centimetres sideways, or stretched or shrunk because of the faxing,”” he adds.

The next version, in contrast, will allow users to estimate how much “”shrinkage”” or stretching is expected based on the printer or fax they are using.

“”It will be looking at those directions, correctly find the image and extend it backwards if it’s shrunk or shrink it if it’s extended,”” Vassylyev says.

This version of FormReader — which was slated to be released in Canada-wide earlier this month — will also include an enhanced version of Abbyy’s custom recognition engine, he says.

According to Vassylyev, this is the component that enables the software to identify machine print, handprinted letters and numbers, check marks, group marks and bar codes.

Though the information on the Safety Observation Cards isn’t particularly time-sensitive, Iturri says he values the immediacy of FormReader’s results.

“”The best time to capture data is when it happens,”” he says. “”We contemplated on doing it with Palm Pilots or Pocket PCs, but then you have to maintain these devices and they could be damaged, and we don’t know how they would react in a cold environment.””

Vassylyev says Iturri will likely be among the beta testers of the next version of the product.

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