Go Lean to support food safety
Lean manufacturing is synonymous with efficiency, but many people confuse it with reducing labor, inventory, or waste. Lean itself is a growth strategy, and like any strategy, it requires an investment – not a reduction – of time and resources to be successful. To understand how Lean Manufacturing can help food and beverage companies save money and improve efficiency and food safety, we asked two industry professionals to share their insights.
Petra Sterwerf is an operations manager with a background in lean manufacturing and a background in factory management. She is currently the Director of Commissary Operations at Skyline Chile in Cincinnati. Holly Mockus is Director of Content and Industry Strategy at Intertek Alchemy, where she leads employee training for industry clients worldwide.
How can lean processes improve food manufacturing facilities?
Petra: Lean’s meticulous focus on eliminating waste obviously makes it invaluable for the complex ingredient-driven processes that dominate food manufacturing. However, Lean is ultimately a culture built through collaborative problem solving, which can happen every day across the organization.
Collaborative problem solving not only has a positive impact on the operations group, but it can also be applied to different departments and different processes within a food manufacturing plant. This focus on eliminating waste through problem solving is more important than ever in today’s economic environment where ingredients are more expensive and harder to find.
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What’s happening in the industry to make lean more important to business?
Petra: In the era of the great resignation, many food companies have lost a lot of institutional knowledge. So you often have a whole new workforce to speed up important processes. Cross-functional and collaborative problem solving allows food manufacturers to bring together experienced people with employees who may be new to the industry. Combined, they can bring all sorts of new ideas to the table.
The process encourages experienced workers to consider new methods and techniques. It also helps less experienced workers understand many proven industrial processes that keep things running efficiently.
What is the cost of implementation versus the reward for implementing a lean manufacturing program?
Petra: It’s hard to put a hard number on it, but I’ve seen a $1 million investment return over $10 million. Starting a Lean journey can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. In some companies, a Lean deployment may include large consulting groups and corporate teams. But I’ve been involved in implementations with just a few people in a small department.
Holly: Before you see the financial return on investment, you will see improvements in KPIs such as recordable safety rates, positive environmental rates, or first-pass quality rates. From a production perspective, it could be your line efficiency, product yields, or order fill rates. In terms of food quality and safety, you’ll see fewer waits, customer complaints, and near-misses because your processes are more consistent.
Some people hear the word “Lean” and immediately expect downsizing. Can you implement Lean without having layoffs?
Petra: I’ve been involved in projects for large facilities with over 600 people, and we haven’t lost a single person to lean manufacturing change. As part of the process, you will identify the value-added tasks you need and the resources to complete them. And then you reassign people accordingly. Additionally, manufacturing facilities often experience turnover, which adjusts the level of labor to where it needs to be.
Holly: Lean cost savings can also be reinvested in your employees through training, in-house celebrations, facility upgrades, or other programs that can provide substantial worker and company benefits.
Where can you see the fastest results or ROI?
Petra: The fastest results tend to materialize in yields and formulations. In the protein business, for example, where meat has become more expensive, you need to decide where problem-solving Kaizen events are needed or where you want to implement standardized work. Meat cost or meat waste is always a good place to start.
Holly: I’ve seen many formula audits that reveal significant process inconsistencies, such as things being weighed differently, or recipes and formulas not being followed. These errors can produce inconsistent products and also lead to regulatory issues that could affect public health. Streamlining these processes through Lean practices can produce results in a short time.
What are the best ways to integrate HR and senior management into the Lean process?
Petra: It’s important to involve HR early on by explaining what you’re trying to do with collaborative problem solving and implementing Lean tools. As you begin to schedule problem-solving events, keep HR up to date with planning, processes, and reporting. This is usually done every time you do a continuous improvement workshop. You will engage senior management and HR to report what you learned from the event.
Holly: Sometimes it can be useful to include human resources representatives in your Lean teams to represent the human factor. That way, if employees are concerned about a new process, HR can talk about it and provide the necessary assurances.
How to educate and get employees to adopt Lean?
Petra: You have to be careful when starting a Lean initiative not to oversell it at first. If you stop everything in the factory for a general meeting to describe the project, you can cause anxiety to the employees. And then people expect big changes to happen quickly. Lean can be a slow evolution, especially if you start with limited resources. I recommend starting with a small group of people and talking to them, while letting all employees know that you are starting small on this new project.
Holly: I would say you need to empower people and engage them by providing them with knowledge. They need to understand what Lean is, the benefits, their role and how they can contribute. This is to ensure that everyone participates fully regardless of their level. And employees need to feel that they are being listened to and that their ideas have a chance to move forward in the process.
How is creating a “culture of failure” essential to the ultimate success of a Lean program?
Petra: It is essentially the scientific method of thinking. You have to try different approaches, knowing that things don’t always work out. Sometimes you have to take a step back, learn from your mistakes, and move on. The worst mindset you can have is the fear of failure. That being said, you also don’t want to just try a bunch of poorly thought out ideas and waste a lot of product or money.
How do you measure the success of your first steps and how do you continue to use Lean?
Petra: I would recommend people implementing Lean programs to document their journeys. At the start of the project, walk around and take photos of the current state of the business. When you start making changes, you often forget what it looked like before. And then you realize that despite significant changes, you have no documentation to show this trip. Continuous improvement reports are a great way to capture footage and create a record of all the changes you make.