Now more than ever before, speed to market and operational efficiency are the determining factors for success in the volatile, fast-paced world of food manufacturing.

Lean is the pursuit of minimal waste and consistent improvements to the flow of work within a plant or manufacturing facility. Because waste is the enemy of sustained high throughput in manufacturing, lean practices ensure the appropriate use of materials, waste is minimized, and capacity is achieved without overbuilding to meet heightened demand. Lean manufacturing is becoming a core principle in food manufacturing, which often faces complex production processes and short shelf life.

The benefits include less waste and a dramatic reduction in the time it takes to produce products. Focusing on waste, lean begins with reduction. It is one of the most critical functions in lean. In lean, it is easy to see that waste is simply stuff that doesn’t work. Therefore, to start, the goal is to find where you are losing your productivity and start there. Eliminate everything that is not moving the process forward.

For example, with an assembly line, a waste bucket with the attached water hose, possibly standing by all the time on the floor, can easily be eliminated. Or, another example is the simple timer on the oven that is set for a precise time, but often is left unadjusted, resulting in too much time. With Lean, you need to find and eliminate the waste first. If you start from that place, eliminating waste is just the first step to true improvement. So, instead of focusing on the waste, you focus on the process behind it.

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Remember, Lean only begins when the job is done, and it is difficult to produce without constant improvement. The next step is to quantify, i.e., track, what you are doing to improve the process. This is key in assessing the impact of changes. To aid in this, make sure the design of your production facilities takes into account the need to monitor processes in real time, i.e., “predictive maintenance.”

The dairy industry uses a wide variety of parts, from scalded tanks and drums to frozen chutes and tubes, and assembly lines (along with processing the actual product) require monitoring of the entire process to determine the right parts, parts in use, parts available and the condition of the equipment. In addition, in the dairy industry there is a significant amount of waste in the production process, such as food that has to be discarded to protect consumer health and environmental factors. To manage this waste stream, the plant uses a bioreactor model that simulates the dairy production process.

Bioreactor modeling enables the plant to monitor the entire process and create a virtual floor plan, including the waste, in real time. By collecting data in this manner, the plant can identify those areas where process changes are needed. This approach to production management allows the plant to adjust as needed without interrupting production. Rather than shutting down the line, the plant can adjust the flow of product. This real-time monitoring of the process also enables better planning, scheduling and staff training.

This kind of process improvement should not come as a surprise to anyone in a manufacturing setting. It’s business-as-usual for every business that wants to compete on price and keep its market share. The same can be said for food companies looking to improve their efficiency, efficiency of production and production, also known as quality. At the manufacturing level, it is important to add in the management component and evaluate processes from the manufacturing perspective.

Manufacturing is a relationship between people and processes. Companies like to say that their jobs are about people, and processes are simply how they get there. It is not that simple, but no company will succeed if it doesn’t first get the people part of the process right. Make sure you evaluate what is being done to produce a given product at any plant. And, make sure that every plant is up to date on how to get this done. Also, make sure that the plan for the plant covers, specifically, production, inventory, customer service and logistics.

These are just a few of the key components to Lean manufacturing; remember that the model is the same regardless of the type of manufacturing. The key to Lean is to reduce waste, but it is a holistic process that considers all aspects of a product’s life cycle. It does this by taking inventory, removing waste, improving customer service, managing production and logistics, or the overall system.

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