Optimizing Operations

by FoodBusinessNews.net Staff
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Food processors know their equipment must be kept spotless. Most meat processing plants utilize a cleaning shift at the end of each day. In the meat plants I work with, cleaning crews work during the evening shift. These plants produce ground beef patties.

One plant produced 45 million pounds of ground beef in 2005. A good day for retail production of patties and trays in one plant is 135,000 pounds; a record day is 200,000 pounds. The plants are located along the East Coast including New York, Pennsylvania and Georgia. Toward the end of the second shift at these plants, around 10 p.m., all equipment is disassembled prior to cleaning. Parts such as augers, bearings, nuts, cutters and gaskets are put into carts and tubs. A contracted cleaning crew comes in and sprays down everything with hot water, steam and foaming solution. The washdown environment can wreak havoc on electrical circuits but is a necessary step in preventing pathogen growth.

Keep it simple

The cleaning step is simple and relatively efficient. The start-up shift, however, is often left to deal with picking up the pieces, literally. They, of course, have the job of reassembly. Each piece of equipment has many parts, some small and some large. The small parts often get misplaced. A lost bearing, nut, hose clamp or gasket slows reassembly. I witnessed startups at one plant for several days straight. I watched the set-up of grinders, vacuum pumps and chub processors.

I noticed operators searching for small parts of a well-known chub machine. This is a fairly complex machine, with a mechanism for printing on each film package using hot-type dry ink that will not rub off on the wet film, an extrusion and piston mechanism to extrude ground beef into film packaging, and a clip mechanism to tie off the chubs. The chub machine produces large volumes of ground beef, and operators strive to get it up and running efficiently. During my days of observation, I discovered efficiency was consistently lost because of misplaced parts, particularly the smaller parts.

Learning the 5 S’s

A simple way to save time during equipment set up is to have all the parts and tools conveniently arranged. This is known as workplace organization and standardization, or 5 S’s, in lean manufacturing terms. The components of 5 S’s are as follows:

• sorting the necessary from the unnecessary;

• setting items in order of assembly;

• shining, cleaning and identifying items;

• setting the standard for cleanliness; and

• sustaining the first 4 S’s over time.

Surprisingly, this simple efficiency is commonly overlooked. At the end of the second shift, large parts are placed into stainless steel meat tubs or on stainless carts. Large parts are typically put on top of smaller parts. Some small parts are placed in one tub, while similar parts are placed on another cart. Too often, rapid disassembly comes at the price of inefficient and slow reassembly.

Lean tips

Small parts can be put in a nylon net bag or strung on a stainless steel wire. Another option is to take plastic tubing and link it together like a large key ring. Plastic tubing is cheap and easy to use. Any of these materials will hold small items such as springs, washers, nuts, hose clamps, bearings and gaskets. The parts can be cleaned while contained. Most importantly they can easily be found when setup starts.

For larger items make an outline or silhouette similar to the way your father probably stored his tools in the garage. During disassembly place the larger parts in their designated area. Place larger size parts on their silhouette and small parts on a wire. When the clean up crew comes to spray, the parts get cleaned but stay in place. Start up becomes more efficient because all parts are systematically kept clean, organized and readily available.

Recently, I consulted at a meat plant where larger parts were placed in stainless steel tubs for clean up. The cleaning step worked, however the parts were unnecessarily dinged and dented. Sometimes the parts would get tangled and became difficult to remove from the cart. Time also was wasted looking in the cart for the medium-size components that were often under a larger part. After taking the simple step of stringing the small items on tubing, set-up time decreased from 70 minutes to 45 minutes. The time savings quickly translates into more efficient operations in the matter of a few weeks.

Problems still arise, however. At one facility, after stringing the small items on the tubing keychain-type device, the second shift operator hung the key chain and parts on an instrument panel. Unfortunately this panel was covered during the cleaning shift. The next morning several operators and a supervisor were angrily looking for parts. I overheard one operator say, "We used to lose one or two parts, but before that (expletive) keychain invention, we never lost all the small parts." Several minutes later the parts were located and reassembly ensued.

The 5 S’s can save start-up time. In a New York-based ground beef plant, the plant manager authorized and implemented the use of small rings that were welded to specific carts for specific equipment. During disassembly the operators attach small parts to the ring. "Now that the ring is welded to the cart, the parts don’t walk away," he says.

One small innovation is becoming a way of doing business. Each minute saved is money saved and profit increased. The vice president of operations at the New York plant said, "The simplest improvement is often the best." He adds that sometimes he and his management team can get caught up in larger capital improvements and miss the simpler innovations. He points out the company president encourage him and his managers to "spend their imagination first." The two tubes hooked together like a key ring cost $1.35 and saved at least 20 minutes per startup.

One minute looking for parts is one minute wasted in production. If you apply this lean tip your set up time will be faster, routine and efficient — save time and money.

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