Leaning on employees

by FoodBusinessNews.net Staff
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Many meat and poultry processors have applied the fundamental manufacturing practice of minimizing waste. They direct resources toward better production equipment, improved processes and materials. Management makes decisions to minimize inedibles, save packaging and reduce energy costs. Many of these efforts contribute to waste reduction, which is a major component of Lean manufacturing. In the Lean lexicon, these efforts are directed at the seven wastes. I offer the eighth waste.

Optimally an enterprise reducing waste through strategy and tactics will maintain a competitive advantage. This competitive edge is gained through more sales, increased quality and less cost. Continuous improvement that develops competitive advantage utilizes the experience, judgment and savvy of all employees. This proven process of problem-solving meetings, called kaizens, is where workers and leaders sort out the problem, use experience, data and intuition to generate solutions and then set a goal for improvement.

The kaizens can be tactical and in the moment or strategically planned to solve problems across company departments or between steps in the value stream. For the tactical kaizens, little changes mount up to significant cost savings. For example, operators shave 10 minutes off a change-over by effectively organizing and staging tools and equipment. The strategic kaizens often have larger and more significant time and cost reductions. For example, a strategic kaizen for improving production scheduling can save time, reduce rework and improve customer satisfaction.

Listening to workers

From where do these improvement ideas and actions come? They often come from workers. However, the management culture or approach may not naturally support inclusion of workers into the kaizens.

For this reason, part of successful Lean deployments includes respecting and including workers in the kaizens. In other words, use the savvy of workers to improve their job efficiency. In contrast, excluding workers from generating solutions is wasting their experience and creativity.

This waste is the eighth waste within many Lean deployments. In order to shift the management culture toward inclusion, it is often helpful to have tactical kaizens for a particular line right in the plant. It is helpful to choose a fairly quiet area and have a flip chart available. Keeping the tactical kaizens short and focused on a single problem is vital. This is difficult, particularly if many things are going wrong. However, focus contributes directly to creative problem solving and supports targeted actions that can be efficiently implemented and measured for results. This method is exponentially more effective if the actions can be implemented by the workers shortly after the kaizen. They make suggestions, clarify a path of action and implement. Often they can see results immediately.

Blowing a whistle on waste

Let me provide several examples of using worker input and savvy to continuously improve production within a meat or poultry plant. A supervisor and I observed significant rework on a ground beef line that utilized modified atmosphere packaging overwrap. Rework increased during start-up and tray changes. Numerous trays were wasted. Meat was reground and some touched the floor and was therefore, inedible. All of the rework was upstream from the overwrap, primarily in the conveyance of the trays and the meat. Given the extent of rework, the supervisor shut down the line.

We discussed the situation. We asked workers on the line what they thought. Together we decided the portioner was running too fast and the soaker pads manually placed on the trays was hindering the tray placement and speed. Our application was to slow down the portioner and try a new manual method for placing the pads. Kaizen time allotted eight minutes. Waste reduction was approximately 60 percent on the trays and reduced inedible by 75 percent. Moreover, output increased as measured against the standard for that line.

Packers at another facility began literally blowing a whistle to alert the lead operator that the line downstream was having problems. Nine times out of 10 the problem was with the labeler. The whistle has reduced rework by slowing or stopping the line upstream before processed meat piles up. This particular solution cost $3. Moreover, the whistle was an experiment to see if stopping or slowing flow would significantly reduce rework.

A flashing light that can be turned on by the packers is now under consideration by maintenance. A flashing light was suggested by the packers, but the whistle was applied first because it could be in place the next day and cost very little. Now that this audible warning is working and reducing cost every day, it is time to consider a more permanent solution.

Another example of worker involvement has been the significant contributions of 5S to the quality and effectiveness of start-up and change over. Getting tools, equipment and materials to the needed locations at the appropriate time is a prime area for contributions from line workers.

Gain worker input

If asked, they often have ideas about staging equipment and tools in efficient and effective order. Simply asking workers what tool might best help them set up more efficiently can add directly to minimizing start-up or change-over times. The important step is to gain their input and act upon that input.

The savvy of workers in any meat or poultry plant can be a benefit. Consider short kaizens on the plant floor when a problem arises. Often small and inexpensive adjustments can be made in short order. Also, workers become more motivated to contribute to cost cutting as they see their ideas and solutions applied to their work. If the eighth waste exists in your plant, start today to eliminate it.

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