Continuous Improvement - From a worthy idea to commercial gain

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Whether it’s responding to consumer demand for healthier products, maximising competitive advantage with exciting new product developments, pressure from retailers, resisting erosion of margins or taking steps to maximise processing performance and reduce waste, there are always challenges to keep food manufacturers and processors on their toes.  But, common to all sectors of the industry, many – if not all - of these challenges are inextricably linked. 

The introduction of new products can have a profound impact on downtime, changeovers and throughput, not to mention supply chain and storage issues. Production planning and forecasting will also count for nothing unless there is true alignment between all areas of the business – from the supply of raw materials and ingredients through to production, packing and despatch; and from customer orders to quality assurance compliance as well as the maintenance cycles of processing equipment.  And it’s all too easy to persist with established performance and process control measures that gloss over underlying issues and fail to pinpoint inefficiency issues arising from supply variables, new product introductions, outdated changeover practices and operational inertia.

Only by standing back and looking at the big picture is it possible to define and substantiate those actions that will deliver the most effective and sustainable outcomes for any food processor and manufacturer.  Undertaking a thorough analysis of all operational factors and introducing regular and finely tuned productivity audits should be the starting point – not just in individual departments or production areas, but also how each area of the business impacts on another.  This will help to identify those areas where immediate improvements can be made.  Equally, it will highlight the true consequences of seemingly incidental and routinely accepted shortcomings that are undermining production efficiencies and commercial margins.

Such an approach will provide invaluable insight to underpin any proposed investment in new automation technologies.  It will also help to correct any misalignment of existing performance ‘drivers’ arising from the ‘noise’ and distortion of everyday issues that so often cloud judgement and lead to misinterpretation or oversight of key production issues. 

Put simply, every aspect and every part of the business has a part to play in the successful pursuit of a collective goal – a profitable, progressive and adaptable operation that is entirely in tune with the demands of customers and ever-evolving consumer buying patterns.

 

Nothing stands still

Of course, maintaining performance excellence is not a one off exercise.  And it is certainly not something that can be achieved simply through management assertion.  Just as market demands and the pressure of competition will never stand still, nor will the options for new processing practices and technologies and the scope for product and service innovation.

Developing and instilling a culture of proactive continuous improvement is absolutely vital to ensure prompt and decisive action can be taken to pounce on such new opportunities and address unforeseen pressures.  This points to the importance of collective responsibility and operational agility.  It also highlights the importance of effective forecasting and contingency planning and the constant need to challenge conventional production practices and attitudes. The key to achieving the real target outcome is to establish a consistent and shared goal and to work with all levels of staff to create a motivational and supportive mindset that will help to maximise their contribution to the real targets of the business.

Engaging with the workforce and establishing open and responsive two-way communication will encourage task ownership and help to promote the true objectives and shared values of a business.  It will also help to clarify respective responsibilities, escalation procedures, progress reporting and performance targets for everyone within the production team and beyond.  And it will provide the platform for inspiring and empowering individuals so that recurring issues can be resolved promptly and ongoing innovations are not viewed as unnecessary or disruptive to the accepted ‘norm’.

 

Our experience of working with processors and manufacturers throughout the chilled, frozen, snack, confectionery, baking and fresh food industry has shown the real value of detailed operational analyses, effective real-time use of data and genuine staff engagement. By challenging accepted performance standards, improving accuracy of forecasts and helping a business to adopt a sustainable continuous improvement model, we have not only improved productivity and efficiencies, but also minimised rejects and waste on the production lines and in all areas of the supply chain. 

 The cumulative results of such actions clearly have a dramatic impact on the bottom line.  And there’s the added reassurance of greater operational consistency and an ability to flex and adapt to accommodate increasingly complex production processes as well as future opportunities and threats.     


Lina Juanias, is a Senior Consultant at Libra Europe Consulting. Lina’s area of expertise is Continuous Improvement and has many years experience in the food sector in the UK delivering successful performance improvement and change programmes to many of our clients.


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