Mass Production Meets Custom Manufacturing at Mars

It’s a blend of new and déjà vu in Mars’ Hackettstown, N.J., plant, where the 21st century technology of My M&M’S meets the 24-hour production of an American icon.

By Mike Pehanich, Plant Operations Editor

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“(The team concept) is working well in the (M&M’S) coating room,” says Dodge. “The people there have worked together for a long time. It’s a world-class and best-in-industry team, highly skilled and operating some of the more complex assets [in the plant]. We’re trying to take that spirit and pride and build from it.”

“As our factories evolve and become more efficient and effective, we look to more engagement of our employees,” adds Emberger, noting Mars’ employment of Kaizen techniques – continuous improvement “quality-control” strategies – to add value to products and to improve the supply chain.

Emberger also identifies environment and sustainability issues among manufacturing priorities – specifically eliminating waste generated by changeover or process inefficiencies. Reducing the amount of time that lines generate unusable product also reduces energy consumption.

“As a corporation, we take best practices across the globe. We can transfer our knowledge to other plants in the system,” says Emberger. “We’re after the low-hanging fruit first in areas like electrical usage, changing internal lighting to systems with low-energy requirements. With our boilers, heat generators and compressed air, we try to reuse energy. We use the heat from our air compressors to preheat boiler water. And we track our energy usage by line closely and run some motors only when required.”

Mars culture has long demanded strong in-house engineering support for its home-grown systems and equipment. Though the company incorporates more off-the-shelf equipment today than in the past, it claims not to have sacrificed engineering strength in the process.

The engineering organization is divided into three levels: global, North American and factory level. Engineers are assigned to long-term projects, mid-term projects or support and implementation roles. “(This division) helps us develop new processing and packaging machines,” says Emberger. “And with local engineers, we can implement systems quickly.”

One of the company’s biggest strengths, according to Emberger, is the ability to bring new technology from pilot plants to Mars processing and packaging lines. “We are well resourced,” he says. “That enables us to bring products to market fast.”

Engineering’s other primary focus is on developing more efficient production – increasing the flow-rate on processing lines and the throughput of packaging systems.

Lean is the mean

While the Mars organization throughout its history has been as economical as it is private, the company has latched on to modern manufacturing concepts that fit the five principles of the Mars organization: Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency and Freedom.

“We take a lean manufacturing approach,” says Emberger. “We use ‘lean tools’ to maximize efficiency and create value.”

Among those tools are Total Productive Maintenance principles; SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Dies) principles for quick changeover and reduced downtime; and Kaizen continuous improvement techniques.

Best practices are not silver bullets, Emberger emphasizes. “Supply chain excellence is the product of a lot of little things. Rarely is there one ‘breakthrough’ idea,” he says. “It’s the little steps you take every day that add up. The good news is that we have lean teams that help with knowledge transfer across our factory network. We’re strong in tapping our global knowledge.”

Mars’ high-powered marketing organization has not overshadowed the importance of its manufacturing operations.

“Manufacturing has high status in the Mars organization,” Emberger emphasizes. “Our executives are visible in our factories and are very much attuned to what is happening in them. Mars is no different than top European or Asian companies in that respect. Placing high value on manufacturing is very much a part of our culture.”

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