Lean, Clean and Green Food Processing

Lean can give you a three-for-one, improving manufacturing, safety and sustainability.

By Glen Miller and Christian Paulsen

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A major conglomerate saves a cool half-million dollars with a successful yield kaizen. A small manufacturer saves $46,000 thanks to organizing tools following 5S, and a food processor saves $28,000 after initiating a process improvement kaizen. Are the benefits of these initiatives limited to these companies' bottom lines, or could it be that these lean initiatives have broader implications?

While many manufacturers look at process improvement, safety and recycling as separate programs, they would benefit from viewing lean, safety and sustainability as three fibers making a single rope used in the improvement journey. Just as a rope is made stronger with multiple fibers wrapped to make one, making lean, safety and sustainability one initiative can make your plant stronger.

Generally, the relentless pursuit of eliminating waste – the essence of lean -- will do just that: eliminate waste and wasteful practices that are hidden. A lean strategy with the accompanying training and problem-solving sessions will provide "new eyes" for management and workers to first see the hidden waste and then to begin to eliminate waste. Once these eyes are seeing waste, then motivation and creativity to include safety and sustainability in the lean efforts strengthen the benefits.

What's 5S? It's an operational methodology that asks you to Sort (or take out everything you need for this job), Set (group like items together), Shine (clean everything up), Standardize (make sure everything has a place) and Sustain (audit the process and keep it going).

In the case of the food processor's process improvement kaizen, the company used the lean principle of "pull" to optimize the use of wash water. According to Carl Deeley, the company synchronized water flow to product demand. One hundred liters of grade-water is required to clean one kilogram of green beans. They knew there was an issue if the product was not cleaned properly or if there was water left over. The pull principle helped identify and correct the issues, reducing water use by $28,000.

The process improvement, however, is more than dollars saved. The consumer is ensured a cleaner product, reducing the potential of illness and costs. And a precious resource, water, is saved as part of the same effort. This lean initiative would be impressive on any sustainability report to headquarters or to the local community.

In a similar case, the large conglomerate initiated a yield improvement kaizen in one of its food plants. In this case, several loss points were identified and corrected with minor engineering work. Process parameters were then optimized to produce the best yield. Yield kaizens or problem-solving sessions that reduce losses of your primary raw ingredient by even a fraction of a percent can bring impressive savings.

The savings from waste elimination may have been the sole focus in the past. Yet with today's focus on sustainability, this same yield kaizen truly reduces the demand on our natural resources.

Yield savings of meat or poultry reduce the demand on the feed to raise the livestock as well as the energy required to raise and transport. Yield savings of packaging supplies would reduce the production demands of your vendors, which in turn reduces their use of utilities and raw ingredients. On the other hand, if the food processor's sales increase, then capacity gains lead to more product and more sales with waste held to a responsible percentage of volume. Either way is a win-win-win situation for the environment, consumers and processors.

While the first two examples primarily demonstrate sustainable lean initiatives, there are several examples of how lean complements safety, or vice versa.
Slips, trips and falls are leading causes of work-related injuries, especially in many manufacturing plants. Since most of these injuries are same-level slips, trips and falls, many are preventable with good 5S.

In the case of a small food processor, a conveyor motor is replaced. The old motor is left near the line. Prior to the use of 5S as a lean tool, the operator or maintenance technician might leave the motor for some time unmarked and in the way. An operator could have tripped over the motor before the maintenance technician returned for proper removal.

Now, the lead operator works with maintenance to get the motor back to the shop for repair because she wants to maintain proper 5S on her line. The functional organization of 5S diminishes hazards, near-misses and accidents. The dollars saved by 5S safety implications are more difficult to measure than the standard lean metrics for quicker changeover or startup, but there are saving in dollars. Moreover, a safe workplace is priceless.

An ergonomic upgrade typically also benefits efficiency – so said Eric Reynolds, manager of safety and ergonomics at a Cargill plant, at the 2009 Safety Forum Program, coordinated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Food Manufacturers' Consortium. From this view, one can conclude that safety and lean practices are complementary. The reduction of material transportation and employee movement directly contributes to cost reduction. Moreover, less transport and movement immediately reduces the behaviors and conditions that lead to incidents and accidents.

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