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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How do you motivate people to think and problem-solve in ways that integrate and combine these three different perspectives? The problem-solving sessions referred to as kaizens are a great place to instill synthesis or integrated thinking. Synthesis is an academic term for combining thoughts and concepts. It is considered a little more difficult than analysis, which basically is the foundation of an effective kaizen.

First, break down the problem. Breaking a problem into smaller parts is analysis. The ROI from group problem-solving increases significantly when the participants recombine the suggested fixes toward an approach that may address three gains for one problem. In the best of all worlds, a solution will benefit cost, safety and sustainability.

Using the 5-Why technique can help during analysis. Basically, take a problem statement -- "We are using more water than last year"— and ask why? "We have leaks." Why? "Our plumbing fixtures and troughs are breaking down." Why? "Well, for one thing, the water from the well is very hard." Why? "We think because wells have hard water." Why? "Our area has limestone and granite. Minerals leach into the well. What can we do?"

At this point, a group facilitator should restate the problem and then perhaps hold until the group goes down another 5Why line of thinking. Once the problem or problems are clarified, then move toward synthesis. That thinking stage is initiated by asking "how?"

"How can we get numerous things done with one creative solution?" In the above dilemma, certainly some repairs must be made for the leaks. More importantly, a filtering system and recycling of water may be more sustainable and will waste much less water. Over a short period, the solution will pay for itself.

5-Why root cause analysis can be used to address issues on all fronts. The plant manager at a small dairy notices his material losses have been on the rise. He asks several operators why losses are up and finds one who has noticed that "more product is going on the floor during start-up and we have to start and stop more frequently lately." So why is more product on the floor? "The filler nozzles don't seem to be closing properly at startup." Why aren't they closing? "I'm not sure, but the filler nozzles have not been closing very well since the last preventive maintenance."

The plant manager pulls the maintenance manager and the mechanic that did the PM into the conversation to ask why the filler nozzles are hanging up. It turns out that the mechanic had to substitute O-rings with some that he thought would work. Why? "Well, we had to rush the parts for this PM and the vendor was out of stock. I think we have the right ones in stock now."

The maintenance manager is quick to ask why they were rushing the order, and he learns that the reorder quantity is too low. After this Lean 5-Why discussion, the correct O-rings were installed and the order quantity was increased addressing the immediate need to improve yield and addressing the root cause to prevent future issues. They also improved safety, since the floors were not as wet, and improved the environmental impact by keeping product out of the floor drains. In this case, one lean conversation improved yield, cost, environmental impact and safety.

Including safety and sustainability in your lean thinking can initiate significant benefits. Lean thinking challenges an enterprise to eliminate waste. Your enterprise can get a three-for-one benefit if your kaizen events are designed to challenge the status quo and change processes toward waste reduction, sustainability and safety.

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