Market-Driven Manufacturing at Abbott Nutrition

From packaging to new plants, boomers, kids and fitness buffs are the real managers of the company's nutritional beverage operations.

By Bob Sperber, Plant Operations Editor

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Meeting operational challenges

Abbott Nutrition plants are managed with the expectation that if they're not already running 24/7, they should be able to do so. Therefore, operator training is a priority, as is a responsive maintenance organization.

Abbott Nutrition in Granada
Abbott Nutrition plant personnel, like this operator in Granada, Spain, monitor quality, efficiency and everything about the plant using various monitoring systems.

When asked for the toughest management challenge the division faces, Roslon cited a "changing work force and the changing technical requirements for employees." New employees entering the workforce "often have a different perspective on what they expect from their employers and what they are willing to give than the employees from a generation ago."

Conversely, she says long-term employees often face the challenge of "learning how to run equipment that is much more technical in nature" than the equipment they cut their teeth on 10 or more years ago. Roslon says the company's employee training and educational initiatives address both challenges.

To keep up with changing consumer preferences, Abbott's engineering organization maintains flexible manufacturing and packaging lines. This plays out in two areas: accommodating new packaging types and running plants efficiently.

For example, a given formulation may be offered in several package configurations and be produced on the same manufacturing line before being diverted to one of multiple packaging lines. The whole process requires lots of vigilance to schedules, bottleneck reduction and ever-faster equipment changeovers.

Additionally, in keeping with a trend driven by major retailers and even their warehouse stores, some customers require exclusive arrangements such as different numbers of bottles per carton. So equipment must be flexible enough to handle multiple pack sizes.

Because plant management and engineering rely on the expertise of the companies that supply them with technology, the company also relies on its suppliers to help meet marketplace needs. Before a new system is installed, engineers conduct "extensive front-end planning to minimize startup challenges," says Roslon.

"Equipment suppliers need to know that what they provide needs to be flexible, easy to operate, reliable and safe for our employees," she says. "Our fundamental expectation is that we procure, install and validate high-speed systems that reliably hold extremely high standards for all aspects of food safety."

Going forward, the company is accelerating growth globally and in existing U.S. product categories to increase market share. Nutritional products are driving the well-being of parent Abbott Laboratories, too. For the second quarter ended June 30, while corporate-wide sales are down 3.6 percent in the U.S. (compared to the second quarter of 2010), Nutrition division sales show double-digit revenue growth, a $1.5 billion increase.

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