The benefits of lean manufacturing for the food and beverage industry

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Lean manufacturing and Total Quality Management (TQM) first came about through the work of Henry Ford, followed by Toyota in Japan. They set about to decrease ‘Muda’, a term given to everything in a process that is unnecessary, time-wasting and that results in a loss of profitability. Since their pioneering work to implement TQM and lean processing, many companies worldwide have followed suit. However, the general perception is that it is difficult to adopt such techniques in industries where consumables are concerned and products have a much shorter shelf life. We are here to tell you that even the food and beverage industries can benefit from lean manufacturing. Let’s show you how.

Support from the top down

Lean manufacturing and how it is manifested will differ over the various industries but there are some key components that remain the same and must be adopted. Essentially, lean manufacturing starts with a recognition of Muda in the workplace and a need to eliminate it. Once this has been achieved, the process needs to be supported by all employees, starting with management. Issues can arise if this step is overlooked, but the reality is that lean manufacturing incorporates both the company’s and the staff’s best interests. As a result, profitability will never be truly attainable if either the company or the staff are not taken into consideration. It is the management’s job to look after the staff, which represents their most valuable resources; and it is the staff’s responsibility to support the management and live and breathe continuous improvement.

Recognise which components are time-sensitive and which components can be altered

This might seem like double-dutch, but recognising which components of the food or beverage manufacturing processes can be altered and which ones are time-sensitive will help in discovering where to start implementing lean changes. For example, raw ingredients have an expiry date and these cannot be compromised, although a longer shelf life will be valuable to the customer. The way in which ingredients are manipulated to produce the final product could be an opportunity for improvement. This involves the equipment being used, the staffing levels and hours of work, transport, storage, and understanding the customer demand.

Equipment and space

Since much of lean manufacturing is looking at the ‘old’ in a new way and recognising the opportunities for improvement, this applies to the equipment and layout in food production. It is possible that Muda can be improved or eliminated with a change of equipment or better layout of the factory floor to enhance workflow and reduce staff movement and equipment downtime.

Staffing levels and shifts

Staff are often the key component to any industry and as such they are essential and need to be looked after. It is not an element of TQM to simply expect staff to work overtime and compromise themselves to produce more in less time, as this will also compromise the quality of the product. Staffing levels need to be carefully considered if lean manufacturing is to be implemented, particularly in the food industry where the clock is ticking with respect to the shelf life of raw ingredients and optimum manufacturing times. It could also be beneficial to look at sustainable shift durations and structures to ensure staff remain rested and able to work at peak performance and equipment is utilised with as little downtime as possible.

Transport and Storage

Once the food is manufactured, it is important to ensure transport and storage do not let the whole process down. Therefore, as part of lean manufacturing, organised, well-structured and accessible storage areas need to be laid out and reliable and timely transport services identified. As soon as the product is manufactured, the most value is added when the time from manufacture to customer consumption is whittled down to a minimum.

Understanding customer demand

This is where inventory management systems such as Unleashed Software are helpful as having an accurate understanding of customer demand is essential in any industry. With the food and beverage industry, things cannot be kept in storage, repackaged and brought back out as a ‘fresh, new product’ if it has not sold. There is a shelf life to be considered and as such, the fulfilment of customer demand needs to be achieved in a timely manner. This comes from knowing what the customer wants and awareness of what the competition is doing and its effect on the customer. This relates to flavours, accessibility, packaging for ease of use etc. Understanding these things gives power to the company and the ability to be one step ahead while still reducing waste and maximising profits.

Lean manufacturing requires an honest look at the current processes and an open mind to trying new techniques. It needs to be adopted by all levels of staff and if done so, can represent profitability even to food manufacturers.

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Melanie - Unleashed Software

Article by Melanie Chan in collaboration with our team of Unleashed Software inventory and business specialists. Melanie has been writing about inventory management for the past three years. When not writing about inventory management, you can find her eating her way through Auckland.

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