Lean manufacturing began in the early 1990s with Henry Ford, and gained further ground after the rebuilding of industry in post WWII Japan. Since then, lean manufacturing has caught on quickly, and in the United States it is now commonplace.
A lean approach focuses on systematically reducing any non-value adding or wasteful activities, to increase efficiency, productivity and employee morale.
The food industry in the United States has not been as quick to pick up on the benefits of the lean approach as many other manufacturing industries. However, today the food industry is rapidly demonstrating the effectiveness and versatility of the lean method.
The Aim of Lean
The primary goal of the lean approach is to keep wastage to an absolute minimum and to simultaneously increase the speed at which the product gets to the customer. The food industry is therefore the perfect candidate for lean methods, since food products are perishable and by nature must be delivered to the customer in a timely manner.
Since inventory waste of finished goods is rarely a problem in the food industry due to the perishable nature of the product, food manufacturing can benefit greatly from a lean approach. Some have held a misperception that lean is not necessary in the food industry, since this industry by nature avoids wastage.
However, as Food Processing Specialist Jeff Kronenberg says, “In the food industry, waste isn’t as easy to see as in other industries.” TechHelp, a university partnership, has recently identified eight types of waste in the food industry.
Represented by the word D-O-W-N-T-I-M-E, TechHelp identified factors such as Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, Non Value-Added Processing, Transportation, Inventory (excess), Motion (excess) and Employee knowledge and skills. These subtle contributions to wastage in the food industry demonstrate the utility of the lean approach.
Benefits of the Lean Approach
Adopting this approach in the food industry can create profitability and lead to a more efficient workforce. Improving profitability also means making space for more employees, which can make work easier for staff. In turn, this can help to boost morale and contribute to happier workforce overall.
In a similar way, the lean approach can eliminate unnecessary equipment, condense work cells or combine operations, leading to additional floor space that allows for bringing more production capabilities to a given facility. Moreover, this will improve productivity and profitability.
Adopting the Approach
Adopting the lean approach requires education at each level of the manufacturing process. This includes top level managers as well as process line employees, so that each staff member is in the loop and on the same page. This is because minor issues can cause problems; something as simple as semantics can cause confusion.
Although the food industry was slow to adopt lean principles, most lean experts agree that lean plays an important role in present-day food manufacturing.