April 12, 2017      3 min read

Lean is a philosophy of delivering value from a customer’s point of view, eliminating waste and continuously and actively improving a company’s processes. Lean can drastically change how a company does business. After gaining a better understanding of the lean philosophy, we will take a closer look at how it can apply to the food industry.

The key principles of lean management

Lean management is based on four key principles and shapes the operations of a company. The first principle is pull. Instead of producing as much as possible, the customer demand “pulls” goods or services through the manufacturing process. In turn, this decreases overproduction, inventory, and working capital as well.

The second principle is one-piece flow. This means it is important to focus on one single component at a time. This helps reduce work-in-progress time, process interruption, lead and waiting times.

The third is underpinned by the German word takt, meaning “pulse”. In a company, takt can be interpreted as the pulse or heartbeat of a lean manufacturing system. Effectively, takt time shows the rate at which products or services need to be completed in the manufacturing process in order to fulfill the demands of the customer. Takt tells a company how fast they need to manufacture a product. It encourages the balance of work content and a continuous flow. It also allows a company to respond flexibly and adapt to changes in the marketplace.

Lastly, the fourth principle is zero defects. Mistakes happen and that is a reality. However, a lean company does not pass on defects. Mistakes that occur in previous steps must be rectified before proceeding to the next step of the manufacturing process.

This continuous improvement process will be crucial to staying competitive in an ever evolving market. It is based on the premise of creating value and eliminating waste, hence it can be very advantageous for the food industry.

Lean manufacturing and the food industry

On the whole, the food industry involves substantial amounts of food, produced in large batches. It requires lengthy lead times and has variability with the different growing seasons and products. The variability continues with each product, since every product has a different rate of expiration.

On the surface it may seem counterintuitive to apply lean processes to this industry. There are so many variables and uncertainties. However, when deciphering the supply chain, the key types of waste identified in food production are very similar to those seen in many other industries.

A closer look into the food industry reveals waste problems in over production, transport, wait times, inventory levels, food defects, and processing. In order to enhance these processes and decrease waste, continuous improvement can be made to these components of the food industry.

For example, in packaging lines, processes can be streamlined. If there are redundant resources that are not adding value in one place, then remove them. If the resources are not totally redundant, use them in an area where they will provide value. When redundant resources are removed, the processing areas can become less cluttered. This can make factory and packaging areas tidier, creating a more workable environment and flow, and can improve the flow and takt of the packaging process.

Consultants are a viable option for a food company who want to become lean. They can easily identify steps in the process that are producing excess waste. Their informed, but unbiased, perspective can help reduce waste in several areas. For instance, they may identify where to decrease the amount of employees on certain production lines and use them somewhere else in the factory. Waste reduction can also be applicable in food handling methods and the amount of time changing over to a different production of food on the same line.

The food industry can be and should be very receptive to lean manufacturing principles. The reduction of waste and continuous improvement can be extremely applicable for their business models.

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