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The Top 4 Continuous Improvement Tools to Use for Food Manufacturing - Part 1

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By Emilie A Lachance - October 05, 2020

In the food manufacturing industry, profit margins are very small. During unforeseen circumstances, if sales are reduced for any reason, profit margins can shrink to a barely sustainable level. In order to survive and thrive through good times and bad, food manufacturers must obsessively manage production costs. That’s why, for the most successful food manufacturers, the implementation of continuous improvement tools is a top priority.

Continuous improvement is a philosophy that engages the entire organization in evaluating and improving every process. It requires getting employees involved, tracking and systematizing processes, and reducing variation, defects, and cycle times. Although the methods and techniques of continuous improvement form the backbone of its implementation, company culture can prove to be just as important to its success. 

There are many continuous improvement tools and techniques that can be used to increase efficiency in food manufacturing and can help to markedly improve profits. We’ll cover four such tools in this article.

1. Catchball

Catchball is a continuous improvement tool in which projects are transferred from one team to another within the company until the project is complete. When a project is started, all aspects, steps, and goals are defined. 

Throughout the process, the “ball” is “tossed” to whichever team specializes in the current step of the project. This maximizes efficiency because the teams that are best suited for certain tasks handle them so another team that isn’t suited as well for the task doesn’t get stuck working with something they’re unfamiliar with. 

2. Gemba Walks

Gemba Walks are a technique in which managers and supervisors travel to and physically walk through facilities to look for opportunities for improvement, be it through reduced waste, faster manufacturing procedures, or any other possible process improvement. Although this tactic involves critiquing workers and their practices within the facility, it also encourages face-to-face interaction between floor workers and management, allowing for communication about continuous improvement to flow throughout the company.

A vital part of the implementation of Gemba Walks is to ensure that managers visit facilities on different days of the week and at different times of day. This provides a chance to observe how worker behavior and productivity changes with time, and it can highlight which shifts are the most and least efficient. 

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3. Hoshin Kanri

A Japanese phrase approximately translating to “strategy deployment” or “direction management,” Hoshin Kanri is a practice focused on defining and unifying the goals for an entire organization. Establishing universal goals throughout a company, from leadership to floor-level employees, allows creativity, communication, and problem-solving to flow between levels of a company. This not only encourages problem-solving on every level of the company but also creates a positive company culture of improvement.

4. Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Cycle

The PDCA Cycle, as the name suggests, includes four steps:

  • Plan: Pinpoint areas of focus and create an action plan.
  • Do: Carry out a small-scale test of the plan’s effectiveness.
  • Check: Analyze the results to identify actionable insights from the test.
  • Act: If the results of the test are positive, implement wider changes within the company. If they are negative, return to the beginning of the cycle to form a new plan.

The PDCA cycle is most effective for trialing incremental improvements or fixing small problems within a company or facility. Its cycle style makes it an ideal format to run repeated tests in a short period of time, with small changes to each iteration. 

Why Are These Continuous Improvement Tools Used in Food Manufacturing?

Because of the food manufacturing industry’s tight profit margins, manufacturers must operate at maximum efficiency to stay afloat. Nearly all of the continuous improvement tools discussed above either reduce waste, create a company culture of involvement and problem-solving on all levels, increase production speed and/or efficiency, or place the most qualified employees or teams for each task in charge of the task.

Some of the tools above accomplish several of these goals at once. Each goal is beneficial to companies in its own unique way. 

Worximity provides you with the analytics data that you need to measure the results of your continuous improvement initiatives. The ultimate measure of success in manufacturing improvement is overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). OEE is a measure that captures all of the inputs in a manufacturing system and quantifies improvements at every level. But how do you get started benchmarking your current OEE and implementing the continuous improvement tools listed above? 

Before implementing any of the continuous improvement tools above, it’s helpful to have an OEE assessment to establish your baseline performance. Then, as you implement new continuous improvement tools, you’ll be able to measure the progress that your business is making toward becoming best in class. Implementing Worximity will enable you to benchmark your OEE performance and measure gains as you implement your continuous improvement plans.

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