Question everything with Lean Manufacturing
How Hostess Brands moves to operate more efficiently.
BakingBusiness.com, Jan. 24, 2012
by Laurie Gorton and Lucy Sutton

Although the company filed for reorganization Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Hostess Brands, Irving, TX, has been making progress in operating more efficiently. The company used its Emporia, KS, cake facility — all 350,000 sq ft of it — as a test case for Lean Manufacturing practices, which it then rolled out to its other plants.

One of the core principles guiding implementation of Lean Manufacturing is “Question everything,” which takes strength from the fact that everyone has an opinion. “We are always asking, ‘Does it add value to the customer?’ This allows us to modify the process a lot,” said Ron Wilson, field director, Hostess Brands. “Besides, it’s healthy to be able to question.”

For example, a shipping employee questioned the use of clear tape to seal cases of both chocolate and sugar donuts. He suggested that although products were clearly labeled by variety, different colors of tape would make the cases easier to select. Emporia changed to red and blue tape. “The result is that we no longer have the mix-ups in order picking that occurred before,” Mr. Wilson noted.

Another principle, “Promote information sharing,” led the Emporia engineering department to develop a live scheduling system. Flat-screen monitors located throughout the bakery and in the maintenance shop display the production schedule.

“We make more than 700 different SKUs here, and orders shift constantly,” said Todd Crook, plant manager of the Emporia plant. “This often resulted in pieces of equipment being brought out to the floor but not used because production requirements had changed.”

Now, when the scheduler alters an order, the change shows up immediately on the monitors. Everyone from order processing through production, shipping and engineering can see what's required. The company has since rolled out the system to many of its other bakeries.

For more on the Emporia, KS, plant, check out our exclusive tour in the upcoming February issue of Baking & Snack.