Small Leaps, Big Gains

by Anne Giesecke
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Managing your bakery or snack operation can be a lot like the child’s game of leapfrog. As you learn from what your peers do, you use that experience to vault ahead. Likewise, they will see your success and make the next leap. But unlike the game kids play, this exercise has no finish line, only mutual benefits. Let’s take a look at how small jumps now will lead to big gains later.

For example, bakers and snack manufacturers make many decisions about building and upgrading their plants. Beyond the equipment and design considerations for such projects, improved management and more efficient procedures — in other words, the leaps — can help companies make the most out of their investments in both production and the workforce itself.

Baking industry managers have been changing their attitude about plant design and equipment design. These matters range from air flow in the bakery to equipment designs that address potential issues of plant security, worker safety, pathogens, allergens, cleaning and sanitation.

Unmanaged air flow can affect allergen cross-contamination, sanitation, proof box and oven efficiency, product quality, and worker efficiency. Equipment design will determine whether a baking or snack company can sanitize its plants well and how much time that will take. Small leaps can make a dollars-and-cents difference.

When it comes to food safety, water, energy and labor savings, the most advanced technology may be the most attractive over time. For example, LED lighting might cost more now, but it is the technology of the future and has long-term labor, energy and waste disposal savings compared with compact fluorescent bulbs. With new pans, pan oil can be unnecessary. Zero waste to landfill is an achievable goal. Using rain­water to flush toilets is a real option. In some cases, what is old can be new again.

Options for formulating new products flow in a continuous stream, offering efficiency upgrades not previously imagined. The fewer ingredients in a recipe the better, but they must be the right ingredients in the right amounts to optimize production and quality.

Baking and snack companies should review recipes and methods with suppliers to find the best combination of ingredients and production variables. Small leaps, big gains.

CONSTANT IMPROVEMENT.

Leapfrogging applies to management as well. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are increasingly better documented and evaluated. When developing a new floorplan for a production area, managers should selectively implement the best available management tools such as Lean Manufacturing’s 5S (sorting, straightening, systematic cleaning, standardizing and sustaining) and Six Sigma’s 5 Whys (a method to find the root cause of a problem). Continuous improvement is necessary for a competitive edge.

Forward vision is a critical management function, and longer-term financial projections allow more flexible analysis than the simple 1- or 2-year project payback. More pressure comes from consumers, customers and regulators, who demand that bakers and snack producers operate with increasing efficiency and adaptability.

GRASSROOTS EFFORTS.

Individuals on the floor can make or break a manufacturing operation. To achieve continuous improvement, managers must critically consider all areas of operations from permitting to receiving to accounting and paying the bills. Supervisors should listen to employees closest to the critical points in the process and provide them with the tools they need to ensure product quality and efficiency.

Involve the floor personnel in the design of potential changes to equipment and procedures. All shifts need to be involved. Training needs to be selective and targeted. Management should set goals for increasing production and for reducing the use of packaging, water, energy and waste. Companies need not reinvent the wheel, but they can take advantage of special consultants and training seminars to meet specific challenges. Small leaps, big gains.

Companies should create positive feedback loops to recognize success in making system improvements. That’s how they can incorporate the leapfrogging approach into improved efficiency. A balance of upfront and ongoing costs will result in a company’s strong in economic, social and environmental sustainability.
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