Clif Bar planted the seeds for this world-class operation as far back as five years ago and slowly — the company would probably prefer the term “organically” — nurtured them into fruition.
The engineering team began attending trade shows to narrow down the request for proposal process.
“We wanted to work with the best vendors and equipment in the world,” Mr. Sloan said. “We were looking not only for best-in-class suppliers but also best-in-class people.”
The overall decision-making process also extensively relied on what Mr. Sloan describes as “charrettes” — a French concept where multiple, diverse groups from the bakery collaborate to generate an integrated solution. That often resulted in custom-designing equipment around the unique product qualities of a Clif Bar.
“We brought in our food safety team, R.&D. team and supply chain team, and we showed our suppliers not only what we are using a piece of equipment for but also how it fit in the overall system,” he said.
When it came to factory acceptance tests (F.A.T.), the company took no chances. Typically, the F.A.T. process started four months before the equipment was delivered. In some cases, Clif Bar spent hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars shipping actual ingredients or packaging materials to vendors throughout the U.S. and Europe. It relied on a stage-gate process, where the equipment had to pass a validation test (the gate) before proceeding to the next stage. There were also hundreds of check lists to validate details, even those as fine as the location of a photo sensor.
“F.A.T. tests are substantial investments for both Clif Bar and our partners. To gain the greatest value from that investment, the team validates more than functionality before these systems ship,” Mr. Berger said. “We verify total performance of safety systems, sanitation, controls integrations, network compatibility, energy efficiency and more.”
About 18 weeks before making saleable goods, Clif Bar began a sequential startup with the ingredient handling system. The initial stages included installation and operation qualification (IOQ) and process qualification (PQ) that took about three weeks to complete. Only after validating ingredient handling, for example, did the bakery install and conduct IOQ and PQ on mixing. Once all individual unit operations in process and packaging passed PQ testing, the entire system was then tested to prove it is capable of consistently delivering quality product through the process validation (PV).
In addition to making sure all of the equipment worked together from beginning to end, the sequential startup provided two primary benefits: strict front-end controls to the production process and packaging combined with extensive training. Mixer operators, for instance, received up to two months of experience from developing the first 20 batches during the mixers’ initial validation process all the way to creating doughs for the packaging installation and final ramp-up. By then, those operators had made hundreds of batches and understood why “respect the dough” has become the foundation of Clif Bar’s manufacturing philosophy, according to Mr. Ducommun.
That respect, however, took time to learn, especially when it came to producing a high-quality product consistently.
“A sequential qualification gives our people more training time up front,” Mr. Berger said. “By the time test product was needed to commission packaging systems, the front of the operation was mastered.”