Meg Lanza presented lessons in lean manufacturing at the A.B.A. Technical Conference.

SAN ANTONIO — At the 2017 Technical Conference, the American Bakers Association (A.B.A.) took a strategic deviation in its educational lineup to draw on expertise from broader manufacturing rather than the traditional flour, water, salt and yeast. 

Meg Lanza, Bosch Production System director and the company’s Industry 4.0 Project leader, has expertise in automotive production and spoke to conference attendees on some key lessons that can be applied to wholesale bakery production. 

“In the automotive industry — and likely in baking, too — lean manifests itself in ‘_.P.S.,’” Ms. Lanza said, pointing out Bosch’s B.P.S. system. “Why is that? We’re all essentially copying T.P.S., or the Toyota Production System. We might use some different verbiage and adapt it to our culture, but it’s the same stuff. These are proven concepts used at Toyota.”

Crediting its lean manufacturing practices, Toyota has outpaced its competitors in productivity for decades, and today Toyota earns more revenue per year than Detroit’s “big three” combined. 

Across manufacturing, including commercial baking, lean buzzwords abound. 

But, Ms. Lanza asserted, the key factor in lean processes, regardless of the industry, is time … and the people it belongs to.  

“It’s a cost-saving initiative, and you can improve your bottom line, as well as reduce waste and become more productive,” she said. “All of those things can happen, but at the center of it is the person.”

Bosch Production System applied Toyota's T.P.S. principals to its operations.

She also advised conference attendees that an operation can’t simply copy the T.P.S. model and expect it to magically improve the entire operation. Manufacturers must apply T.P.S. to the specific context of their own manufacturing operations. 

“Applying lean tools in isolation doesn’t quite work, unless you have the big picture to relate the tools to your overall vision,” she said.

Ms. Lanza suggested that there are certain strategies that can be applied to adopting lean practices to bakery manufacturing. 

From the Toyota perspective, values such as respect can mean being given the freedom to fail. 

The T.P.S. “house,” which is the auto manufacturer’s lean processing model (emulated across industries and around the world), is built on a foundation of standardized work, heijunka and kaizen. Pillars in the house include time and judoka, or stopping when a deviation occurs. These all lead to highest quality, lowest cost and in the shortest time. 

Heading true north
In lean manufacturing, “true north” is another way to think of the ultimate goal for a manufacturer. 

“This is our ideal state, our vision, if you will,” Ms. Lanza said. 

Safety should be the first point toward true north. But more than that, Ms. Lanza cautioned, it’s about defining what “safety” means. Yes, it’s personal human safety such as lock-out-tag-out procedures and avoiding any OSHA incidents. But it’s also about emotional and professional safety, meaning people work with the freedom to make improvements without fear of punishment. 

“From a professional safety standpoint, when we implement lean, we cannot give off the impression that we’re doing this to eliminate jobs,” she said.

Lean manufacturing should not be about eliminating the headcount but rather reallocating resources for more efficient production. 

Lean manufacturing is also about eliminating waste and at the lowest cost, specifically, the top seven forms of waste identified by Toyota’s original processing system. Ms. Lanza warned against overproduction, which is considered the deadliest of those seven wasteful sins. 

“It’s often called the ‘mother of all waste’ because it drives other waste. It drives more inventory, more defects, more rework,” she said. 

So what’s the plan to get to true north? 

“It’s not a destination that’s meant to be within your reach,” Ms. Lanza said. “It’s meant to be a vision, so when we make decisions, we bounce them against it.”