Daily Gemba Walks increase internal efficiencies at the plant.

If baking is an art, TreeHouse Foods’ Princeton, Ky., plant has used operational efficiencies and increased OEEs to perfect it.

The plant’s capital investments made it easy to strive for the best possible efficiencies, even before TreeHouse 2020 was launched.

“To some extent, we created that need,” said Ken Allen, plant manager. “We had a responsibility to live up to the investment that was being made. We started our continuous improvement journey before anything was mandated; it happened organically.”

The bakery implemented a structured approach to continuous improvement through the TreeHouse Management Operating System (TMOS), which will eventually branch out to all TreeHouse baking facilities. The TMOS system is modeled after lean manufacturing practices such as the Toyota Production System.

On its journey to lean manufacturing, Princeton had a mantra: Begin with the end in mind. From 5S to value stream mapping to root cause analysis, the plant has pulled out all the stops for continuous improvement. That includes quality: Princeton has been SQF-certified since 2008.

“As quality relates to performance and OEE, we measure first-pass,” said Terry Melton, director of operations. “We don’t want to rework; we don’t want to inspect. An internal KPI at Princeton is first-pass quality.’”

It helped to have Rich Holland, senior director of manufacturing, in Princeton’s corner. After all, he is responsible for continuous improvement across all 17 TreeHouse bakeries, and this particular location was where he got his start 24 years ago. Mr. Holland recalled when the operation, which was originally a Bremner facility, moved from Louisville to Princeton.

“Our last year at Bremner in Louisville, we made $3 million,” he said. “Our first year at Princeton, we lost $9 million. We thought we wouldn’t make it.”

Mr. Holland recalled that Rich Koulouris, his boss for several years at Princeton, turned the operation around, mostly through engagement on the plant floor. Through the next 20-something years, Princeton has been a ¬leader for TreeHouse and its predecessors. Having that base has made this facility a beacon for implementation of TreeHouse 2020 throughout all bakeries.

“What TreeHouse is doing with 2020 is a methodical approach we’re laying out for all our plants,” Mr. Holland said.

The concept of Gemba Walks is one tool Princeton uses for continuous improvement. A Japanese term for “the real place,” gemba refers to the space where the work happens. In lieu of daily production meetings around a conference table, Gemba Walks take place on the plant floor every 11 business days. Walks are broken into about 12 sections, and the management team walks, as a full group, section by section. Each team member is given a card containing specific information to review. Princeton cards cover safety, quality, pest control, 5S, GMPs and a handful more, notes the top three issues from each area and then posts them on the Plant Priority Board.

While a Gemba Walk is not the time for micromanaging or immediate problem solving, Princeton follows the “3 x 3” rule, meaning each person identifies three items that can be addressed or corrected by 3 p.m. that day. It could be an issue such as a burned-out lightbulb or a cord draped where it shouldn’t be.

Larger issues must be addressed or resolved by the next walk, and workers are expected to hold the management team accountable for those changes.

“The folks at Princeton are taking continuous improvement and doing it the right way,” Mr. Holland said.