Bakers know well the challenging nature of these times. Because of the industry’s razor-thin margins, savings go right to the bottom line, but such measures must not be done at the expense of customer expectations. No stranger to such struggles, Hostess Brands, Irving, TX, turned to Lean Manufacturing to improve its internal numbers and boost the value it delivers to customers and consumers. Its Dolly Madison bakery at Emporia, KS, leads the way.

Describing the decision to make Emporia a center of manufacturing excellence, Ron Wilson, the Emporia-based field director for Hostess Brands, said, “This is the biggest cake plant in our system, and if we can do it here, every Hostess bakery can.”

Shortly after Gary Wandschneider joined Hostess as executive vice-president of operations in 2007, he picked Emporia to implement Lean Manufacturing and 5S. Both are components of the Lean Management philosophy aimed at containing costs. The bakery’s managers, supervisors and staff took the handoff and ran so well with it that Emporia now boasts the lowest downtime and waste rating — less than 0.2%, according to Mr. Wilson — among all 11 Hostess bakeries producing cake products.

“Finding savings and making improvements has been fun; it hasn’t been like work at all,” Mr. Wilson said.

Emporia Plant Manager Todd Crook added, “And customers get products fresher and faster than before.” Consumer complaints dropped dramatically as well.

The techniques and lessons learned at Emporia are rolling out to other Hostess facilities. Emporia provides a great example of the enthusiastic adoption of Lean Manufacturing methods and how these asset management techniques pay off for the whole company.

Setting the stage

Claimed by Hostess to be among the world’s largest cake plants, the Emporia bakery covers 350,000 sq ft. It bakes 24% of all cake products sold by the company. Emporia, started up in 1965, employs more than 700 people and operates a 24/7 schedule. It outputs more than 3 million lb of donuts, cakes, sweet rolls and fried pies weekly on nine processing lines.

The bakery houses five donut lines, a single line for small cakes, another for larger cakes, one making sweet goods and one producing fried pies. A high-speed shrink-wrapping system serves as a tenth line.

The donut lines produce the full range of mini (Gem) and small (Donette) products under the Hostess brand, including the company’s new Frosted Devil’s Food and limited-time Gingerbread Spice flavors. Operators move mobile tubs of batter, made by large AMF vertical mixers, to the hoppers above the donut cutter/depositor assembly. The batter drops into the hot frying oil, and donuts are carried along the continuous fryer, flipping halfway through. Finished donuts emerge from the fryers and are cooled either in two tempering tunnels or on a spiral cooling system.

As in other locations throughout the bakery, Goring Kerr and Safeline metal detectors monitor finished products, an important component in the facility’s food safety program.

Gem and Donette styles receive enrobed coatings or pass through a revolving sugar drum. The Donettes proceed into Heat and Control statistical net weighers feeding Temco Eagle baggers. The filled square-bottom bags get a tin tie closure and are sealed in a Bedford Technology system.

The small cakes line produces Hostess CupCakes, Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Zingers — all injected with creme fillings and topped, iced or enrobed. Batter feeds from a series of holding tanks, kept under modest agitation, through a depositor and into pans. Cakes bake in a tunnel oven, and as they depan onto a conveyor, they are moved closer together — a technique that enables more efficient cooling and higher throughput. The cakes cool in a tempering tunnel before being injected with filling. A specially designed station tops the cakes, as required, with chocolate-flavored icing, deposited in a continuous band. Cakes pass over an elevated transfer point that breaks the band of icing as the cakes reach the faster-moving cooling conveyor and proceed into a tempering tunnel.

A Moline double-decker sheeting line produces Dolly Madison Sweet Rolls flavored with cinnamon or cherry fillings. Two sets of reduction rollers sheet the yeast-raised dough to its proper depth before a depositor lays down the fillings. Torpedo rollers curl up the flat dough sheet into rolls, which pass through a guillotine knife operating at 274 cuts per minute. Sweet rolls drop into waiting paper trays and move to the tray proofer and Baker Perkins tunnel oven.

A dedicated pie line outputs Hostess Fruit Pies in a variety of flavors. Pie dough is sheeted, filled, crimped and cut before individual pies enter the continuous fryer. An ambient-temperature spiral conveyor allows pies to cool before they enter the Delta horizontal form/fill/seal wrapper that packages pies individually.

Stoking the engine

Each production line at Emporia depends on equipment customized for Hostess’ use, and each benefits from changes made through 5S. The process starts with teamwork applied not only to individual departments but also to the plant as a whole.

5S provides an easy-to-understand framework. “5S means Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain,” Mr. Crook said. “And, of course, put into action.” (See “Five S’s, plus a sixth” on Page 52.) “We presented 5S to the employees, and they took off with it,” he added.

“Sort” eliminates clutter. If a piece of equipment or a tool hasn’t been used in a week, any employee can stick a red tag on it. The object is then moved out of the production plant and away from daily activities. “Early on, we red-tagged and took out a good five or six truckloads of extraneous stuff,” Mr. Wilson said.

“Set in Order,” Mr. Peele explained, “basically means a place for everything and everything in its place. It’s a time management approach that makes sure tools and equipment are where they should be. Just the placement of a utensil at a different location can make the difference between one unit of waste versus 10 units.”

The bakery established fixed spaces for every tool, utensil and moveable piece of equipment. In some cases, yellow paint delineates the storage space; in others, the bakery installed hard yellow-colored pieces of plastic and numbered metal plates directly into the tile floor. Thus, operators always know where to find a given item.

“Shine” stipulates that all staff members are tasked with cleaning their work areas when they finish their work and shifts. It also prioritizes waste management, preventing spillage, reducing cripples, cutting wastewater and recycling materials.

“Standards” led to development of the “blue boards” found throughout the bakery. These display photos of acceptable and unacceptable products. They also show results, listed by department and for the plant as a whole.

Mr. Wilson explained the guiding principles of the company’s business practices as “teamwork; be the best at what you do; question everything; creativity before capital; develop a knowledge base; and promote information sharing.”

“Teamwork is essential, and we also keep score,” Mr. Crook said. “We want our employees to feel good about what they do, and thus, scoring has to be objective.” He meets every Tuesday morning with the bakery’s supervisors, reviewing the goals, standards and results for each department. Supervisors read their departments’ numbers in front of their peers.

Results are also calculated as an overall number representing the plant as a whole. The numbers are posted in the conference room and throughout the bakery. This tactic fosters the sense of individual responsibility that is an essential component of 5S. “If someone misses his or her number, it’s our job as a group to focus the effort to hit the desired result,” Mr. Wilson explained. “It’s about the quality of the product, the quality of our work.”

Adding up results

Four recent projects specifically demonstrate the benefits of 5S and Lean Manufacturing as practiced at Emporia. One altered mixing protocols, another optimized icing prep, the third improved waste reduction and the fourth reorganized distribution staging.

“The mixing and icing prep projects involved small amounts of capital but had big impacts on operations,” Mr. Peele said. He noted that all capital projects were implemented through the corporate capital planning process, based on return on investment.

The decision to pre-blend dry ingredients — a major change in how Hostess prepares its batters and doughs — embodies the 5S values of “Shine” and “Standardize.”

“Most bakeries scale ingredients at the mixer,” Mr. Wilson explained. And like most bakeries, Emporia also batched small ingredients ahead of time, using 5-gal plastic buckets to hold these materials. “Even so, we still experienced some variations because of spillage and human error,” he said.

Hostess engineers designed and installed an in-plant blending system to replace at-the-mixer scaling. The system’s ribbon blender mixes all dry ingredients for a given formula and discharges the mixture into 2,000-lb plastic tubs. Forklift operators move the tubs to a holding area and, as needed, place individual tubs on mobile dollies for transport to the use points. Blending takes place five days a week and produces to the order schedule. Each tub, which Emporia calls a module, is coded with the formula name, total weight and date of blending.

Following the production schedule, mixer operators scoop out the required batch amounts and load them into the mixer. The ingredient system supplies liquids. Operators now work with one module per shift instead of 30 to 40 pails.

“Quality went up, waste went down, and the consumer gets the same product every time,” Mr. Peele said.

But there were even more important payoffs, which began to show up a few months after putting the blending system onstream. “With blending, costs went down, but consumer complaints went down even more dramatically,” Mr. Crook said. “Today, we get maybe five or six complaints per million units shipped. It used to be 25 to 30.”

Another project relocated the icing system for small cake products. For many years, operators mixed these icings at a station shared with cake batter preparation. They then wheeled the heavy bowls down to the icing depositor about 50 ft away. “Now, we make icing close to its use point and pump it to the depositor,” Mr. Wilson said of the installation done about two years ago.

Minimizing waste

Lean Manufacturing emphasizes reduction of waste, which 5S covers in “Shine.” Mr. Crook noted that the biggest cost at cake plants comes from waste. Several initiatives at Emporia addressed this problem. For example, pre-batching has done away with nearly all spillage.

“If it gets to the floor, it gets into the drain,” Mr. Crook said, “and not only can sewer charges be considerable, but also the city constantly reduces the amount of biochemical oxygen demands allowed in wastewater.” Emporia’s efforts have been so successful that the bakery was able to cut wastewater charges by half for three years in a row.

The plant sanitarian made recycling a personal quest. Plastic, cardboard and other such recyclable materials no longer go to the landfill. “We did it because it’s the right thing to do, and it saves money because you no longer need to pay to haul off solid waste,” Mr. Wilson said.

Damaged product wastes resources, too. The bakery put scales on all its waste dump containers. The department supervisor must enter his or her code whenever someone puts production waste into these dumps. A computer tracks the weights, and results are posted along with the rest of the department and overall bakery numbers.

Just-in-time is another principle of Lean Manufacturing, and Emporia adopted it wholeheartedly. “Lean Manufacturing teaches, ‘Don’t produce before it’s needed,’ ” Mr. Crook said.

For a long time, the bakery kept its distribution area full to overflowing to try to stay ahead of orders. Mr. Crook remembered that one of the first times that Mr. Wandschnieder visited the bakery, he could hardly walk through the distribution area because it was so crowded with product. “That had to change,” Mr. Crook said.

To de-clutter the distribution area, the bakery stored some products temporarily in a remote warehouse. But more timely production reduced the excess of product on the distribution floor, and soon the bakery didn’t need the remote storage any more. Now products baked at Emporia reach the customer and the consumer in much fresher condition, according to Mr. Crook.

Becoming an example

Emporia was a good place for these new initiatives to start because of its long-serving staff. Mr. Wilson had been the plant manager at Emporia during the 1980s. He returned to Emporia six years ago and now manages his corporate responsibilities from there. Mr. Crook, a 28-year member of the Emporia staff, was named plant manager. Ken Robinson, the bakery’s chief engineer, is another long-tenured member of the Emporia team.

Hostess regularly brings plant managers from its 36 bakeries to Emporia. “Each of us has become a bit of a salesman, ‘selling’ the Lean Manufacturing and 5S techniques to our colleagues,” Mr. Peele said. “We put the 5S playbook together here.”

The company now has started 5S at other facilities, and Mr. Wilson noted, “The benefits go to the bottom line — a very positive step for Hostess Brands.”