Seeing is believing. Ultimately, that’s what Hearthside Performance System (HPS) is all about.

On paper, HPS is a textbook for a comprehensive, continuous improvement program at Hearthside Food Solutions’ 20 cracker, baked goods, snack and packaging plants in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio.

In theory, HPS takes the best techniques of Lean Manufacturing, the best successes from Six Sigma and the best ideas from Total Process Management. The program extensively borrows best practices from across the food industry — and even other industries such Toyota’s 5-S program (sort, set, shine, standardize and systemize), which establishes how everything in the plant must be in the right place for a lean operation to function properly.

In practice, it’s all about “learn, do, teach,” said Dwayne Hughes, senior vice-president, supply chain for Hearthside, one of the nation’s largest co-manufacturers, based in Downers Grove, IL. It’s about extensive training and employees becoming “subject matter experts” by learning a process or task, doing it properly and then teaching it to fellow co-workers.

In reality, HPS is as much a sales tool as it is a way to transform bakeries into world-class operations. “I can’t tell you how many times we walk through our plants with someone who hasn’t been in them for years, and they are just silent and soaking it all in — the operating environment and the attitude of the folks. Hearing our people talk about HPS is really meaningful to them,” noted Brian McNamara, vice-president of sales and marketing.

Visualizing the future

Four years ago, Hearthside began mapping out a strategic vision by developing simple, standardized and synchronized processes that now make up the backbone for HPS in all its bakeries. “What you see today is that ­vision coming alive,” Mr. Hughes said. “You walk in our plants, and it’s not me, a [senior] vice-president talking about our vision. It’s not me talking about our tools in use. We actually have plant managers all the way down to the shop floor operators talking about our tools.”

To roll out its HPS program, Hearthside’s plant manager and supervisors spent a couple of weeks at “boot camp,” where they learned HPS terminology and the metrics for measuring a production line’s performance on an ongoing basis. Those metrics, or major categories of performance, include safety, quality, service, cost and culture.

Additionally, the company provided a toolbox of about 50 operational techniques and programs for improving a plant’s performance. Plant managers then ­selected anywhere from 10 to 12 tools and tailored them to their operations. Additionally, the ongoing program allows line operators to develop their own techniques and add them to the toolbox to continually improve production.

Back at their bakeries, plant managers began implementing these metrics to standardize operations across the company. They provided the leadership for starting up HPS and pushing the training on down through the organization as a part of the company’s sustainable improvement process.

At the entrance into each bakery, huge wall-sized leadership and performance boards track everything from waste to downtime to loss-incident rates. The leadership boards list those people who are responsible for each line. They also record the operation’s key performance indicators (KPIs) on a 24/7 basis using a green or red placard for each KPI on each production line during each shift. “Every plant is measuring the same definition of a given KPI, so we can compare plant to plant,” Mr. Hughes said.

With downtime, for example, a green sign reports the line operated at 85% or greater efficiency. A red placard indicates the bakery needs to file an incidence report that identifies the root cause of the problem. The performance boards allow everyone in the operation to ­visually monitor how the facility ranks according to HPS expectations, and they help each shift know how the previous one has performed.

After every shift, the operators and supervisors on each production line conduct a “drumbeat” meeting to analyze what went right or wrong during a shift and how to improve performance in the future, noted John Aldrich, vice-president of manufacturing, Ohio region. “Sometimes those meetings are short, but other times they can be long, depending on what happened on their shifts,” he said.

Peer-to-peer training

Under the “learn, do, teach” philosophy, subject-matter experts share their knowledge on such vital issues as rapid changeovers (RCO). Hearthside strives to reduce its changeover times using the Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED) method. “We have subject-matter experts who know how to implement an RCO project, how to go through the process and how to teach another facility how to use them,” Mr. Hughes said.

Before starting its RCO program, some allergen cleaning processes took 20 hours. “Now, we have several examples of where we’re doing allergen cleans within 12 hours,” he noted.

Hearthside also has an SAP core team, a group of subject-matter experts it sends to oversee the rollout of the highly structured and often difficult to implement enterprise resource system.

When it comes to gauging continuous improvement, each plant is ranked as a lead, a mirror or a shadow site. Lead sites, or those bakeries furthest along toward performing at best-in-class level, receive the most resources because they have the potential for the greatest return on investment. After developing new tools for best practices, the lead sites then transfer these tools to teach mirror-site bakeries. Shadow sites, often the smallest bakeries, focus on benchmarking their operations against the performance of the leader plants.

For example, Hearthside’s largest bakery in McComb, OH, is a lead bakery for overall operations. The company’s Michigan City, IN, bakery is the lead operation for its “go greener” program to be a zero-waste-to-landfill facility. Right now, the Michigan City plant is about 95% of its way toward this goal.

So where is the company on its journey toward world-class operation? Currently, Hearthside is just beginning to roll out HPS at eight co-manufacturing and packaging facilities from its merger with Ryt-way Industries earlier this year. “Boot camp” for those plant managers began this summer.

Typically, for best-in-class operations, it takes three to five years to achieve world-class status. For others, five to seven years is average. During the past four years, Hearthside’s bakeries have seen significant progress, but the best is yet to come, according to Mr. Hughes.

“We have some plants excelling beyond others,” he noted. “But after only a few years, you can walk into any of our plants and see HPS going on live.”

Seeing is believing, but it becomes especially clear when Hearthside’s management team reflects on its journey and looks at HPS in a rearview mirror.