You have heard the expression “Ready, Fire, Aim” to describe a scattered approach to some endeavor, and it certainly is an expression that describes many startups.

Effectively starting up a production line or a plant is one of the most difficult undertakings in the baking business. The materials we work with sometimes seem to have a mind of their own, and the equipment systems offer a similar impression. We quickly learn of voids in our training, and the projected sales volume is at least double the forecast. Sound familiar?

Two approaches can be used to address the startup syndrome. One is to budget a lot of money, accept the inevitable and look for whom to blame in the end. The other, perhaps the higher road, is to plan for success. Without doubt, the road to success starts well before startup planning begins. Important background steps for a successful startup include:

• Getting operations involved and engaged from the beginning.

• Assembling a project team from involved business units to manage the project.

• Clearly defining the goals, expectations and boundaries for the project.

• Accurately describing the process and its parameters.

• Adequately funding the project, including training and startup.

• Buying the right equipment.

• Creating a challenging but realistic project plan.

• Embracing the project plan and using it as the guiding light for work activities.


With the background work behind you, it’s time to develop your startup plan. First, determine what a successful startup will look like. What parameters and indices will define a successful startup? What vendor support and internal resources will you draw upon? Institute operating, maintenance and sanitation procedures as well as a quality assurance program with established quality targets.

You also will need to hire qualified people, so you must know what skills are required and test for them. Prepare your trainers with effective teaching skills. Finally, have a realistic ramp-up plan. Remember, a line does not typically start up sustaining 97% efficiency.

Begin with a safety audit of the line:

• Are the e-stops operational and installed in appropriate locations?

• Are the lockouts/tagouts installed, and is the lockout/tagout system documented?

• Are electrical panels closed and secured?

• Are all equipment guards in place and safeties operational?

After each piece of equipment has been installed, individually run and debug that piece of equipment. Once you are confident the line is safe and ready for operation, perform a checkout of the line. Allocate time for commissioning the line. (Commissioning being that period when the equipment is run together for the first time.) It is a period of time just prior to startup when the line is only being run for shakedown, adjustment, calibration and, if necessary, repairs. It is also an excellent time for additional hands-on operator training.

Develop a training program that assumes every employee is new. For experienced employees, the worst that can happen is that they get a refresher, and more than likely, they will pick up something new from the program. Make sure the training addresses any language barriers, and that each employee gets their own set of operating instructions. Provide both classroom and hands-on training. When they operate the equipment at startup, it should not be the first time. Provide follow-up instruction to employees after they have had the chance to operate the equipment for a period of time.

Develop a plan for vendor and in-house support around your commissioning, startup and training schedule. Discuss who the most appropriate person is for each phase of the job. Truthfully, the best installer or product development expert may not be the best trainer. To contain costs use the training time to educate your in-house trainer/expert for subsequent instruction needs. Have copies of the operating and support documents ready for each trainee and ensure you get copies of each control screen for PLCs and PCs. Have the vendor provide annotated photos of hardwired control panels.

Create a realistic ramp-up plan that anticipates learning and has room for adjustments. In a multishift and or multiline bakery, start up one line on one shift. Have the second shift personnel train with the first shift, then after a week or two, start the second shift. Step through the startup until you have completed your production schedule. Plan and budget for higher waste and inefficiency during the startup, and look for continuous improvement over a period of three to six months (depending on the line and products being produced).

Using a team approach and a well-thought-out plan will certainly yield startup results to quickly build upon, and it will create a positive can-do attitude for all those involved. ?