As the baking industry continues on its path to greater operational efficiency, it can take some notes from, of all places, the car business. After working for many years in quality assurance for the automotive industry, retired military intelligence analyst G. Keith Diepstra transitioned to baking, where he says he prefers the environment because it smells like cookies. Mr. Diepstra serves as a continuous improvement manager and total productive maintenance (TPM)/total process reliability (TPR) coordinator for a major player in the baked goods industry. He holds a bachelor of science degree in world languages and literature from Excelsior College of New York. He is an American Society of Quality (ASQ)-certified technician, auditor, quality engineer, reliability engineer and manager of quality. He can be contacted at

Baking & Snack: How are the car business and the baking sector similar, and how do they differ?

G. Keith Diepstra: Both the automotive industry and the baking sector are manufacturing. These industries have suppliers, inputs, value-adding activity, outputs and customers. Baking is a manufacturing process, not an “art form,” which has been used as an excuse by some in management to forego the rigors of learning and implementing the disciplines associated with process control, waste reduction and reliability concerns. Herein lies the difference, in that these disciplines have been heavily emphasized in the automotive and most heavy industries to ever-increasing degrees, since Walter A. Shewhart, PhD, introduced statistical process control (SPC) at Westinghouse in 1922.

How can you apply lessons learned from automotive engineering to bakery facilities?

The application comes by turning our focus at the management and executive level to process control and efficiency to better fulfill customer requirements while reducing waste in our manufacturing processes. I cannot emphasize this enough: Managers must understand these things first because they create the expectations that their organizations will follow. If managers do not understand SPC or overall equipment efficiency (OEE) or root cause analysis (RCA), they will not have these things in their organizations. If staff and executive-level personnel do not expect root cause determinations, they cannot reasonably expect to see corrective actions implemented that prevent recurrence of failures. It is in bringing this level of understanding, common in the automotive industry, to our managers and executives that we will revolutionize the baking industry.

What problems can arise with such a heavy focus on sanitation and food safety?

Solely focusing on food safety and sanitation as the heart of quality management in the food industry deprives the industry of the advantages associated with process efficiency, waste reduction, greater customer satisfaction and greater profitability. Food safety and sanitation are absolutely essential, obviously. However, to fail to take advantage of the huge body of knowledge developed in the last century around quality management and quality management systems is to take a myopic and minimalist view of food manufacturing.

If you could change just one thing about the way facilities are managed, what would it be?

An increased emphasis on in-process control would be my primary focus. Standardization and systems for controlled changes to those standards when a better way is found are essential. Facts-based decision making, based on in-process measurements, should be the heart of control. The pre-eminent example of this is SPC. Some plants use SPC systems, but not all. Some have a software system in place and are recording the measurements but don’t use run rules for decision making/trend identification and don’t respond to the data points until they are out of specification (much less out of control). They may use run rules but don’t focus on capabilities (or capability indices), which can help focus improvement efforts by showing where the greatest variation is. Again, the greatest shortcoming is that many among your readers in leadership positions may not truly understand the meaning of process controls. That is the heart of the problem.

How can bakeries and snack facilities quantify process efficiency and justify the investment needed?

This doesn’t require a great deal of investment to get started. It requires the revelation that there is more available to improve our businesses than that which we are using. Long before desktop computers existed, many heavy industries kept hand-drawn SPC charts. Technology is frequently a crutch and an excuse to not really taking the time to understand.

However, cost-to-benefit analyses to justify technology are easy. What is the difference between where your yield is now and where it could be? What would a percentage point of that be worth over the next year, or three years or 10? How much labor cost are you wasting every year because your poor maintenance reliability systems can’t get better than 85% uptime out of your multi­million-dollar lines? What would it be worth to get 4, 5 or 6% of that back? How are your overtime costs doing because you rarely get product produced within the production time allotted? How about the cost associated with only getting 80% of the performance rate for which your line was rated? What is that doing to your return on investment? Imagine the tension at the executive level if the investors that sit on the board understood these things. Personally, I would have a problem if $20 million of my capital went into purchasing a line that only achieved a 79% yield, with 80% of its rated performance for the 82% of the time we could keep it running.

If this isn’t severe enough, ask the marketing/sales department to quantify the cost for business and goodwill lost when, after running a process out of control, you get product returned for stale, rancid or broken complaints.

All this should put in perspective our “normal” continuous improvement efforts. We are going to cut $20,000 here on packaging or $15,000 there on cleaning supplies, when millions of dollars are wasted every year in labor, materials, time and opportunity on our manufacturing floor. If your executives and managers can only improve your bottom line by cutting their way to greatness, you have hired the wrong people. You need people who can see waste, improve control and efficiency, and inspire your people to learn new things.

What methods can a company use to improve project management?

My recommendation, because of its straightforward nature, is the Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC) method associated with Six Sigma. Using gate reviews wherein the sponsor approves the improvement team’s progression from one phase to the next, based on the team’s fulfillment of the required deliverables of the phase, allows a methodical progression that prevents unpleasant surprises eight to 12 months down the road when you are expecting the goal to be achieved.

Bear in mind, Six Sigma has been overbought and marketed with a cult and careers built around it. It is little more than traditional quality engineering tools with a thin veneer of project management methodology, but it worked because it required the choice and support of a method. Also, due to the costs associated with (and built around) these programs, they typically had to have management support. Any project management method will work if it is deliberately chosen, followed and supported by senior management.

What should a company’s first step be in improving its processes? How can managers avoid being overwhelmed?

The first step is standardizing as much as possible. The second is creating the expectations at senior levels. I learned in the military that soldiers will focus on what leaders take the time to check. If you, as a leader, expect to see root cause determinations and corrective actions, standardization, lessons learned implemented, in-process decision making based on in-process measurement, OEE measurement tracked/presented, the efficacy of actions in light of their impact on OEE discussed, and methodical project management, you will get it.

Being or feeling overwhelmed is a natural response to anything new. You have to jump in and start learning new things. The tensions may be high, and you may make mistakes, but the rewards are great and plentiful when you persevere. I would be happy to discuss these things further with anyone eager to know more. I can be contacted at