Team meetings foster open communications on all processes and projects and provide the opportunity to highlight individual employee successes. 

When companies look at their operators as the most valuable assets in controlling product quality, the bottom line can improve … along with everything from culture to efficiency.

Lean manufacturing practices are nothing new. But companies are still learning ways to implement best practices in their own settings. A fully empowered workforce with clear roles and goals and a method to pursue continuous improvement provides an exponentially higher return on labor investment. Lean manufacturing, at its core, is all about the men and women who work every day on a non-stop operation. Customized performance systems like 5S or Six Sigma can provide a path to success for any organization.

1. Laying the groundwork. 
5S is based on the Toyota Production System (TPS) in which the five S’s are: sort, set, shine, standardize and sustain. TPS’s value stream mapping is a lean-management method for analyzing and designing a series of events that take a product or service from its beginning through to the customer. Six Sigma is a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating waste in any process. There are many frameworks for implementing Six Sigma methodology.

Dwayne Hughes, Hearthside Food Solution’s senior vice-president, supply chain, and a team analyze at-a-glance data displays that allow easy process monitoring and continuous improvement.

Modernized by Henry Ford with the Ford company and TPS, these lean manufacturing practices drive organization and performance. Implementing a lean program begins with baseline measurements and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These are the quantitative life blood of lean practices and establish the foundation of a process. KPIs include safety, quality, service, cost and culture.

Rowdy Brixey, president of Brixey Engineering, Strategies and Training, recommended asking: What is broken or what is running outside of the process tolerance?

“Take out the big hitters and then work your way down,” Mr. Brixey said. “Root-cause problem solving, clean to inspect and preventive maintenance follow-ups are all good tools, but the main thing is to get out and look. The equipment will share its story with you.”

Flowers Foods, Thomasville, Ga., uses a combination of local KPIs and specific projects to measure results.

“There are many factors that affect these,” said Robert Benton, supply chain officer, Flowers Foods. “For each bakery, we design a plan dependent on the bakery’s strengths and weaknesses.”

The 5S Area Owner Map at Hearthside.

Flowers Foods’ continuous improvement team works with its bakeries to provide them with tools and methodologies developed from 5S, value stream mapping, and Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control (DMAIC). DMAIC is the problem-solving methodology behind Six Sigma.

Roskam Baking Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., starts with a process called centerlining. Brandon Heiser, chief operating officer, said the company goes through each process to determine the theoretical maximum output of each piece, then determines the ideal speed. Going faster to increase throughput is a natural inclination for an operator, but it can be counterproductive. Drawbacks include product variation, increased waste and reduced precision.

“The hard part sometimes can be convincing people to believe that things can and should run more smoothly on a consistent basis because when they’ve dealt with a problem for a long time, they convince themselves that poor performance is normal,” Mr. Heiser said. “When you can get people to believe improvement is not only possible but necessary, it is amazing what can be accomplished.”

At Hearthside Foods Solutions, Downers Grove, Ill., the Hearthside Performance System (HPS) was developed by Dwayne Hughes, vice-president of supply chain. HPS was based on the 5S and Six Sigma models and built on four principles: a mission-based integrated organizational design, a continuous self-improvement system, a committed and educated workforce, and a customer-value focus.

“We realize continuous improvement is a journey; therefore, we first establish baselines for each individual plant to establish the starting point for the journey,” Mr. Hughes said.

Once baseline data and KPIs are collected, goals can be established to drive improvement.