It’s springtime, and if golfers can’t shake off the winter rust after a few rounds on their favorite course, they can typically find some much-needed advice to improve their scores by getting a couple good tips from the local pro.

In any baking facility, a few well-chosen “pro tips” — or production tips — can straighten out a couple of those crooked numbers on the weekly or monthly scorecard. In addition to their expertise, today’s bakers also rely on a host of data to determine what to tweak, where to fix it and how to keep their performance at peak levels.

Industry veteran Rowdy Brixey, president, BEST: Brixey Engineering Strategies & Training, knows there aren’t any “gimmes” when making sure a bakery is operating up to par. Baking & Snack asked Mr. Brixey to serve as the local pro and provide some production tips for bakers looking to up their game as well as prepare for the International Baking Industry Exposition, which runs from Sept. 7-11 in Las Vegas.

Baking & Snack: What type of formulas are used to maximize an operation’s performance?

Rowdy Brixey: As you can imagine, there are hundreds of performance indicators out there and all the acronyms can be impossible to remember. Over the years I have found a few favorite indicators that almost any operation can provide for analysis.

One is LBPM-D or “pounds per manhour for direct labor.” To calculate this, total all the gross production pounds for products produced on a line by either week, month or another period of time, then divide this number by the total of all the payroll hours for the direct labor responsible for manufacturing those items during the same timeframe. This key performance indicator (KPI) will show you whether you have extra people on the line compared to its historical run rate. This format can also be used for total plant or any indirect labor account. Trending these numbers can really uncover opportunities for reducing overhead and increasing margin.

Another is YOY CPLB (adjusted) or “year over year cost per pound.” Start by comparing YOY CPLB by week, month or period, then adjust for factors the operations team typically can’t control, such as inflation, raises, utilities, ingredient pricing or other factors. Then compare the YOY numbers based on what they can control, including waste, scaling, downtime and overtime. One of my many mentors, Rich Hobbs (senior vice-president, Hostess Brand, Kansas City) always said that I should look at “cost per pound versus cost per unit” because it takes out factors like loaf size and bake times.

What are some of the more popular formulas?

Mr. Brixey: OEE or “overall equipment effectiveness.” This is a commonly known KPI and used by most operations. Basically, OEE is a measure of how well the asset works compared to its full potential. The full explanation can be quite lengthy, so please see the Wikipedia link for a deeper understanding.

How do you determine what pieces of equipment to replace?

Mr. Brixey: Try CR/BN, which stands for “capacity report and bottleneck.” Here, you begin by calculating the maximum run rate for each piece of major equipment for every variety/pan. After completing this exercise, find the lowest limiting factor for each variety/pan.

The best returns usually come from focusing on the items with the highest volume. Most of the time, you’ll find that plants have slowed their lines down to make running easier versus fixing troublesome equipment. Capital projects with great returns often come from replacing one strategic piece of equipment or a couple of assets that drastically limit the line throughout because they are operating below the speed of many of the other machines in the production line.

As a maintenance guy, what are some of your favorite KPIs?

Mr. Brixey: Once again, there are hundreds of indicators for this area. That said, you can get a quick read on how well the maintenance department is planning its activities by taking the “total gross maintenance mechanic payroll hours” for a given week and subtracting all paid lunches and breaks to get “net hours.”

Then, add all documented work performed by these same mechanics for the same week. This work will hopefully include trouble calls, rounds, work orders and any other time they have documented time spent working.

Next, take the total documented time spent working and divide it by the total net hours. This will yield the per cent of time managed and accounted for. Well-run departments will be 95% or higher, but I normally find struggling plants to have maintenance departments that can only account for 45% or less. This should be a very concerning problem for any plant manager. You should expect that your maintenance manager can account for how his or her mechanics have spent their time.

What are the most beneficial data for streamlining operations?

Mr. Brixey: Scaling accuracy— whether it be from the ingredient area or the divider or depositor — is critical. Quality is directly impacted by this accuracy, but so is cost of goods. Plants should track total dough weights and calculate a theoretical yield to measure overall scaling compliance. I’ve always designed and audited systems to provide +/- 1% accuracy for dry ingredient systems and +/- 0.5% with liquid systems.

Here’s another pro tip from Mr. Hobbs. Track ingredient loss/gain by individual ingredient and look for consistent variations that may indicate malfunctioning scales that will affect quality. Review payroll headcount by department versus authorized labor standards per job or line position.

What is an effective way to continuously track a line’s performance?

Mr. Brixey: Production schedules should be at the mixer, divider/depositor, oven/fryer and in packaging. The operator in each area should track time, temperature, downtime and waste by dough or batch. This tracking becomes the actual record and should be compared to the original expectation daily. Best-in-class operations typically meet every morning to discuss operational issues, agree on root cause and set expectations for timely resolution.

On the flipside, what information is often misunderstood and misinterpreted?

Mr. Brixey: Many inefficient operations begin to hold meetings more frequently as things worsen, but they fail to truly identify root causes and/or set strong expectations and accountability to get problems fixed. Get out on the production floor more and you might be surprised what you can discover.

What suggestions do you have for streamlining a multi-plant company?

Mr. Brixey: Benchmarking is a great way for multi-plant operations to compare operational KPIs and CPU (central processing unit). Setting standards through benchmarking is a quick way to provide focus to underperforming areas. Today’s ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems require a BOM (bill of material) and labor standard to be assigned to each product and plant. Providing these standards are accurate, the ERP system can typically kick out reports that highlight non-compliance.

What research should bakers conduct prior to attending the International Baking Industry Exposition?

Mr. Brixey: The capacity report and bottleneck findings can lead you to a strong understanding of whether you need to replace a select asset or the entire line. Having this report completed in advance of IBIE can help you maximize who you spend your time while in “the land of plenty.”

How can the baking industry make artificial intelligence (A.I.) more applicable and practical to their operations?

Mr. Brixey: Successful A.I. depends on accurate data points to drive “its” decision-making. Providing the proper data is available, then you must decide what you’ll do with the decision the data tells you to make. A good system integrator will normally be needed to update existing equipment, but if the iba trade show in Germany last year is any indication of what to expect at IBIE, then I’d encourage you to ask suppliers how A.I. is used in their latest creations.