John Anthony Orlando, president and chief executive officer at Orlando Baking Co., understood the highway to excellence rarely travels along a straight line when the company began its journey to enhance operations at its 200,000-square-foot plant two years ago.

While the Cleveland-based bakery was tracking the proper metrics, the production team devised a different road map to drive better results on its nine production lines.

“Prior to installing this system, if we had a bad day, it was a bad one altogether,” Mr. Orlando said. “Today, if we’re having a bad hour, we can turn it around and make a bad day a good one.”

To execute that transition, the bakery began daily huddles with employees on all shifts and every line to determine root causes of production issues. Then to create ownership on the floor, supervisors posted hourly performance indicators on boards throughout the plant.

That awareness then sparked a greater sense of urgency. By reporting it hour by hour, Mr. Orlando observed, the system now allows line operators to react to the situation as they change throughout day instead of just reporting the news at the end of their shift.

Using key performance indicators (KPIs) can unearth the root causes of unexpected downtime and help justify capital investments to enhance productivity and bolster yield in the long run.

Orlando Baking is harnessing its data to develop a potential shopping list for the 2019 International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE), which will be held Sept. 7-11 in Las Vegas.

Targeting capital spending

For identifying specific investments, Rowdy Brixey, president, BEST: Brixey Engineering Strategies & Training, recommended using a “capacity report” that pinpoints bottlenecks. First, calculate the maximum run rate on each piece of major equipment to discover the lowest limiting factor for each product variety or pan.

“The best returns usually come from focusing on the items with the highest volume,” he noted.

The greatest return on investments often come from upgrading just a couple of assets that drastically limit the line’s throughput.

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

Mr. Brixey acknowledged that bakers can choose from hundreds of KPIs, but he suggested starting with just a handful of them. To determine pounds per manhour for direct labor, for example, bakers should total the gross production pounds for products made on a line by week, month or another period. Next, divide this number by the total payroll hours for the direct labor responsible for manufacturing those items during the same timeframe.

“This KPI will show whether you have extra personnel on the line compared with its historical run rate,” Mr. Brixey explained.

Another helpful KPI involves calculating year-over-year cost per pound for a specific time period. After adjusting for inflation, raises, utilities and other variables the operations team typically cannot control, compare these year-over-year numbers for waste, scaling, downtime, overtime and other controllable factors.

“Look at ‘cost per pound’ versus ‘cost per unit’ because it eliminates factors like loaf size and bake times,” Mr. Brixey advised.

Ramping up a new line

Maximizing efficiency will attain peak performance over the long run. However, it’s often not technology but the human element that ultimately determines the successful start-up of a new production line. That’s an issue many bakers will face following their investments at IBIE.

When starting up a line, Jeff Dearduff, president and chief executive officer, Gold Standard Baking, Chicago, always includes key operators, maintenance and sanitation personnel from the beginning.

“When equipment is coming in the back door and being bolted together, make sure your people are joined at the hip with vendors,” he advised. “It’s one thing to read manuals and look at videos, but it’s another thing to be side-by-side with somebody who has done it and can say, ‘Never mind what that manual says. Here’s what you’ve really got to do.’ Nothing beats shoulder-to-shoulder shadowing during the assembly of that equipment. It’s one thing to learn how to build and care for the machine, and it’s another to know how to run it.”

Test wiring and input/output connections on the equipment. Verify that all sensors work, and communications paths are properly set. And yes, examine each moving part.

“That could be everything from shafts being straight, belts being aligned properly, packaging machines being set up correctly,” Mr. Dearduff said. “All of those physical aspects of the line sometimes get missed because people focus on the control side of it. It’s still an old-fashioned bakery when you look at it. Nuts and bolts.”

Mike Timani, president and c.e.o. of Fancy Pokket, Moncton, N.B., stressed that bakers should monitor how products move from one piece of equipment to another.

“Transfers are usually the killer from one conveyor to another or from a conveyor to an oven,” he said. “These are the areas that really need to be well thought out when you are purchasing the equipment to minimize additional labor on the line after it begins running. It’s important to purchase the packaging machinery that is capable of maximizing the output of the production line.”

Mr. Dearduff urged front-end controls.

“From a processing standpoint, first make sure all your metering and scale hoppers are correct, and make sure everything is food safe as well,” he said. “If you don’t have that right, it doesn’t matter if you can package it or not.”

He added that the entire start-up will take days, weeks or months, depending on the project’s scope. Subsequently, work in stages when it comes to ramping up to salable products.

“The best approach is to bring the speed up in small increments over a week’s period,” Mr. Dearduff said. “If you’re 50% up-to-speed on Monday, then go to 60% on Tuesday, and work your way up over a week or two.”

Once the line is operating, he added, bakers need to focus on training to enhance yield as part of an overall continuous improvement program. The road to excellence is a journey that never ends.