Process optimization helps food manufacturer increase productivity and generate more revenue

How a focus on process optimization can help you reach your organizational goals
July 19, 2021
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FarWell is often asked to help clients optimize processes to save time, effort, or other resources. Many of our advisors bring extensive experience in process optimization, continuous improvement, and LEAN business practices they’ve gained over the course of their careers. They apply this knowledge during FarWell client engagements.

This story relates one such experience a current FarWell team member had while working with a Wisconsin food manufacturer. However, the concepts are common and universally applicable. They’re relevant no matter what kind of manufacturing or business you’re engaged in. When you focus on process optimization and continuous improvement, you have an opportunity to achieve similar outcomes.

Customer demand was there, but the budget to hire was not.

Like many other businesses, the leaders of a Wisconsin cheese manufacturer wanted to find ways to increase revenue and perform more efficiently.

Based on market information, they knew customer demand was there. If they could increase production capacity by optimizing the factory’s overall cheese throughput, they could sell more cheese. However, they needed to achieve the production increase without having to hire more people or buy new equipment.

The situation called for experienced process analysis and skilled process optimization.

After a process evaluation, the team discovered two ways to speed up cheese production time to meet demand without adding cost.

The work began with a thorough, step-by-step review of the cheese manufacturer’s production processes.

The project team documented key findings:

  1. Data analysis indicated variation from optimal run times
  2. Root cause analysis found planned downtime, mechanical breakdowns and operator behaviors were the key issues.

The next step was to assemble a continuous improvement team of plant workers and get to work.

The team reviewed all the available information, considered different options, and developed hypotheses around solutions. They started with small pilots, tweaked as needed, and scaled up once they had viable solutions. They had two promising ideas.

Solution 1: Reduce production down time while the milk vats were filled.

Solution 2: Reduce the time it took to clean the lines every day.

Faster milk vat filling equaled more daily production.

The team developed a pilot to research the best way to reduce vat filling time. They systematically tested different flow rates and measured the results.

The team was aware of the risks of speeding up production, so they tested the increased flow rate for one vat right before a planned shutdown. Testing right before a shutdown meant if there was an issue, they would recognize it and could reset things to the original standards.

When the team reviewed the results and saw no apparent risks, they tested the last four vats before shutdown. They again found no errors. They then did a full shift, and then a full day. Finally, they put the new flow rate into standard practice. Their repeated experiments had given them the statistical confidence to act on their findings.

Based on the team’s recommendations, production reprogrammed the vat filling system and vats filled faster, which successfully increased daily cheese manufacturing throughput. Prior to the flow rate increase, it took 21 minutes to fill a vat. After their adjustments, the fill time was only 19 minutes. Vats had to be filled in sequence. So across eight vats, and 20 productive hours a day, that meant a net 6-7% increase resulting in six additional vats per day.

Modified cleaning strategy also increased daily cheese production.

When the project team performed its baseline process evaluation, they found the plant shut down for four hours every day in order to clean the milk lines and vats. They analyzed the different cleaning steps and found resources could be reallocated to make production gains.

Operations leaders shifted people away from some lower-value factory tasks and reassigned them to cleaning activities they could complete outside of the actual shutdown time. These process improvement steps increased productive manufacturing time by about 13-14 hours per month.

Results: Costs held steady. Production and revenue increased.

The firm was extremely happy with the process improvements the team had implemented. Combined with several other smaller continuous improvement steps, they calculated a projection of financial value.

The overall project would generate about $800,000 per year in incremental revenue without investment in additional machines or staff.

Learn how a focus on process optimization can help you reach your organizational goals.

Leadership takeaway

A successful process optimization strategy is a matter of examining production processes to identify steps with the potential to save time or use resources more efficiently. Small changes can often reap meaningful benefits at scale.

When you’re ready to scale your business for growth by working on specific process improvements or would like help in finding processes ripe for improvement, we’d love to learn more.

We gather information and work with our clients to understand their unique needs before we offer a solution. Our Right-Fit change discovery session and initial proposal cost you nothing and create no obligation.

We can offer you a fresh eye, experienced professionals, innovative approaches, and current best practices to apply to your initiatives.