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Lean Manufacturing for Food Plants

How to save money and improve food safety

You've got to be kidding, right?

Nope, and we're going to tell you how. Grab that cup of coffee, and take a look below.

OK, first the serious stuff. You've been given the task (or you took it upon yourself) to answer to one of the following questions:

  • Can I squeak more out of my facility before it's time to expand?
  • Can I improve efficiency with an expansion, or will it be hindered?
  • When does it make sense to expand? When is it time to relocate?
  • Can expansion take place while maintaining daily operations?
  • Can I retire and go fishing before I have to face this decision again?

In addition to these questions, you have to improve food safety. Perhaps "improve" is not a strong enough word because food safety has to be just about perfect. No skimping in this area.

So how do you address food safety and save money? Doesn't food safety cost money? Let's take a closer look at Lean Manufacturing to find out.

  • Lean Production Flow

    Principle 1

    Food plants often grow haphazardly over time. This kind of growth creates long- term problems because it frequently adds inefficiencies. These inefficiencies can show up as extra time, rework, scrap, or energy and should be removed from the production process.

    Look for ways to streamline the production flow and reduce efforts that do not add directly to the value of the product. Try to maintain a linear flow of product from one process to another.

    AH HAH! Maybe streamlining will also improve food safety by eliminating possible cross contamination between raw and ready-to-eat product, and allergenic and non-allergenic foods and ingredients.

    Considerations: While these principles seem simple, implementing them into existing operations can be complicated and costly if not thoroughly planned. Consider "phasing" your expansion projects to minimize impact on production.

    Or you can just hire us to figure it out for you!

  • Lean Personnel Flow

    Principle 2

    Streamline and plan employee traffic flow without crossing production flow.

    Back to the plant that grew over time. Draw the production flow on paper and it looks like a plate of spaghetti. People walking everywhere takes time, valuable time. Cut out the backtracking and reduce travel time and maybe you can reduce some costs. PLUS you can improve food safety if people stay cleaner.

    Considerations: Employees must have access to vestibules for hygiene prior to entry into production areas, especially critical areas with exposed ready-to-eat product. This can be difficult to incorporate into older parts of your plant, so consider creative solutions (i.e. corridors for personnel and material movement).

    So just hire us! We like to find ways to stay clean.

  • Lean Equipment Flow

    Principle 3

    Locate equipment washing areas to minimize the exposure of clean vats, racks, totes, and trucks to contamination.

    Hey, this is a killing-two-birds-with-one-stone kind of deal. Put stuff where you need closeby, and keep the dirty from the clean.

    Considerations: Think about where dirty items are "generated" and where clean items are needed when identifying the location and accessibility of wash areas.

    Don't know where the dirt is in your plant? Don't worry! We can find it.

  • Lean Material Flow

    Principle 4

    Limit access of "dirty" materials, such as boxes, pallets, etc. from exposed product areas.

    This is a "no-duh" concept. Let's find a place to put this stuff, close to where it's used, but at the same time keep it from contaminating the food.

    Considerations: You can reduce the risk of product contamination by separating case packing/box making areas from exposed product areas.

    Ah yes! This is how it's done.

  • Lean Trash Flow

    Principle 5

    Incorporate trash areas to preclude the flow of trash through production areas.

    Better yet, maybe we can even REDUCE the amount of trash generated; that should save some money. Plus, it's a green strategy - Bonus Points!

    Considerations: Locate trash areas as close as possible to the areas that generate the most and the "dirtiest" trash. You can use more than one trash area to reduce the movement of trash through your plant.

    And improve food safety while saving some money!

  • Lean Air Flow

    Principle 6

    Design systems to have the most positive air pressure in the cleanest spaces and more negative air as the spaces become "dirtier."

    Yes, lean principles even apply to airflow. Why pay for more air than you need, or airflow going the wrong direction (airflow without a GPS)?

    Considerations: Create the most "positive" area in a RTE operation, while the trash dock will be the most "negative."

    Yep, you guessed it, this helps with food safety.

  • Lean Mechanical Systems

    Principle 7

    Design mechanical systems, such as electrical, refrigeration, plumbing, to be easily tapped into or expanded.

    Some call this "value engineering," just a fancy phrase for lean.

    Considerations: Be sure you consider potential growth when determining the size and location of your main utility runs. Also, it is important to locate "anchors" such as boiler rooms and refrigeration engine rooms where expansion won't be hindered.

    Keep in mind that in order to be zestfully lean, you must store your cleaning chemicals near the use points. (We promise never to use this pun again.)

  • Lean Trucking Areas

    Principle 8

    Configure your trucking areas so they can be expanded, but not relocated, if possible.

    Considerations: Because shipping and receiving areas are directly connected to the outside world, consideration must be given to the travel path of trucks entering and exiting the area.

  • Lean Packaging Areas

    Principle 9

    Allow room to grow, especially in length, for all finished product packaging areas. Also allow room for flexibility and multiple packaging concepts.

    Remember bread wasn't always pre-sliced. Keep your options open for future packaging needs.

    Considerations: Consumer demands change constantly, which leads to more sophisticated packaging equipment. Don't assume that your company's packaging needs are static.

    Packaging is the hygienic core of a food plant.

  • Lean Site Planning and Security

    Principle 10

    Understand the current governmental and community restrictions for your site.

    OK, this is a stretch because even the government doesn't understand the government. Bio-security can help food safety and proper planning can keep it lean.

    Considerations: Any zoning, community planning, or building department issues must be identified during planning to ensure that your site will accommodate your design and future operations. Also, review access limitations due to security needs.

    Just hire us to deal with these folks. We know how they think, and it's not a pretty site. (another pun for those of you keeping score).

    OK—that wasn't so bad now, was it?

    Kind of makes sense, doesn't it? This is just a sampling of what we know, so if you have questions or other food-facility issues, remember that Food Plant Engineering can help you make the right decisions. After all, we've been planning for the future of food plants for more than 60 years.