Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Applying Lean Manufacturing to the Food Industry

Lean manufacturing is production practice that places emphasis on the principles of waste elimination  through the implementation of tools such as "Just-in-Time", total quality management, and the reduction of waste. The concept of lean manufacturing was credited to the Toyota Production System (TPS) to better tailor Toyota's production to the unique characteristics of the Japanese market, which was small in size and had a fragmented demand for cars. Therefore, Toyota examined the production of each product that went into a Toyota vehicle as well as their inventories. Their findings proved that Toyota could cut waste at almost ever step of the car-making process. By providing a system that created the same outputs using less of every input would benefit both the manufacturers and the customers. Ultimately, the TPS system allowed Toyota to become the largest car manufacturer in the world. In 2013, Toyota regained its number one status from GM after rebounding from the devastating earthquake in 2011. Toyota was able to increase production and sell 9.75 million cars in 2012 due largely in parts to their commitment to lean production.[1]

Since the creation of the TPS system, companies from 3M to Merrill Lynch to Dell have adopted Lean Manufacturing principles. While these companies represent a wide variety of industries, it remains unclear whether or not the TPS system is applicable to all sectors. There has long been a perception that  the Lean process is not easily applied to industries that have large batch processes like the food and beverage industry. Aside from the large batch processes, the food industry is also synonymous with large lead times, varying growing times/seasons for agricultural products, and a wide range of shelf life of finished products. However, the food industry has the most need to reduce waste as food is more susceptible to literal waste in the form of spoiling or expiration. Therefore, when you take a closer look at each process during the supply chain of food source, the same seven types of waste can be found. Over production, waiting time, transportation, processing, inventory, motion, and product defects are all areas of waste that can also be found in the food and beverage industry. The improvements made include streamlining several packaging lines, improving the flow, reducing the lead time through the packaging process, reducing the number of people in the lines, reducing waste through improved food handling methods, and improving the changeover time between different production runs on the same line.[2]

An example of how one company successfully introduced Lean Manufacturing techniques into their food production factory can be found in this video.
Alberta Agriculture Video

Do you think that the Lean Manufacturing Total Production System is applicable in all industry sectors?


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