Hot dog and sausage processing -- a Lean approach

by Dr. Glen Miller
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Lean thinking and implementation can transform a sausage-processing operation. Becoming more efficient at work requires a mindset that all waste can be minimized.

For many of my clients, the most difficult first step is to see your processing differently. Too often, supervisors and line leads begin to think about waste as much as they think about schedules and getting the work done. Every step, every process, every cleaning, every start up, every change over is an opportunity to cut out inefficiency. Especially in the process of manufacturing sausage products, it pays to get back to the basics of Lean. Following are eight common wastes occurring in every sausage department in the country. Yes, there is waste everywhere because waste is never eliminated. Only a continuous Lean process will minimize waste.

Defects and rework
Defects are one form of waste. Defects and rework are terms used to describe processing needed to correct wasteful mistakes. Start by determining where the most defects occur, and then find a solution to minimize the amount of rework in that particular section of the process. I have observed hundreds of rework situations. Labels and package sealing have been the most common and costly culprits.

Keeping labeling machines clean prevents a portion of rework. Inability to seal plastic packaging properly can cause rework. Sausage on the edge of a package precludes the welding of plastic surfaces. Every package that has to be cut open and reworked is waste. If packaged sausage is piling up on a table instead of going in a box, take the time to figure out why. In short, determine the root cause, attempt a fix and measure the outcome. If defects go down, look for more ways to reduce rework and again, attempt a fix.

Attack overproduction
Overproduction is the worst of all waste because it is evidence of other wastes and may even cause wasteful practices. I am currently working with a client that has quite a lot of sausage in the freezer. Some of the frozen product is smart storage, particularly if a picnic or cookout-style holiday is several months off and the product can fetch a handsome price above one’s purchase price and cost. That smart storage is planned over production.

However, in some organizations overproduction is not seen as waste but stored inventory. Consequently, sausages go in the freezer every day. In the freezer, it will be moved more than once. Some product will be damaged. Energy costs to maintain a freezing temperature subtract from the bottom line. The enterprise leadership wants to sell the sausage but alas, they do not. Balance must be maintained between wise speculation and overproduction.

Waiting for anything is waste. Waiting is idle time that hinders workflow. Determine what other tasks can be completed during this waiting time. Other solutions for minimizing waiting is staggering start times and the careful use of buffer stock. The most common way sausage makers reduce waiting is having boxes made several steps ahead of the sausage.

Non-use of worker knowledge or skill is also a waste. In one sausage processing plant an employee was particularly adept at cleaning and maintaining the labeling equipment. Unfortunately, the supervisor usually placed him in other areas of sausage packaging. The tip here is to exploit the skills of your workers.

Transporting equipment such as housings and augers found in most sausage processing equipment can be difficult and time consuming. Seek to minimize transport by locating sequential steps as close together as possible. Also, ensure that equipment and parts have a place near where they will be used. Also, mark parts such as an auger so machine parts stay with one machine.

Inventory issues
Obviously, plants must have inventory. However, inventory can be wasteful. The trick is not to have too much. Inventory takes up space, gets in the way and contributes to energy costs and overhead. Labels and packaging can become obsolete, so refrain from getting a good deal on a large run of labels or packaging when there is the chance that you may not use all that is purchased. Consider minimizing this waste by throwing out old labels and old packaging materials taking up valuable storage space.

Motion can also be wasteful. Do workers have to search for tools, equipment or raw material? Are workers walking across the plant to get supplies? Can body movement at any task be reduced? This is often the most overt and obvious waste detected when auditing plant operations.

Operations managers must ensure smooth start ups or change-overs. Casings for the next run can be staged before change-over. Efficient scheduling can help minimize walking and other motion when changing sausage recipes, packaging or labels. The less needed to change the better. However, when change is required, then staging equipment and product before change-over reduces wasteful motion.

Extra processing is similar to overproduction. In extra processing, the worker may add extra spice or other flavoring. Extra packaging can occur with additional paper or wrapping. Sometimes production workers weigh precisely when there is substantial tolerance in the specification. In short, more effort is put into a product than is required. To identify extra processing, review customers’ requirements and specifications. If you know the specifications, do your supervisors and QA people?

Delete downtime
Currently, the cost of raw material is escalating. Given the economics, it is important to cut costs in production. It is one effective way to stabilize pricing and remain competitive. Making sausage may be straight-forward and basic. Lowering the costs of making sausage on the other hand, requires the persistent commitment to reducing waste and eliminating downtime. •

Dr. Glen Miller is Senior Lean Consultant for Performance Essentials, Inc. More information can be obtained regarding Lean Manufacturing at www.performanceessentials.com.
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