Exceptional efficiency

by Ryan McCarthy
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West Liberty Foods implemented the Leading2Lean maintenance system in 2014 and has seen dramatic improvements across the board.
 
When Chad Williams went on a months-long expedition to find the next manufacturing operations solution for meat processor West Liberty Foods, maintenance efficiency was the goal.

Since implementing Leading2Lean, a cloud-based lean manufacturing system about two years ago, the company based in West Liberty, Iowa, has saved significant maintenance costs. Williams, the corporate maintenance manager at West Liberty Foods with 20-plus years of experience, used other lean manufacturing systems in the past, but none of them have worked like Leading2Lean.

“With the visibility of all maintenance activities in the Leading2Lean (L2L) system, it provides our leadership teams a powerful tool to manage their business units,” Williams explains. “The data we capture not only helps our maintenance teams manage the day-to-day operations, but gives them the ability to strategically plan for future maintenance activities.”

More specifically, West Liberty Foods wanted to focus on its meat processing operations and how this new system would affect the maintenance side of its business.

“What we have done is utilize the Leading2Lean customer support base, which includes companies from meat processing to synthetic gem manufacturing, to share ideas and experiences,” Williams says. “L2L supports this community where collaboration is emphasized. What some people don’t understand about this system is that it pushes your team to continually evolve in the effort to improve your processes.”

In making these changes, the company reduced employee turnover by 50 percent, achieved 89 percent utilization of its maintenance workforce and improved operational availability in at least one of its five plants to 96 percent – an increase of nearly 10 percent.

Founded in 1996, West Liberty Foods (WLF) is a US meat processing company owned by the Iowa Turkey Growers Cooperative. The company manufactures products for well-known foodservice and retail customers both nationwide and internationally.

One feature Williams enjoys about the system is the ability to interact with other companies using it. Leading2Lean has a broad range of clientele, including Tesla, Autoliv and US Synthetic, just to name a few. The system allows WLF to tap into these companies and is encouraged to exchange ideas as part of their participation in the program.

“The ability to change the system for the greater good is great and then it impacts all of the Leading2Lean customers, not just West Liberty Foods,” Williams says.

Another piece that helped WLF save money was extending the life of the equipment with alerts and programs used to maximize the performance of equipment.

“We are currently engaged with our critical equipment manufacturers to develop and implement automated escalation procedures for downtime situations using the Leading2Lean system,” Williams says. “The L2L system offers us a wide range of customizable alerts for our processing equipment.”
West Liberty Foods 
West Liberty Foods issued tablets to all workers, from the CEO to the floor, so access to the new system could be streamlined.
 


Automotive roots

Leading2Lean has roots in the automotive manufacturing industry. When the company first started out it found many of its ideals from automaker, Toyota, which used the Kaizen philosophy. That way of thinking aims to eliminate waste in all areas of an organization through improving standardized activities and processes.

“We share ideas. We make suggestions, and they take it to heart. They evaluate the suggestions and implement them as needed for the entire customer base,” Robert Argyle, Leading2Lean’s chief customer officer says.

Leading2Lean strives to build not only a technical, professional network but a personal one. Argyle says applying the system’s manufacturing techniques at WLF is not that much different than other companies it has worked with throughout the years.

“In most cases, we are finding out that making food isn’t a whole lot different than making rockets,” Argyle explains. “The issues and problems that need to be solved aren’t that different.”

Also, working with Williams at WLF and his passion for detail has made Argyle’s experience special with West Liberty Foods.

“He’s still feeding us information on what they want to add,” Argyle says. “We’re always involved. We don’t look at it as ‘hey we’ve got a software package; it never needs to be improved.’ We have an improvement culture in our company too where we’re always trying to get better to make the software easier to use. And our customers are the best way to get that information.”

One of the biggest aspects Williams and Argyle are tracking is accessibility. Everyone in the company from the CEO to the floor workers has access to the systems. With the use of tablets, West Liberty Foods can have a sense of consistency throughout its process.

“Mobile devices are a big deal, and that’s happening for manufacturing like crazy,” Argyle says. “Those techs can pull up machine history right there. They can see what parts have been used on the machine. They can pull up all their manuals. They can pull up all their procedures without having to leave the machine.”

Williams agrees that it’s the best way to communicate valuable information throughout the processing progression.

Real-time access to information allows any West Liberty Foods user to analyze reports that matter most to their job function and recommend changes to operations based on those reports.

“It gives us a good visibility of all of our maintenance activity, and it gives everybody else in our company an open book system,” Williams says.

As West Liberty looks to the future, it has also added an extra element to the Leading2Lean system. Instead of just focusing on maintenance, Williams and the workers at the Tremonton, Utah, plant are incorporating production efficiency as well, so the company can continue to move in a positive direction.

And for Williams, a veteran of integrating software into companies, he will contend this is the easiest system to make West Liberty Foods run more efficiently, hands down.

“It’s the simplest integration I’ve done over the course of my career,” Williams says. “I think from the professionalism and knowledge of Leading2Lean installers it’s just so simple to use the system.”
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