For this Lean Tip, I called some of my friends in the industry. I wanted current information on sustainability so I asked them this question. "What environmental issue gives you the most problems and what can be done about it?"

The response from Rod Perry, director of maintenance at a ground beef processor in Georgia, caught me by surprise. Rod has significant maintenance experience in a variety of food processing plants located in various geographical climates. He said, "Door maintenance is my biggest problem." At first I thought he misunderstood my question. Then he explained, "Door maintenance is important to keep the doors leak-proof." I was still trying to connect the dots between door maintenance and environmental issues when he said, "You know, we inspect and fix the doors to keep 50°F air from following the laws of heat transfer right into the 30°F room." Doors seem to get routine dents from various equipment, particularly forklift trucks. Dents cause leaks. Leaks cause drafts or allow air flow. This is not good for maintaining proper temperatures throughout a ground beef or any food processing plant.

Rod said just closing doors is an important part of temperature regulation. In Georgia, where he now works, it is often hot and humid. Humid air enters the plant through open or damaged doors and "eats up energy for evaporators." The evaporators run more with less benefit. Eventually, moisture from the humid air freezes the coils, coolers run harder and more energy is wasted.

In the past, Rod and I have worked on some Lean deployment projects. As advocates of Lean, we often discuss how seemingly little things mount up. In fact, part of Lean thinking or Lean philosophy is that "taking care of the little things" can greatly reduce the cost of running a food processing enterprise. Shutting doors, as well as maintaining effective seals on doors, are "little things." When a food processor deploys Lean, costs begin to go down. Moreover, some environmental benefits are often attached to the cost reductions.

Close, inspect and fix doors What does one do about open or damaged doors? Close, inspect and fix the doors is the short answer. Fix dents and damage so that air transfer is minimized. Maintaining doors and minimizing drafts also leads to efficiency with refrigeration, partially because the defrost cycle can be shorter. To support this efficiency, maintenance workers should regularly clean coils and begin more frequent and shorter defrost cycles. Remember, however, one significant cause of energy consumption is warm, humid air moving unabated into cooler areas. Therefore, door maintenance is a "little thing" that needs attention to gain the larger benefit of reduced energy costs.

One director of quality assurance in a frozen beef-patty plant says his number-one environmental challenge is keeping solids out of the wastewater stream. Drain screens trap oil, grease and product that lands on the floor. However, the drains have to be cleaned and the floor squeegeed just to minimize the solids in the wastewater stream. Good housekeeping is the key to manage this particular problem. From a Lean perspective, using the 5S tool can further enhance the efficiency of house cleaning and with continuous improvement minimize spills.

At one West Coast beef processor, the supervisor of a patty line said he was able to reduce the number of frozen patties falling on the floor by setting up webbing that diverts dropped product into a catch basin. The supervisor had recently learned to run "shop floor" kaizens. He used the input of his team to minimize product hitting the floor and becoming waste. His efforts raised yield but also reduced solids on the floors that, to some extent, became part of the wastewater stream.

In a hog-processing plant, the main problem is over-production. They slaughter more hogs and process more pork products than they can sell. Over-production in the Lean lexicon is the worst of all waste. It is the worst because if you have over-production, you certainly have the six other wastes.

In this particular plant, the new QA manager is the leader in recognizing and addressing over-production. He has identified the extent of pork in the freezer as a symptom of many problems. Not the least of these problems is the direct energy costs associated with freezing product.

Other sustainability issues are part of this equation. For example, think of the fuel costs for trucks and forklifts to transport pork to the off-site freezer. Establishing baseline standards, improved schedules and creative new pork sausages are part of the solution to not overly burden the freezer.

Another environmental and costly issue in this pork plant and other food-processing plants is the use of chemicals to control bacteria. The QA manager mentioned in the previous paragraph has focused attention and actions on monitoring the effective use of chemicals. One simple example is ensuring that the Listeria-killing chemical sprayed as foam on floors is first foamy and secondly sprayed in a pattern that maximizes the spread on the surface before it enters a drain.

During a recent plant walk-through, I observed many spray patterns went immediately into a drain. This part of the problem is easy to fix and immediately increases the value of the spray. As a Lean principle, walking the plant is part of "go see management".

Resolving problems

The problems covered in this Lean Tip are real, everyday issues. Lean thinking and Lean tools help provide a system that continuously identifies and resolves problems. Often lowering one’s costs includes resolving many "little problems" that if left unabated tend to compound. Lean thinking is uniquely suited to resolving core issues that contribute to energy and other environmental costs.

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