Sometimes lean manufacturing really can leave a sweet taste in your mouth!
At age 160, the New England Confectionery Company (NECCO) is the oldest multi-line candy company in the United States. It is also one of the newest. Four years ago, the popular candy manufacturer relocated its antiquated facilities, consolidated its operations, embraced lean manufacturing practices, and re-emerged as a state-of-the-art production facility that is now a showroom for ultra modern processing perfection.
At first I thought this might be a case of "lean" being confused with robotics and automation and cleanliness, but it appears these guys have their heads on right.
“We have a lot more capability and more capacity,” says Bill Leva, vice president of operations at NECCO. “We also have better working conditions, better work flow, less product handling, and our cycle times to the customer are better.”
Better conditions, better flow, less handling, lower cycle times, more capacity. Core results of a real lean program, as opposed to some other companies that believe lean is successful if they can lay people off, especially right before Christmas. But let’s get back to some of the success at NECCO.
Most importantly, it [move to a new building] enabled the company to completely reassess every step of its production processes, including work flow and staffing, to come up with a new layout design that moved candy more quickly from the factory floor to customer, and with fewer employees. Various phases of the manufacturing processes that had previously been on different floors were now all together, enabling the company to better manage and move product. What had filled six floors now filled two. A key in cutting cycle times was establishing more efficient work cells, so that the workers have access to everything they need. Also, not having to snake assembly lines from floor to floor cut time in the processes, especially in packaging, labeling and sorting for distribution.
Food manufacturing can be very interesting. A couple decades ago, during my junior year in engineering school, I was getting overwhelmed with theory and losing touch with reality. To regain my balance I went on a co-op assignment at a Nestle factory that made chocolate drinks and boullion cubes. Nice combination of products, eh?
But what sticks with me to this day was the fact that the entire million square foot factory was virtually disassembled, steam cleaned, and reassembled… every night. Miles of stainless pipes, reactors and mixers and fermentation chambers, filters, pumps… you name it. Pulled apart and cleaned and put back together before the morning shift. The night shift cleaning was by far a bigger operation than the day shift production. If you want a lesson in maintenance planning, visit a food plant.
Hats off to NECCO… we’re always excited to see another example of a company that leverages real lean to be competitive from domestic factories.