In my last blog I mentioned that Marks & Spencer’s, who pioneered the Quality Audits, have introduced a Lean Audit into their Plan A.
So lets look at whether ‘Lean’ will deliver in the food industry what is clearly hoped of it by the retailers. The objective of course is to lower manufacturing costs – so of the three main approaches to continuous improvement, is Lean the right one, and is it what is needed in FMCG?
Lets consider the other two approaches – TPM and Six Sigma
If we look at the relatively low asset cost required in FMCG manufacture, the spend required to achieve exceptionally reliable equipment – the fundamental reason for a TPM approach – rarely gives a value return. This means that reliability of 96% is generally quite acceptable, except for a few notable exceptions, and the requirement to spend big on predictive maintenance just isn’t there as it is in other industries.
Meanwhile, Six Sigma is fundamentally about eliminating variation – 6 standard deviations from the mean and all that (actually 4.5, but that’s another story). For FMCG, with low unit cost (and permissible variation of around 1 sigma due to the average weight legislation) again the high-end techniques of Six Sigma have limited value return.
This means that a Lean Approach is in the driving seat
However, Lean did not originate in FMCG – it comes from automotive, with an entirely different asset base and set of base assumptions. This means that whilst many areas of Lean can deliver real value for FMCG, we must be careful in its application. What is taken for granted in automotive is not always true in FMCG – thus the success of the Lean Audits in reducing cost within FMCG will ultimately come down to how well adapted they are for the FMCG sector.
Taking one example (and there are many more); Constraint Theory as outlined in Eli Goldratt’s “The Goal” is of huge applicable benefit within FMCG, but classic Lean either ignores it completely, or allows the contraction of ‘Unnecessary WIP’ to merely ‘WIP’ to drive exactly the wrong actions.
Having experienced the misfortune of this type of misapplication, one FMCG factory owner was heard to remark “I’d rather have taken a million pounds in cash out the bank and used it to fuel a bonfire in the car park – it would have been less painful than what happened”!
So – the future is sure to be Lean Audits – but the companies that succeed from using them will be the ones that are wise to prioritizing what delivers rapid bottom line benefit – and uses an approach to continuous improvement tailored specifically for FMCG.
Tune in next week for the next blog in this series, or hear more on this topic by registering for Food Manufacture’s Lean Audit webinar (11am, 26th April).