If you work in food and beverage manufacturing, you care deeply about product quality.
Of course, product quality is a pressing concern in any area of the industry. But nowhere is it quite as critical as in a sector where the end-products are being consumed by millions of people worldwide, and countless regulatory organizations monitor the results. In an industry with such a massive scope and global impact - the F&B industry accounts for 10-16% of the world's GDP - it’s imperative that manufacturers embrace new solutions to optimize the consistency and efficiency of their operations - with an emphasis on the human side of manufacturing.
Where do defects come from?
Research shows that up to 85% of production errors, recalls, and machine downtime in food and beverage manufacturing are caused by human mistakes on the factory floor. As the complexity of tasks increases to scale with the demand of Industry 4.0, these errors are more present than ever before.
But there’s good news as well. Experts say that optimized and digitalized manufacturing processes lead to a better-quality product with fewer defects and recalls. Below, we’ll explore some the ways that manufacturers can work to reduce human errors on the shop floor
The impact of product quality.
A product recall is every F&B manufacturer’s worst nightmare. In 2019 alone there were over 600 documented recalls in the US and the EU for issues such as faulty labeling, unlisted ingredients, contamination, and other common packaging and hygiene issues. The cost of these recalls?
Anywhere from 6 Billion to 600 Billion dollars.
But a product recall is really only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the effects that human errors have on your overall product quality. For every recall, there are dozens of customer complaints that are made due to faulty products, and thousands more quality issues that don’t get reported. This has the ability to affect more than your reputation - most consumers would rather switch to a new product than invest the time and effort into notifying your company.
The good news? - at least 75% of these errors can be avoided.
Preventing human errors.
Let’s revisit that astronomical figure: approximately 85% of production errors, recalls, and machine downtime in food and beverage manufacturing are caused by human errors on the factory floor. And even the industry experts go back and forth on the true percentage. Some claim closer to 75%, and some that it’s actually more like 99%.
But one striking fact remains what we can all agree on, an overwhelming majority of errors on the shop floor stem from humans. It’s also good to mention that manufacturing errors don’t only stem from our frontline workers. In fact, they can occur in every point throughout a manufacturing supply chain - from sales to HR to logistics to management.
Sounds a bit intimidating, doesn’t it? With all these moving parts and variables, where do you even begin? We’ll give an answer that might sound familiar. It starts with understanding and developing the capabilities of the human aspect of your operations.
Manufacturers have been developing methods to improve human productivity for more than a century, and the advent of new technologies within Industry 4.0 means that we can support their WoW in ways that would have seemed impossible just a few decades ago. The Human elements of a manufacturing supply chain are the ideal target/proving ground for digital transformations and innovative lean initiatives to make their most substantial impact.
How do you avoid these errors while simultaneously improving product quality?
Of course, there’s no single, simple answer to this problem. Rather, it’s the intersection of a number of elements and solutions working together across your operations.
- Prevent the flow of errors - To prevent errors, you need to understand them first. This happens on the shop floor, when supervisors physically observe the habits and potential problem areas within a process. From here, they can begin to create productive and supportive systems of management to address the areas in which they’re lacking. Gemba walks are an excellent example of this technique and they can be supported by tools such as digital checklists.
- Train best practices - Employees need to know how to complete their work according to the standards defined for your processes. Food and beverage companies can leverage a number of solutions, such as digital work instructions and SOPs, that deliver accurate and optimized knowledge directly to workers in the moment of need.
- Implement 5S - 5S and similar methods are proven strategies that create a visual workspace where any deviations are immediately recognizeable. 5S stands for: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. Combined with the above techniques, this gives frontline workers the tools they need to embrace accountability as they complete their daily tasks at the line.
- Devise systems to learn from mistakes - Mistakes are inevitable on the shop floor. But when they happen, we need to learn from them. It’s up to supervisors to implement optimized systems that can identify and then correct the root cause of the error.
- Automate repetitive processes - If a process can be automated in a cost-effective way, do it! This is a great way to cut out the possibility of human errors and also save time for workers and supervisors alike.
Deliver knowledge and facilitate continuous improvement.
Digital solutions make it easy for teams to succeed. They’re given the knowledge and resources in a format that makes sense and removes many of the traditional blockers that cause human errors in manufacturing:
- Work instructions and standards being out of date.
- A lack of clarity and usability in standards.
But there’s another element to understanding and preventing human errors: how do we make sure that our workforce is actually adhering to the standards we deliver?
Just like in the steps above, this starts on the shop floor with a dialogue about the work being performed. The same Gemba walks that help diagnose problems can also be used to monitor adherence to standards by connecting supervisors and frontline workers throughout their daily work. These initiatives are also effectively supported by Workforce Excellence platforms that leverage a number of features that track completion and create management touch points throughout every step of your processes.
Remember, removing human errors is a process. These improvements won’t happen overnight, or as the result of a single sweeping initiative. Rather, it’s about embracing tools and processes that facilitate the continuous improvement of your processes and procedures and promote Workforce Excellence on the shop floor.
Want to learn more and check out our panel discussion with an instructional design expert? Check out our webinar recording here.
About the expert: Mark van Bockhoven is a specialist in Lean, TPM, and OpEx strategies and focuses on sustainable improvement in customer-oriented companies, including Refresco and Heineken. He's also an author and has published a number of books on continuous improvement and management strategies.