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he Lean manufacturing approach is all about boosting efficiency and improving performance – and both those concepts are as appealing to commercial kitchen operators as they are to factory managers. At its core, Lean is a philosophy that aims to implement optimally efficient methods to provide customers with the highest-quality product by eliminating waste at every step in the value chain. It is the path to producing more with less. At first glance, Lean can appear to be couched in a lot of jargon. For instance, many manufacturers adopt the ‘kanban’ style of just-in-time delivery. Japanese terminology has also led to the 5S approach to workplace organisation – the terms seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu and shitsuke equating to the English sort, straighten, shine, standardise and sustain. But look past the language and the core tenets of Lean are relatively simple – a focus on continuous improvement, waste reduction and constant vigilance over every process that contributes to the final product. “Lean manufacturing, as most people understand

it today, came in after the Second World War when Japan, the US and the UK put effort into rebuilding manufacturing capacity, capability and developing best practice,” says Mark Banton, Director of leading UK catering goods manufacturer Parry Group. “In particular the consultants Deming and Juran. Basically today’s Lean is a repackaging and reselling of established concepts. Root-cause manufacturing is about asking ‘five whys’ to get to the root cause of a problem, I was trained in that kind of analysis in the 1980s using Kepner-Tregoe. Lean is a systematic approach to identifying and eliminating non-value added activities. All of our lean activities must generate measurable gains,” says Banton.

When manufacturers adopt Lean principles they can pass on tangible benefits to their customers. “I think there is a direct impact on the customer when a supplier they are buying from uses Lean manufacturing,” says consultant Eric Norman FCSI of MVP Services Group. “The most obvious impact will be on the price of the product. By eliminating waste in the manufacturing process, said manufacturer is saving money and those savings can be handed down directly to the customer. Lean manufacturing also allows manufacturers to pinpoint what adds value to the customer and eliminate items that take away from the value equation.”


Electrolux Professional, a major supplier to the foodservice sector, began its Lean journey in 2005. It needed to reduce inventory, cost and lead times across a complex portfolio of 11,000 standard items and around 8,000 made-

to-measure products. “Profitable growth

requires us to be an outstanding manufacturing company and benchmarking against the best Lean companies shows opportunities for continuous improvement,” says Carlo Caroni, SVP global operation at Electrolux Professional. “Now, 90% of our standard products can be produced within three days of order confirmation, whereas it used to take three to four weeks. The impact on quality, cost and efficiency has been really good.”

This transition to Lean involved

many procedural changes, but for Caroni the key factor was instilling a new culture: “The complexity of our portfolio means everyone must be on board. That is the key to ensuring success. No one knows better what can be improved than the operator in the workplace. It is a bottom-up process to improve performance, which means overcoming occidental command-and-control thinking. We have autonomous teams where improvement actions are not geared towards cost-cutting, but towards eliminating waste and loss. We have instilled a mindset that waste is unethical.”

This attitude gives rise to new and improved manufacturing standards by discovering the root cause of problems and designing counter-measures. This standard is then expanded horizontally to extend savings across multiple processes. Maintaining this improvement requires commitment from management. “Everything begins with changing the business culture” says

Caroni. “You can start with

model areas and show great results as an example of the benefits of applying the right method. Then people develop better eyes to see waste and loss, and hunt them down,. Continuous improvement is sometimes referred to using the Japanese term ‘kaizen’, which translates as ‘change for better’. Ali Group, which is comprised of 76 brands, has adopted kaizen, which it sees as similar – but not identical – to Lean. “Lean manufacturing thinking in itself may provide several tools, kaizen offers solutions that can help you to continuously adapt and improve Lean tools to your specific needs,” says Ali Group’s Roberto Ragazzoni. “Kaizen encourages continuous improvement. Look at your work from a different perspective. If not, you cannot improve.” Lean is a cultural shift that

engenders innovation and change based on constant vigilance over

“Kaizen is a mind shape that we are promoting to encourage continuous improvement. You have to look at your work from a different perspective”

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