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Productivity: Identifying challenges and opportunities

25 February 2019

Neil Hutton looks at the operational productivity challenges and opportunities that currently face food processing companies of all sizes – from global brands to a small artisan specialists. 

Optimising productivity across the UK’s food processing and manufacturing industry is critical to allow it to meet the need for ever tighter time to market schedules and shorter product life cycles.  

While every business will have its own specific issues, by using a combination of the various Lean Six Sigma methodologies, such as Root Cause Analysis and Performance Management, SMC has been working with its customers to identify key business challenges – which are common to many of them – and to create a tailor-made business solutions strategy that works for everyone from the shop floor to the boardroom.

Productivity challenges 
Food processors need to be able to adapt almost instantly to changing market conditions and this poses complex productivity and operational challenges.

Market supply and customer demand are increasingly unpredictable, so manufacturers need to be able to offer scalable production capabilities which can switch easily from mass volume runs of one product to small batches of a specialist line.  This must be done quickly and cost-effectively, regardless of the complexity of the product.

These rapid production changes are often in response to shorter delivery schedules and the JIT manufacturing practices demanded by the food retailing sector today. Consumer demand is also driving change across the food manufacturing sector with customers expecting to see multiple product iterations from different flavours right through to critical allergy-related options. This level of consumer choice expectation is impacting directly on the food processing sector and its Tier One suppliers.  As a result, food manufacturers need to be able to deliver flexible operating capabilities that optimise productivity across every aspect of their business, from product design and development to production and even line maintenance.

The ability to respond quickly to these evolving market conditions and demands is vital for businesses that want to ensure their continued growth in the UK food processing and manufacturing industry.  By focussing on core elements of the manufacturing process, it is possible to deliver long term solutions to these ongoing productivity business challenges rather than short-term solutions to immediate production issues. 

Optimising productivity
SMC has developed a Productivity Solutions Strategy using its many years of experience working closely with the manufacturing industry. From this, it has created an optimised productivity strategy that focuses on four key aspects of the manufacturing process:

• Products and services – Identify the product and control systems key to improving the functionality of processing and manufacturing operations.
• Deliverable activities – Assess all aspects of the manufacturing chain and improve co-ordination through production studies and partner seminars.
• Internal knowledge management – Devise and implement routes to optimising new business thinking within the management, workforce and sales teams.
• Customer values – Build a close understanding of business values to ensure best practice and improved productivity across all aspects of the processing and manufacturing operations and relevant staff training.

This comprehensive data collection exercise is used to develop a durable business solution to productivity issues with defined goals. 

There are some simple steps that can be taken to solve productivity issues – it is really all about adopting a common-sense approach to the workplace – whether you are part of  a global corporate or an SME. To book an initial free, no-obligation consultation which includes a four-hour site visit and assessment and an outline report and recommendations on your Productivity Solutions Strategy, email Neil Hutton at

Neil Hutton is productivity specialist for the SMC UK Business Solutions Team.

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