Editor Bernard Pacyniak and Publisher Jeff Cummings take a beverage break during interpack 2008.

Believe it or not, that quote has nothing to do with Danica Patrick and Ryan Brisco, the two Indy drivers that collided in the pit crew area during the Indianapolis 500 race held during this past Memorial Day weekend.

Rather, it comes from John Pierson, v.p. of operations for Maramor Chocolates in Columbus, Ohio. Pierson, who left the Rimrock company, an automotive die-casting supplier deep into the ways of Six Sigma, Kaizen and other lean manufacturing operating philosophies, cut his teeth on “value stream analysis,” a methodology that pinpoints areas in need of improvement. 

Until joining Maramor, Pierson didn’t know much about what went on in a chocolate manufacturing facility. He did know, however, what it takes to operate a plant efficiently while simultaneously improving quality. Besides, there’s no point today in doing one without the other.

And the headline doesn’t really capture his entire quote (call it a teaser headline if you must). Pierson, in chatting about introducing lean manufacturing practices to the plant, said that one had to have a “pit-crew mentality to changeovers.”

As the cover article on Maramor relates, the new owner, Mike Ryan, was keen on introducing more automation into the facility. It was Pierson’s task, however, to ensure that the automation made sense as it relates to product quality and output.

As he says in the article, one of the first  ways to get things moving is to introduce a conveyor to the process. That automatically induces a sense of urgency into any operation.

Moreover, once you have a significant investment in a piece of equipment, it’s critical to maximize its usage. Otherwise, it’s money that’s just sitting on the plant floor. And everyone today knows that money can’t be idle; it’s too precious and costly not to have it produce more of the same.

“You have to be mindful of the bottlenecks, be they the machines or how people are used,” he explained.

One of those bottlenecks that Pierson noticed involved a changeover on a moulding line. It would take two hours to change out a depositing head. Thanks to Pierson’s pit-crew mentality, the maintenance and engineering staff was able to modify the depositing head brackets as well as create a moveable support dolly to facilitate the changeover. Time needed to replace a depositing head now – 20 minutes.

What’s critical about implementing lean manufacturing, however, is volume. As Ryan told me during the interview, there has to be a solid sales base to reach maximum outputs. That sets the stage for investing in automation.

Nevertheless, with today’s fickle consumer, one needs a good amount of flexibility within manufacturing to accommodate product variations and/or limited edition rollouts. That was certainly in evidence at interpack 2008, particularly with the buzzword, “modularity.”

I hadn’t ever heard the word used so often in my lifetime. Still, it reflects marketplace reality. Confectionery processing suppliers recognize the importance of staying close to their customer needs. Hence the need for flexibility. Although the days of week-long product runs aren’t over, the dawn of multiple, one-shift production runs have already arrived.

And so the issue comes back to changeovers. Does your company have a pit-crew mentality to ensuring the shortest amount of down time?  Does it have the right kind of processing equipment to handle multiple changeovers? If not, maybe it’s time to start those engines.