Award-winning columnist, Jeff Dearduff, says efficiency is the name of the game. Now it's time for the industry to get on board.

Radio Controlled

Efficiency is the name of the game in baking plants. It always has, and it always will.

Lost time on the production line due to mechanical breakdowns has become the most frequently measured and most highly criticized element of that efficiency scorecard. We don’t see managers getting too excited about bad doughs or long changeovers, except for those nitpicking mechanics who like to point out the flaws of their counterparts in whites.

The response time to production line issues has forever been a point of contention between bakers and mechanics. Many different plans have been tried, and all of us have floated good ideas to solve this problem at one time or another. These attempts include everything from predetermining how fast mechanics need to respond to a problem area to listing what they must bring with them. To reinforce these new rules and regulations, some companies have started doling out penalties when expectations are not met.

In reality, however, we will never completely resolve this issue. That said, we should never stop trying either.

Maintenance teams at commercial bakeries need to cover a lot of square feet, not only inside the walls but also out on the property. Unfortunately, they have been getting fewer in numbers over the years even though their workload is increasing with bakery production lines operating at speeds faster than ever.

Having instant response to the problem area has become more difficult, but it also is becoming more important as bakeries try to find every which way to control costs. Perhaps one way to trim the response time to downtime and other problems lies with advanced communication tools that positively reinforce our efforts to streamline our operations.

The old standby for communicating among various departments is through the use of public address systems and, in some cases, a series of audible signals. Unfortunately, even the best PA system is usually garbled even with the latest delay and feedback prevention features, and the audible signal system is sometimes too difficult to decipher in the heat of the moment.

No matter how big or small your operation is, providing modern tools of communication can be a blessing for all involved in the operation. Two-way radios have been deployed in the past, but bakery personnel usually lose interest, and ideas, and the batteries with the system eventually die. Moreover, the standard use of such technology was limited to within the maintenance team. As a result, only a partial benefit was ever achieved. With the demands of today’s high-speed plants, a more encompassing communication network may be needed.

In addition to wiring up the maintenance team two-way radios, I suggest bakeries provide them to production managers and maybe even line supervisors, though I might have crossed a line here. When everyone is on the same channel, in more ways than one, how much better can it get? It could be priceless for a production manager with a mic to request an electrician to swing by to a potentially troubled area because of what they are seeing, feeling or smelling.

With this technology, a dialogue on the potential problem could get started before the two parties ever cross paths. Such communication can help the electrician be better prepared with some much needed tools or equipment.

Linking maintenance people with their production counterparts also provides the opportunity to reduce response time simply because a PA or alarm buzzer doesn’t provide the necessary information on a problem.

All too often, such an alarm draws a mechanic to the problem area, only to discover that they need to find an electrician. If every technical person and supervisor on duty is rigged with a radio, the bakery creates “transparency,” which in today’s business world is one of the most popular buzzwords for good reason. If you have maintenance and production personnel dialed up together, you will build a new level of open communication. Lines that were once crossed eventually become open, and respect that’s often waning between these two departments starts to develop.

This is just another one of those crazy notions that might build better teamwork, which translates into enhanced efficiency.

Just think about the number of times someone has been called to a problem, took their time getting there, spent a few minutes surveying the problem and then spent precious minutes leaving the scene to find parts, look for supplies or get more help. What if the initial responder could call out to a colleague for assistance and have those parts, supplies and extra help can be delivered like a Dominos pizza, right to the doorstep of those who ordered it.

I can envision these two parties with radio sets clipped on their belts, and a mic/speaker combo cord stretched up to their shoulders so they can lean in, pull the trigger and play beat cop. Then I remember that we have rules in food plants. Nothing can be in the pockets, nothing can hang loose above the belt.
There can be no jewelry, no cell phones and none of all that OSHA, HACCP and GMP stuff.

We need to find a compromise to use these advances in technology most effectively. Maybe we should go Bluetooth. Who knows? All options leave us with possible loose impediments, so how do we solve this challenge?

We have to find a way.

Today we are surrounded by modern electronic technology. However, how can we use such technology to make our jobs and our operations more efficient?

While two-ways might not be the newest or fanciest technology on the block, the way we use them could be.

And what about other new gadgets that are making everyday life easier? Hey, I have a vibration analyzer “app” on my iPhone, whadda you got?

Oops, can’t have my phone on the plant floor!

It’s time the industry gets “control” of this situation.

Jeff Dearduff