Enterprise Minnesota Magazine - June 2012
HELPING MANUFACTURERS GROW PROFITABLY
Less Paper, Leaner Process
In Minneapolis, ground beef processor, WW Johnson Meat Company saves time and improves accuracy with its new paperless production management system.
WW Johnson's Jose Patino and COO Kent Mogler get real-time information about production orders with the company's new HMI system.
WW Johnson Meat Company COO Kent Mogler is on a mission to keep up with customer demand.
WW Johnson is a leading producer of ready-fresh hamburger patties for national distributors like Sysco and US Foods. The Minneapolis business began in 1946 as a local supplier, serving primarily the Minnesota and Wisconsin markets before its reputation for consistently fresh and high-quality ground beef helped it to expand across the country. Today, WW Johnson offers a variety of custom-made fresh ground beef products.
Working with a perishable product means the company must be extremely quick in its processing time. For the past decade, WW Johnson has maintained a strong reputation for freshness by vacuum-packaging its orders, and shipping them within 48 hours to provide the maximum 25-day shelf life for its customers. But as sales have increased between 10 and 15 percent each year, production speed has had to follow suit. Mogler found the company’s traditional paper production report system was holding back its ability to efficiently keep up with sales.
“Obviously paper quickly becomes obsolete, because once it’s printed, a customer may change an order,” Mogler says. Republishing production order reports multiple times per day took time, and handwriting changes on outdated reports was a method for miscommunication. Communicating changes verbally also ran the risk of details lost in translation.
To accommodate the steady increase in sales while maintaining its quick order turnaround time, the company opted to forego its traditional paper production reports in favor of a digital system. The customized system is comprised of a series of computers, called HMIs, which sit at each production work center to provide work instructions for filling each order, and order updates as they occur. The system also records and measures completed work, which gives employees a way to view their progress throughout the day, and provides a digital snapshot of all production activity at any given time to accurately gauge efficiency levels in each area.
Instead of making a “one-time, radical change,” Mogler and his team decided to implement the system gradually, moving through the plant from its grinding operation to its receiving, packaging and shipping areas over three years.
“A key to our success is that we took a journey through our production area, versus trying to change everything at once, because we built upon our lessons and our successes,” Mogler says.
With the system now installed across the production floor, benefits abound. Where last-minute order changes used to spark a flurry of manual communication and handwritten updates between departments, they are now immediately and seamlessly communicated to each production work center throughout the plant, minimizing miscommunication and stress, and improving workflow. Mogler says the entire investment has had a payback period of two years or less due to reduced reworks and increased efficiency.
“Instead of the starting and stopping and reassessing process, it has become a flow process, and a flow process is much more exciting for employees to participate in,” Mogler says. “Being more in control of what you need to do, and then seeing the accomplishment of that work measured throughout the day is much more satisfying to all employees.”
In the true spirit of continuous improvement, the company is already planning its next project. “We have a vision of becoming a paperless office,” Mogler says. “We will embark upon that in the second half of this year.”
To learn more about WW Johnson, visit www.wwjmeat.com
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