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25 September 2012

General Mills Berwick

A successful step change proves that tradition is no barrier to a winning strategy

Highly Commended: 2012 Judges' Special Award

Don't bother asking the taxi driver for the General Mills plant in Berwick-upon-Tweed – to him and to most of the inhabitants of this small Borders town, it's simply "the Jus-Rol". In some families, four generations have worked there producing the UK's leading pastry brand and, at 360-strong, it's the biggest local employer by far. But a traditional company does not mean old-fashioned methods. In fact, over the past 10 years, Jus-Rol has overhauled practically every aspect of its operation, turning a once-troubled plant into one of the best in General Mills.

It was already good at its first BFA appearance in 2010. Since then, however, increased price pressure has called for radical measures. So the plant embarked on a major step change which – although fully aligned with corporate strategy – built on existing strong local improvement programmes.

A five-year strategy focused on reducing costs by removing complexity. The road map included rationalising a 12-line production process to five, and consolidating three separate lines into one superline. Clearly, its steadily improving performance helped to earn the confidence and therefore the necessary investment in automation from its parent.

Equally importantly, it completely restructured production to create autonomous process system teams, each effectively working as a mini-factory. At the same time, training and support expanded the skills of both operators and support staff. There is now a clear succession plan for those that want it and, interestingly, a marked drop in absenteeism. There is also now a noticeably stronger drive for continuous improvement (CI) which is being implemented through a structured, phased programme tightly tied to strategic targets. Jus-Rol has deployed CI tools like value stream mapping both inside the plant and with suppliers, whose own OTIF has now climbed. By focusing improvement projects on equipment failure, backed up by new autonomous maintenance procedures, Jus-Rol has achieved a stunning overall 49% reduction in downtime. As a result of its concerted drive for improvement, in 2011 it was recognised as CI champion of General Mills' International Division.

Although only two years into the strategic plan, just consolidating the three lines has produced some remarkable results. The new line is now producing three tonnes an hour with half the people and delivered payback in under a year. Previously the team used to clean down 15 times a week. Now they clean down once a week on a bigger machine producing twice as much. In plant manager Brian Douglas's words, "it has blown the targets out of the water".

Not everything has been plain sailing. Jus-Rol's award comes as much for its determination in tackling tough problems as the excellent achievements that followed. For example, a value survey threw up some surprising insights – not least the realisation that too little information was being shared across the business. Now better data, reviewed through a formal sales and operation planning process (S&OP;), means better planning and scheduling and gains across the board. Raw material inventory has been cut by nearly a third. With a better understanding of demand, production runs can be longer so set-ups are down by 42%. Changeover times are down by 16.6% in processing and 25% in packaging. And most impressive of all, it can now respond with agility to events, like short-notice retail promotions, that used to cause major disruption.

Jus-Rol has more than doubled the expected year-on-year improvements against corporate measures, winning both plant and personal achievement awards from its international parent as well as environmental awards for its work on reducing waste, energy and water use. With so much achieved only two years into its five-year plan, the judges await the next chapter with keen interest.

Top 3 Points

  • Clear, effective deployment of strategy with tight alignment to local and corporate goals
  • Good balance of new automation with investment in skills development
  • Strong focus on CI and integrated management has eased planning pressures and boosted productivity


General Mills Berwick

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