For Justin Carton, co-owner and Projects Director at Manor Farm, a 2015 trip to Japan as part of Enterprise Ireland’s Lean Start Programme has resulted in his company implementing Lean Six Sigma via an educational partnership with Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT). The Certificate in Lean Six Sigma (Green Belt) is a flagship part-time programme for the Institute. Manor Farm is Ireland’s largest poultry processor and one of the oldest companies on this island. While the purpose of Justin’s trip to Japan was to learn more about Toyota’s famed lean production practices, what most impressed Justin were some of their suppliers.
“There was one firm engaged in high precision engineering, making parts for the automatic car gearboxes. Their CEO was a former teacher and his view of the world was to encourage his workforce to play with things, to educate and inspire his staff to come up with their own solutions to any problems. It really rang true to me, that everyone should be inspired and provided with learning to do their job better every day.”
Lean Six Sigma is a project management process derived from the Toyota Production System and is primarily focused on the elimination of ‘waste’ within a company in all its forms. This can include areas like the manufacture of defective products, underutilised staff talent, inefficient work practices, etc. It follows a specific path called ‘DMAIC’ which stands for Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control to arrive at the solution to a business problem.
Manor Farm, owned by Justin and his brother Vincent, is a remarkable eighth-generation family business that began life in 1775 in Dublin’s inner city. When their father took over in 1968, he moved it outside Dublin and the company now employs 815 staff at its head office in Clonee, Co. Meath, its processing plant in Shercock, Co. Cavan and a nearby feed mill, with a turnover of €249 million in 2015. Plans are now afoot to grow employment to over 1400 in a €25m capital investment over the next 5 years.
“My father understood lean production even before the concept was invented”, said Justin. “We work in a very tight margin business so the idea of lean production is practically embedded in the company genetics but what we are moving more towards is the Asian concept of lean as learning, educating our workforce to look at solutions.”
The appointment of a new Production Director, Declan Kennedy, in April 2016, with experience in a lean environment, was the catalyst for the introduction of Lean Six Sigma. Justin wanted to recruit a broad group for the programme, cross-shift and cross-functional, taking in sales, agriculture and production. For that to happen, he needed someone to deliver the programme at their base in Shercock. Justin interviewed several consultants and then the solution arrived from another direction.
DkIT had initially contacted Manor Farm about an advisory role in another capacity and it was through this that Justin learned about its part-time Lean Six Sigma programme. He rang Anton Barrett, Head of Lifelong Learning, they met, and out of this a unique educational partnership was born. 12 people, one from every company department, would take part and for the very first time, the programme would be executed on a client site.
Anton Barrett said, “Our Lean Six Sigma students engage in “real-world” projects based on the needs of their employers. It would be rare to have a company that is big enough to sustain an entire class of participants but Manor Farm is one such regional business. Once Manor Farm agreed to populate a whole class it was far more cost-effective and convenient for two of our lecturers to travel to the company’s plant in Shercock on a weekly basis than trying to co-ordinate 12 employees from different departments and shifts to travel to the Dundalk IT campus.”
In September 2016, Robert Caldwell was recruited to fill the new role of Continuous Improvement Co-ordinator to manage the 12-week programme and when it kicked off in October 2016, Zandra Montgomery was among the first intake. Zandra, with a background in New Product Development (NPD) and extensive experience in retail and food manufacturing, joined the company in 2005 as senior food technologist and became its new product development manager in 2007.
Zandra said, “Everyone had to propose and agree their own project with their manager and then present it to the lecturers and staff colleagues on the course. My project was to identify and eliminate waste within one step of the NPD process, specifically, the creation of a photographic specification for issuing to the factory floor.”
Zandra wanted to look at what was and what was not adding value to the process from a customer’s perspective. To do this, she pulled together an internal cross-functional team and sought feedback from the key stakeholders including sales, production and quality control. Zandra also used a tool called a Value Stream Map, which breaks down the actual steps involved in a process and something unexpected jumped out.
Zandra said, “It’s not until you begin to break down a process that you realise all the steps involved. Think about making a cup of tea, or preparing toast. What are all the steps involved in those relatively simple tasks? And what I thought was quite a simple quick step within the process turned out to be not.”
“The tools learned on DkIT’s Lean Six Sigma course helped to identify waste in the current process, analysed the root causes of the waste and implemented a new standard work practice for creating a photographic specification. The photos are now uploaded onto an electronic live system, thereby eliminating all previous paperwork. The project reduced the time needed by NPD personnel to complete a photographic specification from 16 minutes and 34 seconds to three minutes and 30 seconds, an 80% improvement in process time. It has resulted in huge time savings and better use of personnel. It is only one small step within the NPD process and if the Lean Six Sigma method can be applied to other steps within the NPD process, it will yield further savings” Zandra said.
All 12 participants were presented with their Level 7 Certificate in Lean Six Sigma parchments at a ceremony in March 2017 attended by Vincent and Justin Carton, Anton Barrett and other members of Manor Farm’s Senior Management Team. Zandra’s project was awarded the top prize by the course lecturers, Annmarie McHugh and Pat Burke, for its excellent example of the power of the lean approach, taking a daily task, viewing it as a process, identifying the underlying waste in all its forms and making incremental improvements.
Justin said, “Significant improvements and efficiencies have been gained via the Lean Six Sigma system, allowing us to work smarter and deliver a superior product to our consumer in terms of both product and service.”
It was also announced at the event that a second on-site course with a new batch of 12 participants will begin in September 2017. Justin commented, “The Lean Six Sigma programme is part of our goal to transform Manor Farm into a learning organisation that follows the principles of continuous improvement and places the development of our people at the core of everything we do. I look forward to our continued partnership with Dundalk IT in the years ahead.”
Anton Barrett said, “It’s been a pleasure working with Manor Farm on this project and is a good demonstration of public and private organisations co-operating for regional benefit. DkIT’s Certificate in Lean Six Sigma programme sits on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) and so, in addition to technical skills learned via the course, successful participants also receive a Level 7 qualification, something that as an higher educational institution, we are uniquely able to deliver. It is one of our flagship part-time programmes and it’s never been in so much demand as it is now.”