Kaizen workshops identify significant projected cost savings

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

The Monitor Farms participating in AHDB’s SmartPork programme, which introduces lean management techniques to improve how people work on farm, encourage business improvements, and increase cost savings, are now starting their main projects.

At the early stage of the programme, farmers saw smaller savings in terms of reducing the amount of time taken to carry out routine tasks by identifying ‘waste’. As they enter the second phase of the training, participating farmers are beginning to identify larger savings by introducing more efficient labour routines and processes, or, in one case, potentially cutting the herd size as a result of improved production, highlighting the cost savings that can be made from reducing the numbers of sows on farm.

Key to these larger projects is the end-to-end value stream mapping (VSM) activity and how it helps to identify potential improvement areas and evaluate action taken. The VSM provides a whole business overview, with production and costs set against industry KPIs and cost of production figures; from this, key areas can be identified to focus on.

Team workshops

Working with Lean Management consultant, Neil Fedden, AHDB is currently conducting a series of Kaizen workshops with their Monitor Farms and key members of their business, along with the unit teams who carry out the day-to-day routines. Kaizen is the Japanese word for improvement and is an approach to creating continuous improvements through small, ongoing, positive changes.

The workshops provide the opportunity for the whole team to look closely at how to improve current operations on their farm; this includes their daily routines and the processes already in place, as well as the current problems they are faced with day to day. Nothing is dismissed at this stage, and every idea and suggestion is written down on post-it notes and stuck on a notice board.

The next stage is to develop a priority matrix to grade all the ideas and problems and rank them in order from ‘easy to do’ and ‘high benefit’, ‘low benefit’ in terms of what they will deliver to the business, while the more difficult problems and ideas are scored as ‘hard to do’ due to the greater associated costs.

Using a Pareto analysis (80/20 rule) farmers then start work on the factors that have the biggest impact and account for 80% of the problems they face. From this, farmers can start to work out the financial savings and benefits to the business that could be made by introducing some of the ideas and suggestions that came out of the workshop session.

Working with Neil Fedden, in his role as an independent consultant, gives the business manager an impartial overview of the process and takes the emotion out of the decisions that need to be made. And the potential savings and investment required are backed up by a well-recognised management decision process that has a direct cost benefit for the business.

Following the workshop, an action plan is drawn up for each farm. This provides clear timelines for everyone to follow and details how to measure progress so that when the follow-up workshop takes place two months later, the results from the changes implemented will be evident.

Boarcross Ltd., one of AHDB’s Monitor Farms, recently ran a Kaizen workshop for its senior managers. Emily Field, Company Director, commented, “The workshop has been a real success as it’s identified a whole series of changes that can be introduced and given our staff ownership of them, as they were responsible for coming up with the ideas themselves. We can provide support and the resources that they need to make changes at their level and from their perspective, and I am looking forward to seeing how the business will benefit as a result.”

Results to date

The results speak for themselves, from the three Monitor Farms who have completed the workshops so far, a combined potential annual cost saving of more than £330K has been identified. This is a result of:

  • Identifying waste (e.g. out-of-spec pigs) and savings by using a better nutrition programme
  • Identifying food waste from aging hoppers
  • Reducing the herd size because of better performance but still selling the same number of pigs
  • The impact of the smaller pigs at weaning and how they perform during the growing–finishing period
  • Providing equipment to carry out farm maintenance, rather than waiting for a company maintenance person, leading to more efficient building and pen occupancy and reduced time taken to make repairs, as the provision of equipment makes the repairs smaller, cheaper, and quicker
  • Improving attention to detail on routine tasks
  • Providing more taps in the farrowing rooms resulting in fewer staff journeys to collect water, freeing up time for routine tasks
  • Improving communication with the finisher pig transport company to reduce the time the field team wait for lorries, as well as eliminating unnecessary journeys following cancellations of lorries

Positive staff feedback

The feedback from the workshops has been very positive, with staff reportedly going back to their units looking at all their daily routines and identifying potential improvements, from making simple changes and looking at more longer-term problems on the farm.

The workshops and the use of proven analytical tools applied to pig production processes and discussed using pig production terminology, has been of real benefit for these farms, enabling them to look at improving efficiencies across the whole farm in a new way, saving both time and money. Once a potential saving is multiplied daily, weekly, monthly, and then annually, and put against an investment figure (if needed), the numbers speak for themselves.

Andrew Palmer, Knowledge Exchange Relationship Manager at AHDB, has been the project lead on the delivery of the lean management programme and explains: “We have taken the time to build confidence in the participants, and the use of lean management skills will allow them to generate further savings on top of the annual figure of £330K that has already been identified across the programme. The data-driven approach to making decisions has given them the confidence to act, rather than delaying for another year. I’m looking forward to seeing what further savings can be made over the next phase of the project.”