A leading beverage producer was weeks away from cancelling their “back-to-school” product launch due to contamination in their signature product. One production line had been shut down because its cartons were consistently contaminated. Leaders felt stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, now running that line meant missing “back-to-school” demand. On the other, running the line to meet demand risked contamination in a product they market to children.
Not surprisingly, months earlier the company called in quality specialists and industry experts to find a solution. After implementing every recommendation, including re-piping the line and adjusted sanitation procedures, the problem persisted. Leaders now questioned whether replacing the entire line and missing “back to school” season was the only answer. Feeling unsatisfied with their options, the company brought in Stroud to help find the source of the contamination, and get their line producing safe product before “back to school” season.
Finding More Opportunity
Many in the plant to believe the beverage was becoming tainted by an uncontrollable environmental factor after multiple expert inspections couldn’t find the source. A team of plant leaders and Stroud took a different, Variable Analysis approach. To do this, the team started at the broadest level: evaluating whether the contamination was formed in the beverage, the containers, or the filling process. By showing that two identical lines in the plant produced uncontaminated product using the same cartons, the team demonstrated that cartons didn’t introduce the contaminant. Next, to isolate the process from the beverage they passed empty cartons through the line, to ensure uncontaminated cartons come out. Unexpectedly, the team found that empty cartons contained the contamination-causing bacteria. For the first time plant leaders were certain that the filling process, not the beverage, was the source of contamination. They felt hopeful, though still apprehensive. The team was now confident the contamination was occurring in the filler, but didn’t know why or where yet.
The team continued their systematic Variable Analysis, focusing on empty cartons running in the filler. The team researched the bacteria and learned that it grows in water. When the team then tested contaminated cartons for water, they all contained small drops after leaving the filler. Knowing that water condenses when air gets cooled below its dew point temperature, the team to search for a process component that was colder than expected. Through this focused approach the team found that the filler’s cooling plug was running colder than its set point. This cold plug was causing water to condense and drip into the cartons, causing contaminating bacteria growth. By increasing the cooling plug temperature the team stopped the water drops and eliminated the contamination.
Eliminating the condensation in the filler reduced food quality issues by 90%. This allowed the company to run their third line in time for their “back to school” campaign. Just as exciting for the leadership team was the renewed belief in their organization that even problems that baffled industry experts could be solved. With fresh excitement and pull throughout the organization, the plant team and Stroud focused next on improving plant capacity and in weeks had further increased output by 35%.
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