Shift Schedules for the Food Manufacturing Industry

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Shift work – The more you learn about it, the more you find out how much you didn’t know.

I have friends that know very little about what I do for a living.  When I say “I evaluate, design and implement shift schedules,” they will respond with “Aren’t all shift schedules basically the same?”

I will respond with something neutral like “sometimes” and leave it at that.  They are laymen who are not involved in the business of running a business that needs to cover something other than Monday through Friday, day shift.

However, if you are in that business, the business using shift work, then you know what I’m saying when I tell you, “There is far more to shift work than schedules.”

To this end, I have decided to write a series of blogs that talk about how shift work varies from one industry to the other.

I will start with the Food Manufacturing Industry.

The one thing that sets the Food Manufacturing Industry apart from all others is the need to sanitize.  Depending on the nature of their product and process, this can mean shutting down weekly or even daily for several hours to clean.

Most companies over-clean.  They do this because their shift schedule makes them do it.

Over-cleaning creates overtime.  It increases costs and eats into valuable capacity (it’s not unusual for a food production line to cost well over $10 million.)

How does the schedule make them do this?

Following a typical growth pattern for most industries, they handled expansion through a combination of capital acquisition and the addition of afternoon and night shifts.  They plan for 5-day operations and base their capacity on that.

Now, let’s take a 3 typical sanitation requirements and see how a schedule affects them.

  1. You must clean when you shut down.  This requirement has nothing to do with periodicity.  So, if you shut down every day, then you must clean every day.  If you shut down once a week, then you must clean once a week.  If you never shut down, then you must never clean due to this requirement alone.
  2. You must clean when you change products, especially if allergens are part of the equation.  If you are running, for example, 5 lines Monday through Friday and you need to convert one of the lines over to peanut-free, then you must shut down that line and clean it.  This takes that expensive line out of the production mode which means (assuming you need the production) either weekend work or the need to buy more capital.  If you had an idle line, you could simply set up that line and then shift to it when needed.  A better schedule can make this happen.
  3. You must shut down based on a biological emergence rate.  Bacteria become a hazard in a very predictable time frame based on conditions.  The same is true for a number of other pests. The schedule being worked has no impact on this.

Let’s suppose that in you operation, you are running 7 lines for 5 days.  This means you are using 35 line-days a week.

Suppose you went to running 5 lines for 7 days a week.  This still gives you 35 line-days a week.  However, this also addresses the first two issues above.  Running 24/7 on a line means you no longer have to clean a line weekly just because you are shutting down weekly.  It also frees up other lines so you can switch from one line to the other without experiencing lost production time.

So, just looking at sanitation alone, we can see that just changing from 5 day operation to 7 day operation can save capacity and eliminate over-sanitation.

Freeing up extra lines also allows maintenance to work on equipment without having to wait until the weekend (where they now try to do a week’s work in 2 days.)

Freeing up extra line also allows you to do setups on one line while the other line is running.  You can then shift to the newly set up line without losing production.

Does this mean that you should be running your operation 24/7?

It’s never that easy.  Food Manufacturing has a lot of moving parts, schedule-wise.  Sanitation aside there is also seasonality, new product introduction etc.

The best schedule is one that carefully considers everything from both a business and an employee perspective.  Every industry is unique.  Every company is unique.  Every facility is unique.

It should not come as a surprise that every shift work solution is unique as well.

My name is Jim Dillingham.  If you have any questions, please call me at (415) 265-1621 or send me an email at Jim@shift-work.com.

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