Maple Leaf Foods – The Road to Sustainable MES Adoption

By Trent Hart, InSource Manufacturing Systems Consultant

Maple Leaf Foods is Canada’s leading consumer packaged meats company with more than $4 Billion in sales. Recently, I had the privilege of working with three Maple Leaf Foods plants during an AVEVA/Wonderware Manufacturing Execution System (MES) deployment. Learn more about the Maple Leaf automated MES program goals here.  Our role at InSource was to assist with the integration and adoption of the MES technology into local operations work practices. Each plant was different and provided unique opportunities to fine tune our InSource adoption and System for Management (SfM) best practices.

The first production facility produces beef, chicken, and sausages. The plant had never used MES on the plant floor. The plant leadership had some communications problem with operators because of language barriers. After taking the time to make sure we understood the production processes, we worked side by side with the plant employees, up to 18 hours a day, encouraging the employees and breaking down all the barriers that come with learning new work practices and techniques. Ultimately, persistence and side-by-side interactions paid off. The plant downtime tracking deployment was successful, and the employees were delighted to be able to capture their plant downtime without using paper and pen. The plant increased its downtime tracking significantly.

The second production facility has two separate plants. The ham plant produces both raw and cooked ham with raw production on one side of the plant and cooked processing on the other. On the raw side of the plant, the production process uses stuffing machines to produce sausages and links. On the cooked side they process ham into various packages and in aluminum tins. Both sides of the plant are manual labor intensive and not fully staffed. Daily scheduling discussions were needed to determine which lines had enough labor to run. There were never enough employees to run every line in the ham plant simultaneously. The plant used a temporary employment agency to fill employment gaps. In this environment, InSource again took time to understand all the workflow permutations and then worked side by side with the ham supervisors to train all the full-time employees plus over 60 temporary employees on the new standards. It was important to maintain consistent data entry, even as employees could be rotated from line to line on every shift. Our training and adoption exercises were complicated by the fact that the plant ran a first production shift and then a sanitation shift followed by a third shift of production. After working 15 to 18 hours a day training employees to be effective and insuring good MES adoption practices, leadership was pleased with the result.

The bacon plant, had just the opposite issue! The plant for 10 years had captured all downtime up to micro stops (< one-minute duration) on paper. Despite the manual system, they had high quality data capture and were very proud of their results. The bacon plant has a very mature management team that demands success daily and their employees deliver. The challenge here was to ensure that the new MES system initially gave the bacon plant the data that they were used to receiving. (Match functionality before improving!) The bacon employees challenged the MES tool and the trainers daily wanting more data than the initial deployment was scheduled to deliver. InSource won over the employees by listening and working with the plant management team to adopt the new reports and dashboards in their existing shift meetings. The real-time data allowed this mature team to improve production daily.

The third production facility produces wieners and sausage links. The plant manager had been in their position for less than 30 days. The plant had a tenured work force that had never used MES on the plant floor. Several employees thought that the new MES system would end their careers because they were not computer literate. The new plant manager was just promoted from the second production plant where we had already implemented the MES system and he had witnessed what was necessary for adoption, especially where the employees had low computer literacy. He pledged his full support and was dedicated throughout to a successful deployment. At this plant, I had 36 employees that I had to retrain continuously for about 20 days. Ultimately, all the employees learned to input data into the MES system. Recognizing that the necessary reinforcement would take time, the plant management team stepped up and allowed the operators to be pulled off the production line for additional one on one training, and everyone in the plant was successfully trained with no one losing their job because they couldn’t comprehend their new job requirements.

Over all, the Maple Leaf Foods MES engagements were very challenging with the plants being so dependent on manual labor. This project represented a dramatic and rapid leap in manufacturing automation. We were able to engage the employees at their level of understanding of the MES system and raise all the employees work standards and system understanding to high level. All plants are using the MES systems successfully to improve productivity and are simultaneously growing their workforce using the training standards established by InSource and this project team.

To hear Maple Leaf discuss their digital transformation and sustainable standardization of best practices across the business with a model driven MES, watch this Webinar.

OR attend a local InSource Roadshow to see the technology tools and processes that made Maple Leaf successful.