Productivity Programme to Meet Growing Market Demand
Bluelab Corporation is a kiwi success story. For the last thirty years they have made the measurements tools that help fruit and vegetable growers achieve exceptional crop and yield. Based in Tauranga, New Zealand, they have become an international brand with offices in the United States and in Europe.
Bluelab’s goal is to help growers unlock their crop’s full potential, with a range of meters and tools to monitor soil and growing conditions to ensure optimal health and growth conditions for each plant. Bluelab is a multi-award winning, innovative company whose purpose is ‘The art of growing for a healthier world’.
In late 2019 Bluelab made the decision to expand its production facility in Tauranga and work began when the first Covid lockdown happened. They experienced the same uncertainty as most organisations. However, one of the unforeseen consequences of the global pandemic was the recognition by people internationally to ensure their food supply. Demand for the Bluelab tools exploded.
This demand increase meant that over a few months, Bluelab doubled their production capacity, completed a new production facility and warehouse, and recruited a second shift to start a seven-days-a-week production.
They also recognised that increasing resource was only half the story: there was also a need to keep improving what they do. Bluelab was not new to Lean systems and Operational excellence, but they recognised that doubling their staff meant that a significant part of the team did not fully understand the power of these systems. Sudden rapid growth put existing systems and practices under severe pressure.
Productivity People was asked to assist with embedding an improvement culture for all staff, as well utilising Lean tools to enable higher capacity utilisation to deliver against the massive increase in demand. The Productivity Programme provided the perfect method.
The Productivity Wheel Assessment tool was used to pinpoint gaps and highlight a number of priorities to help lift productivity. These included Daily Management meetings to improve communication, Visual Management, and 5S on the shop floor, as well as Standard Work.
Over the following months a three-tiered Daily Management System (DMS) was implemented. Shop floor, Middle Management and Senior Management each hold daily meetings, to review key measures, discuss progress, and align activities, Concerns are escalated as required. US and European teams join these meetings remotely.
The Lean implementation and improvements on the shop floor were driven by the production teams, who started with the introduction of 5S practices. They came up with innovative solutions to improve ‘visual management’ through colour coding equipment and parts for each product. 3D printing enabled tailoring tool holders for each workstation. This had a major impact on reducing ‘set up’ times and improved the ‘basic care’ of tools and equipment. A measurable improvement in product quality was the result.
The shopfloor leadership team identified shift variations and they developed Leader Standard Work routines for each line leader, supervisor, and production manager. This ensured all the key tasks were achieved on a consistent basis across all areas. Alongside leadership alignment, basic shop floor education took place to onboard three to four new starters each week. Lean concepts were introduced through off-the-job practical Lean simulation activities.
These initiatives were supported by the Productivity Programme ‘How to Guides’, as well as on-site support by a Productivity People consultant to drive actions and accountability for each work stream.
Improved Lean practices and a higher organisational capability were able to realise a significant growth in revenue coupled with a performance in a short period of time. This enabled Bluelab to double both its revenue and its workforce in a period 10 months, during a global pandemic.
A higher maturity in Lean practices was confirmed by a significant improvement in the re-assessment of the Productivity Wheel ten months after the initial assessment.
Bluelab was a finalist for three categories in the New Zealand International Business awards 2021.