Global frozen meals manufacturer Findus Group has reduced the operating costs of one of its processing plants by £1.1m.

It embarked on a review of its processes in the face of increasing costs and pressure from competing brands, in particular Tesco and Sainsbury’s, across domestic markets.

The Commercial Advantage System’s operational improvement Partner, Newton Europe, was appointed to work with Findus to improve profitability in their Nordic operations through increasing labour efficiency and reducing waste across two high-growth product families.

The main area focus was around two established frozen fish lines and one poorly performing new line – where demand was substantially outstripping production capacity.

The project commenced with a one-week assessment phase to identify the opportunities for gains and the development of a cash positive 21-week project plan to deliver sustainable improvements.

The assessment identified potential savings in the region of £2m in labour efficiency and materials savings – predominantly within the newly-established line.

Newton’s team then began to work closely with the onsite team to identify the major technical, organisational and behavioural issues preventing an improvement in operational performance, and systematically eliminating them in order to deliver a rapid step-change in performance.

This involved solving technical issues, optimising the systems required for successful continuous improvement and establishing short interval control of key shop floor measures to drive hourly performance.

Significant success was achieved in the solution of a packaging issue present since the introduction of the newly established line – where the packaging for one in 15 products had a buckled leading edge.

Both Findus and the supplier of the machinery were finding the problem a significant challenge to solve. However, through rigorous problem solving techniques and close collaboration with the on-site team, solutions were identified to resolve an issue that was costing the plant approximately £230,000 a year.

Further efficiencies were created through increasing tracking and visibility of hourly shop floor performance.

Short interval control focusing on hourly efficiency, giveaway and line speed was implemented across all areas, resulting in improved ownership of problems, corrective actions and the drive to challenge speed and performance.

Overall the project realised an average gain of 63% in labour efficiency across each of the production lines, worth £0.9m per annum, and an average 71% reduction in material variance, saving £265k a year.