Formerly known as Synlait Farms, Purata embraced lean management principles five years ago in an effort bring lower performing farms up to their better producers.
“It’s not just about trying to cut things to save money, it’s about ‘if I’m going to spend this amount of money, how can I get the biggest return from that investment?’” says Purata sharemilker Michael Woodward.
“If you can get it right, you produce more milk and the amount you spend won’t change, you’re just getting greater efficiency for the dollar you’ve spent. That’s what lean management is all about, getting more bang for your buck.”
Simply, lean management is an approach that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve efficiency and quality.
To help get their heads around the idea, senior farm staff were taken on a tour of businesses in Waikato, including Hills Laboratories, to see how lean worked in practice. Getting rid of bottlenecks at Hills resulted in the waiting times for soil and dry matter samples being cut down from a several days to a same day service.
“It was just a different thing to open our eyes to how it works because no other dairy farms had implemented lean thinking for their process before,” says Michael.
After intensive coaching from consultants brought down from Auckland, a strategic leadership team was formed to put lean management into practice on-farm. DairyNZ supported Synlait's initial pilot process through funding under the On-Farm Innovation Fund.
The first stage is to identify waste in the operation, broken down into eight parts – transportation, over-production, inventory excess, motion, non value-added processing, defects, waiting and lost human potential.
Waste in any of those components results in inefficiency which translates into lower profitability. With transport, for example, if a silage stack is at the far end of the farm, how much more driving back and forth is required than if the stack was in the centre of the property?
“Or with inventory, if you change your liners once a year, why would you buy 10 sets of liners? Only have on-hand what you really need,” adds Michael.
With wastes identified and remedied, the Purata team moved into their “6-S” programme, covering safety, sorting, shine, standardising, set and sustain (standard lean management is 5-S, but Purata have added safety to their list).
They started in the dairy shed, as the busy hub of the operation, where the greatest gains could be made.
“The sorting is taking everything in the shed and saying does that need to be in the shed, yes or no, and removing some of the crap that’s there. The shine is making sure that it’s all working properly, that your maintenance is all done,” Michael says.
“Set means everything that needs to be in there goes back – everything has its place and everything’s in its place. Standardising is about your standard operating procedures, making sure the same process is repeated everyday.
“And sustain is making sure it continues to happen.”
Small things add up
Lots of small things add up to a more efficient and more enjoyable workplace and suggestions from staff are encouraged.
“We might not realise it’s better to have the gloves in a particular place because that’s closer to where they walk and get ready, instead of somewhere further away. Just real simple things like that which are saving time and motion and searching,” says Michael’s wife Susie.
One change adopted on-farm is using dish brushes for tail painting instead of paint brushes, to do the job better and save on paint. Another was putting an idea of Michael’s into action, adapting the electric fence jumpers used by centre pivot irrigators and fitting them to farm vehicles so they can cross fences without having to open a gate.
“Instead of going around the tracks that went all the way round the farm I can do a diagonal straight to the cows, because we have sprung fences all over the farm for the pivots I can go straight through,” says Michael.
From shadow boards so staff can find tools without searching, to having reels and standards tidily stored for next time, lean management is lots of small changes adding up to greater efficiency, with less wasted time and reduced staff frustration.
“It’s about being as efficient as you can during the day but the key is, it can give you more hours to do more work. But the way we see it, it’s more time to be away from it. If you get things done faster, well you take a longer lunch or breakfast or you get off-farm a bit earlier.”
How lean management helped
- Lots of small changes have added up to greater efficiency with less wasted time and reduced staff frustration.
- Standardising the standard operating procedures, making sure the same process is repeated everyday by everyone.
- Getting things done faster means the team can take a longer lunch or breakfast or get off-farm a bit earlier.
Incorporating Lean Management on your farm
Farmers keen to build some lean management into their farms can get onboard with DairyNZ’s Waste Hunt Challenge, which goes through the lean system’s six steps.
Find out more at dairynz.co.nz/wastehunt
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy February 2016