Lean Manufacturing in Practice – Bittercube

bittercube-productsIn this blog series, I’m showcasing products manufactured in my home state of Wisconsin. In addition to sharing some fun facts about the various companies and their products, I’ll be highlighting the Lean Manufacturing Principles that are best exhibited at each respective organization. These principles are derived from the Japanese manufacturing industry and center on making obvious what adds value while reducing waste muda. The six Lean Manufacturing Principles are: 1) Workplace safety, order, and cleanliness 2) Just in Time (JIT) production 3) Six Sigma quality 4) Empowered Teams 5) Visual Management 6) Pursuit of Perfection.

A cocktail renaissance has swept across the country, inspiring a new fascination with the ingredients, techniques, and traditions that make the American cocktail so special. The use of bitters, liquor that is flavored with the pungent taste of plant extracts, has been gaining popularity over the past decade. Originally developed for medicinal and digestive purposes, bitters now serve mainly as cocktail flavorings. The alcohol functions as a solvent for botanical extracts as well as a preservative.

Milwaukee has contributed to this cocktail renaissance with the help of Bittercube. Founded by Nicholas Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz in 2009, Bittercube handcrafts eight varieties of artisanal bitters, using only naturally sourced ingredients. By happenstance, the operations are run from the location that Foamation once occupied. Milwaukee was perceived as an untapped market with room to grow. Also, the low cost of operating expenses allow for maximum revenue generation.

Henry Ford created the first all-inclusive manufacturing strategy. However, it was Eiji Toyoda, a Japanese engineer, who after analyzing Ford’s methods, improved upon them by keeping an eye out for waste. Waste (or muda in Japanese) refers to any kind of wasted motion, effort or materials in the manufacturing process. Toyoda popularized the concept of Reducing Waste, which has become a basic tenet of Lean Manufacturing and falls under the principle of Pursuit of Perfection.

The objective of Lean is that every step must add value and be waste-free. A non-value added, or wasteful activity is one that neither adds value to the customer nor provides a competitive advantage to the organization.  Some non-value added activities include waiting and inappropriate processing. Waste can also take a tangible form, such as idle raw material or defects. Although transportation is an important aspect of the manufacturing process, it is a non-value added activity, as it adds to cost but not to value. It should be noted that some non-value adding activities like accounting and regulations are important and cannot be avoided.

Lean-manufacturing-bwThe continuous Pursuit of Perfection encompasses the idea that one must always strive to eliminate waste in the organization, while constantly making improvements, even if those improvements are small and incremental.  Improving processes results in reducing or eliminating variation, and improving the process flow or speed. Learning and consistent measures for improvement should be part of all processes if an organization intends on growing.

Bittercube has reduced waste by improving on their processes. In the past, they used a generic, high-density plastic container to process the bitters. There was no way to remove the botanical material after the batch was processed, other than to climb into the container and physically remove it by hand. Although this left the person who cleaned the container smelling of cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla, it wasted time and did not add value to the process. They have since updated to a custom-built processing/cooking tank with a bottom compartment where botanical material can easily be removed and cleaned.

Bittercube previously used generic boxes that weren’t cost efficient to ship. They have since opted for custom-made boxes with dimensions that maximize the number of bottles in each box, thus reducing wasted space and shipping costs.

Lean supports the notion that nothing should be wasted and a use must be found for everything. Bittercube has also reduced tangible/physical waste by reusing and recycling the processed materials. Instead of discarding the used botanicals, Bittercute has begun composting these materials. The finer botanical sediment will be reused in other products, such as an ingredient for Purple Door Ice Cream.

Autumn is upon us! Try this seasonal Maple Old Fashioned recipe!

2 oz. Johnny Drum Private Stock Bourbon, Fat .25oz. Maple Syrup, a dash of Jamaican #2 Bitters, a dash of Bittercube Bolivar Bitters, Garnish: Fat orange peel

To view other recipes and product offerings, visit Bittercube.

To read more about bitters, visit The History of Bitters

For more information on Lean Manufacturing see: Lean Waste Stream by Marc Jensen, Lean Enterprise: A Synergistic Approach to Minimizing Waste by William A. Levinson and Raymond A. Rerick, and Learning to See: Value Stream Mapping to Create Value and Eliminate MUDA by Mike Rother and John Shook

Just Pick 3

Fast away the old year passes, as the song goes.

It’s that introspective time when we all review the victories and defeats of the last twelve months and come up with a list of resolutions.

How long was your list last year?
How many of those goals did you attain?
Did you come out of the gate in January with a bang, and light a fire under 10 or more action plans, or did you attack your list in a prioritized sequence?
How did that work out for you?

In any year where I made a lengthy list, I ended up frustrated before February rolled around, and never looked at my list again. I just couldn’t achieve the progress I envisioned.

This year, I am going to do something different, and I think you should too.

By January 1, I will pick 3 areas to focus on in my work and personal resolutions. When I have achieved the desired results there I will pick 3 more.

The best way to do this is to pick 3 goals phrased as metrics you can measure.

Start your list. What do you want to change? How will you measure it?

Decide what is  most important.

Then, just pick 3.

Diagnose Your Inefficiency Potholes

potholesMany employees tend to complain about work-related inefficiencies as much as Wisconsinites bemoan the craters (aka potholes) left in the roads each winter. In response, companies usually acknowledge that making improvements is critical, and do their part in researching Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) options. But, are all work-related inefficiencies exclusively due to a legacy system? Are people jumping the gun in assuming so, or are they misidentifying a process problem? Could some of these issues disappear by making a few simple process adjustments? Without empowerment and support, all the technology in the world won’t move your business forward.

There is no exact formula to determine if a problem stems from a bad system or a bad process; but asking yourself some basic questions could help you figure out where the problem lies. For example:

  • Would implementing new process improvements really resolve the problem?
  • Could implementing new system functionality resolve the problem and also provide a competitive edge?
  • Do the system benefits outweigh process benefits?

The following steps should aid you in your diagnosis and decision-making:

Create a problem Inventory 

Interview Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) from the various departments affected to develop a problem inventory list.

Identify process-related problems

Identify all process-related issues from your inventory list. Ask yourself: What is the root cause of the problem? Is there a lack of communication, lack of enforcement, or lack of an actual process? If you answered yes to any of these questions, the problem likely stems from a process issue.

Examples of process-related problems include:

  • A customer is upset that they’re getting bounced around
  • Sales Agents aren’t required to track or manage lead information
  • No official process for returns exists. (If an actual documented process cannot be provided, there probably isn’t one.)

These items may also range in severity. While going through this process, consider assigning priority levels or at least identify quick fixes.

Make process improvements where possible

This step is important because it improves overall business processes and productivity by making identified improvements. It also validates problems that can be resolved realistically. This step may take a few weeks to a few months to transpire, but it provides important insight and brings the process to the next step.

Focus on system-related problems

Once process-related problems are identified and resolved, one is able to ascertain that the remaining problems are system-related and decide if a new ERP system would be advantageous.

Examples of system-related problems include:

  • No visibility to inventory availability
  • Multiple customer masters, item masters, and vendor masters
  • Manipulation applied to reports (current system lacks reporting functionality)

This step will not completely resolve a company’s problems and inefficiencies, nor will it guarantee employee satisfaction. It will, however, allow for a more focused approach when considering solutions. It also provides the added benefit of some inexpensive process improvements along the way.

Are you Paralyzed by a Hoard of Big Data?

Lured by the promise of big data benefits, many organizations are leveraging cheap storage to hoard vast amounts of structured and unstructured data. Without a clear framework for big data governance and use, businesses run the risk of becoming paralyzed under an unorganized jumble of data, much of which has become stale and past its expiration date. Stale data is toxic to your business – it could lead you into taking the wrong action based on data that is no longer relevant.

You know there’s valuable stuff in there, but the thought of wading through all THAT to find it stops you dead in your tracks.  There goes your goal of business process improvement, which according to a recent Informatica survey, most businesses cite as their number one Big Data Initiative goal.

Just as the individual hoarder often requires a professional organizer to help them pare the hoard and institute acquisition and retention rules for preventing hoard-induced paralysis in the future, organizations should seek outside help when they find themselves unable to turn their data hoard into actionable information.

An effective big data strategy needs to include the following components:

  1. An appropriate toolset for analyzing big data and making it actionable by the right people. Avoid building an ivory tower big data bureaucracy, and remember, insight has to turn into action.
  2. A clear and flexible framework, such as social master data management, for integrating big data with enterprise applications, one that can quickly leverage new sources of information about your customers and your market.
  3. Information lifecycle management rules and practices, so that insight and action will be taken based on relevant, as opposed to stale  information.
  4. Consideration of how the enterprise application portfolio might need to be refined to maximize the availability and relevance of big data. In today’s world, that will involve grappling with the flow of information between cloud and internally hosted applications as well.
  5. Comprehensive data security framework that defines who is entitled to use the data, change the data and delete the data, as well as encryption requirements as well as any required upgrades in network security.

Get the picture? Your big data strategy isn’t just a data strategy. It has to be a comprehensive technology-process-people strategy.

All of these elements, should of course, be considered when building your big data business case, and estimating return on investment.