Hardware/software combo allows Unilever to simultaneously analyze data from multiple lines in real time.

"How can I start to work on a problem when I have no confidence in how big the problem is?" asked Tony Lippert, Unilever Bestfoods North America's (UBFNA) Elgin, IL plant manager. We can all relate to problems that we intuitively recognize impact our efficiency. Yet, knowing where to begin to solve these problems can be a little like trying to wrap your arms around a thundercloud. You can see a storm brewing on the horizon but lifting it out of your way is a different challenge all together.

For Lippert, his plant's horizon was clouded by the challenge of accurate data collection. About two-and-a-half years ago, the UBFNA Elgin plant, which produces 160 million pounds of margarine, spreads and toppings annually, implemented a Total Perfect Manufacturing (TPM) initiative. As part of that initiative, the company wanted to closely monitor operating efficiency as an indication of line performance. "We had a manual data collection log in place and the operators were responsible for recording stop time, start time and downtime reasons," says Lippert. "But the manual process was very inaccurate. Our unknown downtime was often larger than our known downtime." He notes that operators only captured about half of the downtime events and among those recorded, the reason codes were often questionable.

While the company was trying to track downtime, the plant was simultaneously calculating operating efficiency based on standard production rates. So, as you might expect, there was a discrepancy between the calculated and recorded production. Lippert knew he had a problem but wasn't quite sure how to fix it-until he saw an ad for Informance International in a trade magazine. After a site visit by Informance, the Elgin plant piloted the system.

The system is a hardware/software combination that allows manufacturers to simultaneously monitor and analyze data from multiple lines and multiple stations in real time. "We use one unit to capture general downtime and measure overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) at the filler and a second unit at the case packer because it was historically our source of the most downtime," says Lippert.

The plant learned that the majority of its downtime occurred in instances of five minutes or less, and there were 1,200 to 1,500 of these events weekly. This was an important revelation to the plant since it would have been impossible for operators to record this volume and type of downtime. With the pilot completed, Informance customized the database to Unilever's various plant sizes, ages and machines. Lippert took these findings to the senior management team, which decided to install the system at all of its TPM locations. At the Elgin plant, Lippert is still seeing positive results. "I'm on the system several times a day," he says. "I use it to see trends in the data so I can go back to the team and address issues. The presentation of information makes the problems very obvious."

For more information:

John Oskin, Informance International,