Greenhouse Canada

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From the Editor: March 2011

March 1, 2011  By Dave Harrison

If thinking outside the box is a good thing, is thinking outside the industry even better?

If thinking outside the box is a good thing, is thinking outside the industry even better?

We think it is.


What can greenhouse horticulture learn from other industries about cost-savings and efficiencies? Do we ever peer over the fence to see how the rest of the world handles such challenges?

We should.

“Thinking outside the box” is simply viewing things outside your normal comfort zone. It’s a “what-if-we-did-this” kind of suggestion that raises eyebrows and heart rates. But it is often necessary. If things aren’t going well, whether it’s in crop quality, yields or sales, change must be in the wind or you’ll face the same problems next season. It was Albert Einstein who once defined insanity “as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Dale Schattenkirk is president of Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, located in Regina. He spoke at this year’s Pacific Agriculture Show in Abbotsford, British Columbia, on the topic, “Doing More Through Lean Manufacturing.”

Could Lean Manufacturing principles be applied to horticulture? Its success in manufacturing has been well documented, particularly by Toyota, one of the early adherents. In fact, Lean Manufacturing is also often called the Toyota Production System, which was inspired by the Japanese concept of “kaizen,” the strategy of continuous improvement.

Lean Six has recently begun working with a couple of greenhouse and nursery growers in B.C., and with impressive early results. Efficiency improvements in the shipping departments of the two companies are up by 30 per cent.

Cutting 30 per cent of energy costs would be cause for celebration, as would double-digit yield increases. Efficiency gains are just as important. One of the B.C. growers involved in the program is using the freed-up time to allow staff to spend more time on crop monitoring and scouting. Boosting efficiencies in shipping could also mean requiring fewer people during peak times, or not having staff work overtime to get orders out.

Schattenkirk said Lean Manufacturing has the potential to save money, increase efficiency and decrease costs. “And it doesn’t have to be complicated,” he added. The changes can be fairly simple.

A key ingredient for success begins at the top. Owners and managers have to buy into it completely. It’s important because Lean Manufacturing is not a destination but a continuous journey.

Also important is employee empowerment. What it will mean is that instead of staff coming to managers with problems, they will instead come with solutions.

The Lean Manufacturing review process ensures growers are only delivering what the customer wants. Some “value-added” measures could be as unnecessary to the customer as they are costly to the grower.

This is large leap in thinking outside the box. But it works. It boosts efficiencies and saves money, or at the very least it frees up time for other duties. It invigorates staff by incorporating them into the problem-solving loop. Clearly, Lean Manufacturing can apply to horticulture, and with good cost-saving/time-saving results. Growers should learn to be lean.

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