Plains Dairy and its great tasting, healthy milk as well as other dairy products and drink refreshments have been proudly serving the populations of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, Arkansas and Arizona since 1934. Plains Dairy’s (“Plains”) products are delivered by a cooperative network of around 750+ stores across southern states of the U.S.A.
At 80 years old, this established business which delivers its own brand of milk as well as other brands including: Shurfine, Allsup’s, Lowe’s, and ShurSavings; needed to make some bold moves if it was to remain efficient and continue to grow. Never before had its maxim “Keep it clean; keep it cold; and keep it moving” been so apt or important.
The Status Quo
Let’s consider how many of the modern day, high-end dairy plants work. Most plants will be filling for 18 hours per day, 5 – 6 days per week, with overall production, fully staffed, 24/7. A typical blow molding machine will run full-time production, working direct to the fillers on the line and continuing production even if the filler stops. To shut the blow molding machines off is a futile process as the start-up time is a 20-minute process. However, when the fillers are on changeover, bottles will inevitably back up, and so need to be diverted off to a bagging machine instead to be hygienically stored until such a time as they are needed to be debagged and diverted back on to the line. This small part of the process requires full-time staffing.
A blow molding machine will typically produce 70 bottles a minute, a filler however is capable of filling 200 bottles on a good run. This time difference is why it’s essential that bottles continue to be made in order to maintain maximum efficiency. Furthermore, it is necessary for machinery to be on and functioning 24/7 to maintain not only demand but also contingency and third-party bottle supplies.
The way things were at Plains Dairy
Plains Dairy over the years, like most industries, has to continually review then improve on its processes and production environment in order to remain efficient and therefore profitable. As a mid-sized organization Plains’ production setting comprises of two gallon jug and one half gallon blow moulding machines. Employees are instructed to run the blow molders 24/7 in order to make enough jugs needed for current production levels, although the fillers were aging and running very slow, only filling for 4 days a week. This meant that all running services including power had to remain on permanently in order to create 80 bottles per minute to meet the demands of filling 200 bottles a minute using the current equipment. Furthermore, Plains needed to pay people full-time just to manually debag in order to add more bottles to the system and therefore maintain production. Staffing was a significant overhead with many being paid overtime to work weekends in order to maintain the plant.
Plains Dairy’s produce was also on the rise, the logical decision was to purchase an additional two (second hand) blow molders. Now Plains would have five machines in total and when all blow molding machines were running, they could meet the filling capacity. However, given the need to continuously change the labels on the bottles and the contents in the bottles (i.e. whole milk, chocolate milk, buttermilk etc.), meant that machines needed to continue to start-stop. Two hours on juices, one hour on chocolate, three hours on whole etc. Around 10 – 12 different products would need to cycle, not to mention the need to change labels. The Frequent product cycling resulted in employees still needing to bag and debag which added further to the business’ overheads. The cost of using 2 to 3 bags a minute; each 10 cents a bag, ancillary power, and staffing costs was certainly not a sustainable system. Growth was not going to be an option…something had to change…