Focused PIP creates swell of changeover improvements for China’s oldest baijiu distillery

Executive summary

Often, the results of a focused, well-executed process improvement project (PIP) can mean the difference between ordinary and extraordinary. This was the case with Shui Jing Fang, a premium baijiu manufacturer and owner of the oldest distillery in China’s recorded distilling history. The distiller relied heavily on technician expertise to control changeovers on multiple semi-manual lines where the set-up procedure was more labour-intensive than on the automated lines. Changeover times were sub-optimised, and even their expert technicians were inconsistent in their execution of changeover tasks. A dedicated focus on set-up time reduction proved to be the real game changer.

RESULTS
  • 56% improvement in liquid change (LC) changeover process
  • 39% (unintended) improvement on changeovers on other machines (capper, palletiser, bottle washer, QR code)
  • No more bottlenecks caused by changeovers on LC process
Industry overview

Baijiu, a clear distilled liquor, is the most popular alcoholic beverage in China. Though it has existed in China for centuries, baijiu is relatively unknown in the rest of the world. Thanks to the Chinese diaspora, and a concerted effort by the Chinese government, baijiu is now making its debut on the world stage. It is estimated that the baijiu compound annual growth rate will be 6.9% over the next five years, and manufacturers such as Shui Jing Fang are preparing to take full advantage of this upswing.

Challenges

While most changeovers take place before or after production hours, production demand made changeovers during production hours inevitable. However, spending three to four hours on changeovers before or after, and then one to two hours during production, started taking its toll on production efficiency. The liquid change machine took the longest to set up, averaging 79 minutes per production run. Even the distillery’s most experienced technicians with 20-plus years of experience seldom performed the changeovers under 60 minutes.

Some of the main concerns were a lack of standard operating procedures, sub-optimised changeover sequence, wasted time due to unnecessary waiting (nearly 34% on one process), and long-distance walking. Changeovers were purely based on technician expertise with no targets or performance management.

Also, as can be seen on the accompanying Gantt chart, each machine changeover only started when the preceding one was completed. While the liquid change process proved to be the bottleneck, there was no sense of urgency to streamline the other changeovers.

Solution

After a basic two-hour Set-up Time Reduction orientation workshop, the teams were able to identify clear waste actions in the liquid change changeover process. By applying a parallel working procedure, each technician was allocated specific roles and responsibilities during the other changeovers. The immediate result was a 26-minute saving on LC and a further 28 minutes on the others. Several more minutes were shaved off each step by identifying other improvements, such as introducing a faster QC process and reducing unnecessary walking. These improvements came about without paying any attention to the efficiency of each of the shorter changeovers.

Results

The bottleneck caused by the liquid change process had been eliminated which resulted in other processes causing bottlenecks, thus exposing further opportunities for improvement. Changeover time on the liquid change process dropped from a laborious 79 minutes to 34.5 minutes, which equates to a 56% improvement. Changeover times on the other machines, almost unintended, showed a 39% improvement – dropping from 74 minutes to 44.5 minutes.

“If you’ve performed a certain task for many years, you tend to think that nothing can improve. However, we now realise that for us to reach our full potential, we need as many resources as possible. For that to happen, we need to train and empower the operators to also assist with changeovers.”
– Wu Chuanqiang, Senior plant technician, Shui Jing Fang
Company Background

Shui Jing Fang, which roughly translates to “the distillery by the well”, is situated in Chengdu, China and is a premium baijiu manufacturer that started its craft more than 600 years ago. Baijiu is still produced at the original distillery founded in 1408, the oldest in China’s recorded distilling history. The product is produced using 600-year-old yeasts, giving it the unique flavour profile characteristic to the brand. Shui Jing Fang baijiu falls under the strong aroma sub-category of baijiu, which means it is made with sorghum, wheat, rice, corn, and sticky rice. Each bottle features famous cultural sites within the Province of Sichuan, where it is produced, etched into the base. Shui Jing Fang is an ultra-premium representative of strong aroma baijiu.

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