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Ghirardelli's Secret Recipe: Staying Lean

By Christine Torres

Ghirardelli Chocolate Company prizes lean manufacturing

Ghirardelli Chocolate Company prides itself as a smooth operator. That’s heavily thanks to the company’s culture of zero losses and a steadfast commitment to lean, according to Helen Tan, lean manufacturing engineer at the Bay Area chocolatier’s manufacturing facility. Even with intense pressures to produce enough delicious confections in time for holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Christmas, production must follow a solid plan that’s been integral to the Ghirardelli brand’s foundation.

Strong Foundation

Since 1852, Ghirardelli has set itself apart from other chocolate manufacturers by branding its quality and centralizing its capacity. Through modern improvements to its traditional chocolate-making process, the company (part of Lindt & Sprüngli AG) thrives among the top chocolatiers in the world.

An official San Francisco landmark, the famous Ghirardelli illuminated light bulb sign is visible for miles. It is a welcome sight to air travelers and ships passing through the Golden Gate Strait. A popular tourist destination, Ghirardelli Square delights visitors with intimate views of the chocolate-making process, which is set inside a large Victorian-style complex blocks from San Francisco Bay. Huge sacks of raw cocoa beans come in from throughout the world, which are processed into nibs before entering a liquefied chocolate format. 

“Chocolate is very fickle,” Tan said, whose favorite is Ghirardelli’s dark chocolate Sea Salt Soiree. “We need to be careful with how we temper it to produce the best crystalline structure and reduce any defects downstream.”

As an industrial performance engineer, Tan leads the facility’s Total Productive Maintenance program. “We try to instill a culture of zero losses, engaging 100% of the workforce, and empowering them to own their respective factory equipment and brainstorm solutions to problems on the shop floor,” she said. “By instilling a lean culture, we hope that Ghirardelli transforms to a state of pure Zen—happy machines and happy workers.”

Lean Essentials

5S shadow board for tools

Part of Ghirardelli’s lean master plan to reduce losses and breakdown time includes designated teams, one of which that focuses on improving tools for 5S. Tan says besides having smooth production lines and tools in their proper place, operators are engaged and looking out for hazards and risks. Improvements in the process and re-training are common solutions for worker safety.

“Lean and safety are linked heavily,” she said. “Visual management of your workplace is probably the easiest, quickest win for lean manufacturing. Floor marking and signs have been especially helpful for safety. For example, having a yellow marked tape underneath a fire extinguisher means no one can block it and that it is fully accessible during an emergency. When you walk out onto the Ghirardelli factory floor, you will see many tool shadow boards with engraved tools and 5S checklists for operators to make sure all equipment and tools are in place and all equipment is marked with colored tape.”

Tan says she believes 5S is the best investment of everyone’s time, not just at Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. Her advice to other manufacturers?

“Change takes a while,” she says. “Your job as a lean proponent is to show everyone why this change is important for them: Why should they care about lean? Why should they care about reducing losses in their plant? Because it makes their job easier—less cleaning time, less breakdowns, and less risk for their safety.”

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