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Gorton's Keeps Moving: Lean Successes in the Plant, the Supply Chain, and

the Office
By Jeff Whiteacre, Gorton's Operations, Value Stream Manager

Perhaps you recognize the slickered Fisherman and the television jingle 'Trust the
Gorton's Fisherman," but few people recognize that Gorton's has been around for
over 150 years. Gorton's, based in Gloucester Massachusetts, is focused on
delivering high quality, great tasting seafood and is the leader in the frozen seafood
category. Gorton's family of products include Gorton's branded products sold in the
United States and Blue Water Seafood branded products sold in Canada.

The Challenge: Eliminate the Waste in Motion

In 1998, Larry Cot visited our plant and challenged us on our lack of visual flow.
Because the production facility operated on multiple floors, problems existed in
communication and product flow because we had isolated pockets of activities on each
floor. We were challenged to greatly simplify our plant by putting all of our production
activities on one floor.
At first this didn't seem to make sense. We had been leaders in our industry since 1849.
Our production processes were "state of the art", using equipment common to the frozen
seafood industry, much of which had been developed by Gorton's. We viewed the
comments with skepticism. But once we got into analyzing what our customers would
pay for in terms of value, our eyes were opened. We needed to get rid of the waste in
movement. It was like light bulbs going off!
In early 2000, The Vice President of Operations asked me to move from the Finance
Department to coordinate Lean implementation and training. We also assigned
individuals to function as Value Stream Managers. That was where it all started rolling
and, while it has taken time, we have eliminated a phenomenal amount of waste
throughout our company!
Our initial Current State Maps showed us that our food manufacturing processes were too
complex and convoluted. There was considerable waste in movement. It was obvious
from the mapping exercises that we had to look at consolidating the multi-floor operation
into one.
Raw material was brought into the plant through the second floor freight entrance but was
then stored on multiple floors. Our products were processed on the second and third
floors. Then the finished goods were shuttled back to the cold store via a first floor
warehouse entrance. Linking the processes were multi-floor spiral freezers that moved
the products between processing and packaging activities.
For the plant employees there was no visual connection between the first, second, and
third floor activities. A fish stick would appear on the third floor but where did it come
from and what had been done to it? Line workers simply didn't know what was going on
at various stages of the process. After products were processed on the second and third
floors, they were palletized and sent to the first floor warehouse. There was too much

"picking up and putting down" motion. Communication was difficult - a packaging

problem was relayed to manufacturing by radiophone. Misunderstandings and slow
downs were inevitable.
We decided that the Seafood Center would immediately begin to make changes but
without involving big equipment investment (for example, replacing the freezers). Where
should we start?
Should We be in the Warehousing Business?
Inventories and warehousing tied up working capital and operating expense. We started
with a 40,000 sq. ft. offsite facility and reduced it to a 20,000 sq. ft. on site warehouse
space. More recently we further downsized the required space to less than 10,000 sq ft.
Further, Gorton's decided to contract raw material storage through our neighboring cold
storage warehouse facility. These initiatives have significantly reduced costs. We are
carrying 50% less inventory and we receive materials on a JIT basis. These benefits were
achieved without spending significant dollars.
By the time we had made the warehousing changes, the useful life cycle for our huge
freezer system was ending. This presented Gorton's with a big opportunity at just the
right time. We could redesign our manufacturing processes in a major way.
Making it all Flow
Over a two-year period we went about rethinking every aspect of our production systems.
Gorton's plant manager, John Gates, has been a strong proponent of Lean
implementation. Under his leadership, the production engineers began working with our
equipment suppliers to redesign the conveyor systems, the breaders, batter machines and
our tempering and cutting equipment. When they design their equipment, OEMs
(Original Equipment Manufacturers) don't always think about Lean equipment design
with its simplified maintenance, parts standardization, and quick changeover capability.
We encouraged these companies to design their equipment with fewer moving parts and,
with mechanisms that were visible and easily cleaned. We involved them in our Lean
process, and some very creative solutions were developed. Our objective was to replace
our antiquated batch-oriented manufacturing processes with new continuous flow high
technology equipment.
It sounds obvious but opportunities like these can be hidden by habit until you start to use
Lean methods to 'see' the waste where it is actually happening. Getting rid of our huge
conveyor systems allowed us to begin to consolidate four production lines, spread over
multiple floors, to just one floor.
Again the timing was excellent. We knew our business was growing and that we would
need additional production space and a new building in 2005. By implementing Lean and
moving our production lines to one floor we gained a whole floor of available space. As a
result we can now accommodate 7 retail lines in the space that had previously held only
4. This is a huge long-term financial benefit, one that can be seen at every level of the

The move to one floor is taking place over a two-year period. This fall we completed
moving two old lines out and putting two new ones in place. In the spring we will replace
the other two old lines with two new lines to complete the reconstruction of the Seafood
With the two new lines production is becoming visual - you can see from the beginning
to the end of each new line. People understand the process better and they can move more
freely through the functions. Communication about problems or potential improvements
is faster, clearer and less prone to misunderstanding.
We can now keep all needed raw materials right at the end of the line. Every 20 minutes
the supply of raw material required on the production equipment is refreshed. We're now
working with our suppliers to receive incoming raw materials in increments that match
our 'flow' needs.
Our Culture Changed
Through the leadership of our plant manager, John Gates, we experienced a
significant cultural change with our Lean implementation. We are now
seeing those benefits. We are able to work with people to do changeovers
better and faster. When they couldn't see the end of the line it took the pressure off. You
no longer hear, "Oh, do they need that?" People are on top of what's needed because
they can see the entire line in action. Interestingly the whole line is also more easily
cleaned and maintained. There are fewer moving parts, fewer problems and a real
chance for everyone to focus more on the customer needs. The use of Value Stream
Maps really helps our employees see the waste in a process. We use these maps to
communicate the Current State issues and enable our employees to begin designing the
next Future State.
Lean in Our Offices
As we began Value Stream Mapping in the plant, our home office became interested in
the benefits of Lean. As a result, we have worked to simplify administrative processes in
our Accounts Payable, Quality Control, Purchasing, Office Services, and Distribution
Implementing Lean in Our Supply Chain
For the past 5-6 years we have held annual Operations Conferences with our suppliers,
the companies that provide us with fish, flour, breaders, batter, warehousing and trucking
goods or services. In 2000 we advised them we were going Lean and have kept them
updated on our implementation at each conference.
At first they kind of nodded and said, "Yeh, here comes another improvement idea." But
they're really getting it now that we can report back on measured results. They've become
very interested in applying Lean to their businesses. They saw what we were
accomplishing, that we were sustaining our interest, and more than meeting our goals.
They saw the change in our warehousing utilization, and the drop in outstanding

inventories of 50%. At every annual Operations Conference we were able to report

significant bottom line improvements and the success of our implementation process.
In fact we issued them a Lean challenge three years ago. We told them
that we would provide the training and help them acquire the right
tools, if they started their own Lean implementation. Then two years
ago we initiated an award called the 'Gorton's Lean Corporate
Challenge'. The award is a hand crafted crystal eagle given to the
supplier or service provider who achieved the most significant benefits
in their Lean journey. Two companies were recipients this year, AmeriCold Logistics
and Hub Folding Box Company.
AmeriCold has done a great job of applying Lean outside of the manufacturing
environment. They saw that Value Stream Mapping could be applied to the warehousing
industry and took off with it. Their operating costs are primarily energy driven. Through
consolidation of processes and the elimination of wasteful steps, they achieved
substantial savings in electrical costs.
Hub Folding Box Company was the other winner. They understood the Lean process and
are starting to reap the benefits. Their success is helping to drive down the costs with
other customers, while making them much more competitive in their own industry.
How to be Successful Introducing Lean to Your Supply Chain
There are some key approaches to making progress on Lean throughout your supply
You have to be fact based and not just rely on rhetoric about the improvements to be
You have to be willing to share information at a very detailed level to help them see the
savings potential.
You have to demonstrate a commitment to the long-term with your implementation - it
isn't just a 'flavor of the month'.
Most importantly, you have to give them support in terms of training and
troubleshooting. Basically you're in it together and the benefits work both ways. You help
them and they are more willing to work with you on issues. You both see that from a
competitive standpoint, Lean is your key differentiator.
If possible, you demonstrate the potential benefits of Lean not only to their company
but also to all their customers, covering both the bottom line and service points of view.
You have to demonstrate what you've accomplished and prove it's a reality. But you can't
push them to Lean unless they're ready. You don't want lip service and wasted efforts.
You'll know when a company is ready to make the move. You'll see the light bulbs go off
when they're internalizing the training, understanding it, and going back to get started at
their implementation. It's infectious!

This work with the supply chain has been phenomenal. Our key suppliers and service
providers have been very supportive and, in effect, are partnering with us on our Lean
Get Fresh Eyes to Keep Looking for Waste
We often bring in non-competitive companies to see what we're doing. Even though
we've been implementing Lean for a while, we can still fall into the trap of not seeing
more opportunities to eliminate waste. It happens to everyone. We ask our visitors to
challenge us, "Tell us where you see issues. Where do you see waste?" That way we take
advantage of 'fresh eyes'. It's symbiotic, they learn from us and we learn from them!
Lean Product Development: Our Next Step
Today we're just getting our feet wet applying Lean to our product development and I'm
starting to work with that group. We're the leader in our industry across North America
and we want to stay that way. Our goal is to use Lean methods to help us bring new
products to market as quickly and effectively as possible.
We need to engage the entire development group better as we apply value to all the steps,
from concept through development to product launch. We are mapping where the wasted
activities lie and are beginning to understand this process using Lean, just as we have
done in other areas of the company.
Leadership is What Keeps You Succeeding!
Leadership has been the essential building block for our success. It was our Vice
President of Operations, Dave Weber, who started the Lean ball rolling. He did the initial
reading, became energized and interested in its potential application at Gorton's. He was
the one who saw that Lean transcended the automotive and aerospace industries and
could be used in the food processing industry.
Dave would say, "If you have a process of any kind then you can map it, and if you can
map it, you can make improvements". He had the vision and patience to get efforts
started. We started with small initiatives, made them work well and then communicated
those successes before tackling more complicated problems. He challenged his direct
reports to lead implementation efforts and constantly reinforced the message, "This
makes sense, removing the waste and focusing on value creation will help our business"
Our President further supported and helped to promote the Lean vision. Eventually the
changes we are making will affect every aspect of our business. Our goal is to become
the 'Toyota of Food Processing'! Seeing the results and being part of the implementation
helps people believe in it.
In Lean implementation you need your leadership to:
Develop, share and communicate the vision
Show commitment and long-term persistence
Demonstrate passion for the changes

Assign the right people to the right tasks at the right times
Emphasize and ensure delivery of the necessary training when needed so that people
can understand, apply and sustain Lean practice
Walk the floor, talk to people, see their accomplishments - As Dave says, "What gets
measured gets done".
Be hands on and yet able to delegate and empower the people around you
Give clear direction and don't waver from achieving the goals
It's a tall order but we're living proof that it can be done. When you do it well you reap
the ongoing financial rewards right at the bottom line. Lean requires a continuing
commitment. Based on our past five years of progress, I'm tremendously excited about
our ability to realize even more gains! Your goals are only restricted by limits to your
imagination. Lean really can open the doors to make your dreams real.
Gorton's has implemented many successful Lean initiatives since Larry Cote' originally
challenged our lack of visual flow. Along our Lean journey, Larry and his team have
been there to help train and encourage us to apply Lean methods. They have offered
exceptional guidance with Value Stream Mapping, Lean Material Handling, and Making
Value Flow. Gorton's continues to sustain solid results from Lean and have benefited
from our partnership with Lean Advisors Inc.
Jeff Whiteacre
Jeff Whiteacre has a background in Financial Accounting and Operational
Management. His work has been involved with the entire supply chain, including work
with the plants, distribution, purchasing, suppliers and service providers. His financial
experience has been easily applied to Lean operating methods. Jeff now works full time
within Gorton's Operations and is responsible for the training, development, and
implementation of lean throughout Gorton's entire supply chain. Jeff holds a BS degree
in Accounting and a Master's of Business Administration.