Mike Tomaszewski, the factory's manager, stands on the production floor and smiles at the noise. After all, the constant hum of steady production is part of the reason the Sikeston facility was recently honored with an international award for excellence.
Tomaszewski and Andy Jones, a sealer operator at Sikeston Tetra Pak, accepted the award for Total Productive Maintenance Excellence presented by the Japan Institute of Plant Maintenance earlier this year in Kyoto, Japan. JIPM is described as a world leader for production management evaluation and certifications and presents the TPM Award to those manufacturers who show a commitment to continuous improvement by controlling and improving the quality, environmental impact and cost of production.
According to Tomaszewski, Tetra Pak became involved in the improvement program in 2006. The program strives to get the Sikeston plant's 135 workers involved in finding ways to improve production and maintain those improvements.
Sikeston's Tetra Pak established many different employee teams. When a team encounters a problem and develops a solution, they present their solution to others. Depending on the problem, Tomaszewski said the solution can be implemented as quickly as a day, although other solutions may take a bit longer, possibly a week or maybe as long as three months.
"There is not a lot of bureaucracy," he said. "Yes, there is a route to follow, a defined route. But we want to ensure we fix the root cause. We want to know we have solved a problem so it won't come back again."
For Sikeston's Tetra Pak employees, one of their improvements came when dealing with a press, which produces the gabled cartons. The press's stacker was not always stacking the cartons correctly.
Tomaszewski said employees looked at the whole mechanism and decided there was a better way to do it. Then, they designed and manufactured a part to correct the problem.
Improvements kept coming.
A team that maintains the machine which seals the gabled cartons noted a problem with belts breaking and disrupting production. Tomaszewski said the team developed a tracking system enabling them to replace belts on a regular rotation rather than waiting for breakage.
"By keeping track, you save time and don't have the waste," he explained about the improved production process.
Tomaszewski said it really isn't hard to get workers on board with program.
"It works. When we see it makes our job easier, we want to keep doing more," he said. "We get small gains and celebrate those small gains, so we see the system is working."
These aren't secrets either, Tomaszewski said. The ideas are shared with all the plants in the company.
"The best practices are put on the system. Each plant will look to see where they have a problem and whether they can implement what someone else has done," he said.
Already a sister plant in Vancouver, Wash., has incorporated the Sikeston company's ideas and they have implemented some of Vancouver's, he said.
"We are changing the system for both plants," he said. "We are continually trying to make the product better."
While one award is nice, Sikeston's Tetra Pak employees already know they will try for the next JIPM honors. After three years, the plant is judged on its consistency and whether the system is robust enough to continue to make improvements, Tomaszewski said.
And, he isn't worried. In fact, the factory manager said, the employees are so invested in the improvements, they are moving a little faster than what might be expected.
For his part, Tomaszewski said he intends to use the contacts he made at the Kyoto conference to learn more and to enable the Sikeston plant to continue to reach the next level.
It is a process which is good for everyone involved, he emphasized.
Customers benefit because they are assured of a quality product, easy to use with less waste. "They know that we will continue to move in the right direction because we have control of our product," he said.
Employees benefit because they realize their areas of concern can be addressed and due to their involvement improved.
Other corporations are taking notice, too. Tomaszewski said Unilever and Proctor and Gamble are also incorporating TPM practices within their plants locally, nationwide and abroad.
It just makes sense, he said. The companies make more money because they are incorporating a system to not only deal with problems but a system which takes care of employees, customers and suppliers all at the same time by improving the product.
Any company could benefit, he continued, whether it is a small business or large, service company or manufacturer. "Any organization can incorporate these ideas and see dramatic improvements," he said.
The community also benefits.
It makes Sikeston a more attractive site for industry, Tomaszewski explained
"(Industry) will know Sikeston is a place where you have a highly trained workforce with employees who work to ensure the business succeeds," he said.
And as Tetra Pak strives continually to improve its processes locally, it shines companywide.
"We want to make Tetra Pak a more sustainable company," Tomaszewski said. "We are spending a lot of time and effort so that our employees and our plant get better to ensure we will be around a long time."