From Cocoa Bean to Chocolate Bar: Unwrapping Improvement at the Chocolate Factory

Andrea Grgic | 8/14/2023

Topics: Continuous Improvement, Food Manufacturing, Minitab Engage, Real Time SPC, Education Hub

josh_chocfactoryThis is Josh. He manages a chocolate factory on the east coast. He’s passionate about his new role as the production manager and wants to produce high quality, delicious chocolate bars. Fortunately, Josh’s factory is performing well, but as an experienced production manager, Josh knows there’s always room for improvement.

He is excited to implement his previous tools and techniques using Minitab to evaluate opportunities and implement positive changes where possible.  

In this blog, we’ll take you through a simple example of chocolate bar production, steps to achieve excellence and Minitab solutions that can help manufacturers improve the process and quality of their products.

Let’s begin.

Review Your Current Process 

To get started, Josh wants to get a quick snapshot of his plant’s current production process. He begins by reviewing the team’s process map created in Minitab Engage. A process map visually maps out all the steps and activities as they flow through a process or workflow. From cocoa bean to supplier delivery, his team maps out all the necessary steps. 

The process seems straightforward, but Josh wants to get to know the process even better and identify possible inefficiencies.   


Implement a Gemba Walk 

To get a better understanding of the process, Josh decides to walk through the chocolate factory floor. The most effective way to review the actual work process in person is with a Gemba Walk

Throughout the Gemba Walk, Josh speaks with employees, asks questions, and gains deeper insight into challenges they’re facing. In addition to gathering insights, Josh is also able to identify any bottlenecks in the process and work with his team to generate new ideas for continuous improvement, chocolate bar quality, and safety. 

At the end of the Gemba Walk, Josh captures his findings and observations into the Gemba Walk Interview Sheet in Minitab Engage.  

Gemba Walk Choc Blog
To get a fuller view of his observations, Josh also attaches the process map that he viewed previously at the top section of the interview sheet. This way, he’ll be able to see all the details in one place and monitor the progress of the project. 

By looking closely at the results from his Gemba Walk, Josh decides that a deeper dive into the process is necessary to improve the quality of the bars. 

Review Gemba Walk Observations & Assess Quality Standards with Statistical Process Control

After his Gemba Walk, Josh reviews his questions and findings.  Beginning with his first question, “what are we trying to accomplish?” Josh understands that his primary goal is to produce quality chocolate bars that meet specifications. He also knows that quality improvement often provides ample opportunities to not only save costs, but also deliver a better product to customers.  

Josh meets with his quality manager to discuss consistency and accuracy of filling of the chocolate bar molds. Over filling molds may not upset customers who get even more yummy chocolate but could increase the average cost per chocolate bar. Underfilling could leave customers disappointed (and hungry!).

Fortunately, Josh’s quality manager employs statistical process control to ensure consistent, high-quality filling of molds, while reducing variations and defects. To visualize process stability, the quality plant manager uses Minitab to create a control chart called the Xbar-R Chart. Control charts are helpful for Josh’s team, as they provide a clear view of process performance over time. If measured values fall within the control limits, his team knows that the process is stable. Thanks to the quality manager’s hard work, the control limits are above the minimum specification limit.  

Josh does notice, however, that a few data points lie outside the control limits and that the fill levels were drifting down toward the spec limit of 1.55 ounces. Josh suggests that his quality manager use additional Minitab solutions like Real-Time SPC and dashboards to continuously monitor the process and ensure that f the process does begin to produce out of spec, that it gets caught immediately without producing an entire bad batch.  Josh knows that this improvement may not save him any money today, but it will create significant savings by eliminating defects in the long run. 

He also suggests that his quality manager and team begin to brainstorm to investigate why the fill levels are drifting down. By identifying and addressing sources of variation, Josh’s team can continuously improve the filling process and minimize defects in the future.  

Continue to Address Questions and Inefficiencies Highlighted by the Gemba Walk

After addressing the questions about the quality of the products and the process around it, Josh will begin to review other questions and areas of improvement.  
Josh recognizes that another area for improvement for the team is to provide training programs for employees at the plant. These programs would ensure that chocolate operators understand the process to ensure efficiency and maintain high quality standards. 

Luckily for Josh’s team, Minitab Education Hub houses learning paths, resources, and training all in one place – with different topics and levels that can be deployed and tracked across his entire organization.

In addition to trainings, the plant’s CI manager also implemented an ideation program, where employees are encouraged to submit ideas on a quarterly basis. This fosters a culture of innovation and provides support for employees to feel like active contributors.

Conclusion: One Project Can Lead to a Culture of Continuous Learning & Ideation

We understand there are many ways to improve processes and quality standards for your products. In our simple example, Lean tools, problem-solving methods, and statistical analysis can all be applied to help improve the overall quality of a chocolate bar. It can be intimidating to get started, but Minitab solutions were built to help you improve – one project or process at a time.  In our example, our Gemba Walk will result in sweet success for Josh and his team to produce the perfect chocolate bar, every time. How sweet it is! 

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