Top Plant: Mother Parkers: Recipe for growth

Mother Parkers is managing growth and brewing success.

By Jack Smith, Content Manager, CFE Media December 15, 2014

The popularity of the single-serve coffee capsule has created quite a stir at Mother Parkers RealCup plant, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada-a 2014 Plant Engineering Top Plant winner. The company has maintained quality and safety while rapidly adding personnel, products, processes, procedures, and equipment.

Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee is the largest private label coffee producer in North America, and the fourth largest roaster in North America behind Folgers, Maxwell House, and Starbucks. "We’re considered a specialty roaster facility," said Stephen Leung, plant manager, at Mother Parkers Capsules Operations Plant. "We started six years ago as an organic roaster with eight employees. Then about two years ago, when our RealCup business started to grow, we began to expand quite rapidly. Now we employ 130 people."

RealCup is Mother Parkers’ proprietary single-serve beverage capsule. EcoCup capsules were developed by Mother Parkers technology and innovation team led by Liberatore Trombetta. "EcoCup is the next generation of single serve beverage capsules based on the RealCup platform," Trombetta said. "We developed EcoCup here. After brewing the coffee, you can cleanly and easily separate the components allowing the ability to compost and recycle most of the capsule."

RealCup and EcoCup are the primary products at the Mississauga facility. Coffee products for hotels, restaurants, office coffee service, coffee houses, gas stations, and convenience stores are also made at the Mother Parkers RealCup plant.

Chris Meffen, production manager at Mother Parkers said the RealCup plant processes coffee from beginning to end-from procuring the green bean coffee, through roasting, grinding, and packaging, to finished goods. "We make the capsules here as well," he said. There are 13 lines producing coffee in RealCup and EcoCup capsules, and another eight lines producing fractional packages for food service and filter pods for hotels.

The RealCup plant has undergone considerable transformation in a short period of time. In addition to adding 13 manufacturing lines in as many months, and hiring personnel, the plant also expanded its product offering. "We have launched 174 SKUs in the past year," said Meffen. "And in the last three years, we’ve launched more than 300 SKUs."

Maintaining quality and safety during growth 

The RealCup lines are automated, which means that each new product the company launches must be set up correctly from the beginning. Recipes and work procedures must be established. Packaging and pallet configurations must be verified.

The automated coffee plant control system is integrated with Mother Parkers’ coffee processes. In addition to centralized control of the roasting and grinding processes, the system provides product tracking and tracing, which is required for safe quality food (SQF) Level 3 certification. SQF is a food safety certification standard under the umbrella of the Global Food Safety Initiative. "We are SQF Level 3 certified, which is the highest level," Meffen said. "It means we have good food manufacturing methods and practices in place, and that we have repeatability and traceability throughout our entire system."

Although the roasting and grinding processes are automated, there’s still plenty to do at Mother Parkers. And where there’s work, there must also be work procedures. "There’s a high level of engagement here," said Meffen. "The operators have been developing most of the procedures for equipment operation, cleaning, quality checks, and troubleshooting. The operators take ownership of their positions."

Job ownership and employee engagement are not exclusive to quality. Mother Parkers has also excelled at maintaining safety during its rapid growth. The company’s goal is a 15% reduction in the total incident frequency rate (TIFR) at all sites. However, the plant more than doubled that between 2013 and 2014 with around a 33% TIFR reduction. "Safety is the core of everything we do here," Meffen said. "We begin our production meetings and shift handovers by talking about safety. We also have regular Joint Health and Safety committee meetings."

Improving the coffee manufacturing process

Rapid growth also means perfecting manufacturing processes and procedures on the fly. This is particularly important for automated systems.

Customer orders are entered into Mother Parkers’ ERP system, then integrated throughout the appropriate systems via the MES, which manages the recipes, as well as the roasting and grinding profiles for the various coffee blends. "The MES downloads a recipe of which green coffee beans to load," said Meffen. "We have more than 50 blends on-site and we can mix up to 16 different types into a single blend."

After the recipe is set, the automated coffee control system controls and monitors the roasting process. The system also measures, records, and tracks each profile during roasting for every product on each of the lines.

After roasting, the beans must cool for 2.5 hr regardless of variety. This cooling process is called "tempering." Tempering allows the beans to reach the proper consistency for grinding. Mother Parkers purchased the grinders, which are part of the automated system, specifically for the RealCup product. "The different grind profiles are recipe driven," Meffen said. "We verify that we have the right grind particle size using a laser particle analyzer. If adjustments are necessary, we make them and then continue to grind the rest of the batch."

After grinding, operators move the ground coffee to the packaging line in stainless steel totes. "Our product packaging lines are fully automated," said Meffen. "We load coffee in at one end and the capsules come from a gravity-fed system on the mezzanine above. The coffee is automatically measured into the capsules, which are placed into cases. Robots transfer the cases onto pallets. At the end of the process, we have fully palletized finished goods."

Mother Parkers makes the capsules from plastic roll stock on a mezzanine floor directly above the automated filling and packaging line. Machines stamp the capsule shapes in the plastic, the filter material is applied, and the capsules are cut into individual units, which are fed to the filling and packaging line below.

Focusing on Lean

Along with putting automation-driven manufacturing processes in place, Mother Parkers also had to keep an eye on efficiency and productivity. Although they don’t actually use the labels associated with Lean, the company applies many of its principles to make targeted operations more efficient.

Many of the efforts at the RealCup plant are associated with time and waste reduction. "We wanted to improve line performance-reduce waiting time between processes," said Leung. "For example, one of our early Kaizen events involved changeover time reduction. By implementing changeover teams, we were able to reduce lag time." "We reduced changeover time from 4h to 90 min," Meffen said. "By placing video cameras on the line to observe lag time, we found ways to reduce the time and optimize changeovers."

Mother Parkers also improved the way it changes coffee flavors. "Traditionally, coffee manufacturers mix flavors, such as hazelnut or a vanilla bean, into the coffee with a ribbon blender," said Meffen. "That process, in effect, contaminated our flavor system, packaging line, and filler, which would take 2 to 4 hr of downtime to clean. Instead, we installed in-line systems that inject flavors into the coffee capsules using technology from the medical industry. In addition to significantly improving efficiency, this process also enhances the coffee flavor."

"Chris led several teams that focused on improving equipment quality, which has resulted in developing our operator knowledge base," Leung said. "He developed tools based on root cause analysis that give our operators basic troubleshooting skills and standardize the way we troubleshoot."

Managing maintenance

Mother Parkers’ reliability strategies include maximizing employee effectiveness through knowledge and maintenance workload distribution, ensuring coherent and cohesive work orders, and reengineering or redesigning equipment for reliability, if necessary. Seamless production requires operators to be fully knowledgeable of operations, changeover procedures, and maintenance of the production equipment. "Our operators perform about 80% to 85% of the maintenance functions on the line," said Meffen. "We use the maintenance technicians for the higher level troubleshooting and maintenance tasks like industrial PC troubleshooting and bearing replacements."

The maintenance team performs preventive maintenance tasks, which are scheduled between production runs. During production, condition based monitoring, thermography, and vibration analysis technologies allow asset health to be diagnosed without interrupting the manufacturing processes. The CMMS system facilitates work order management and maintenance workflow as well as parts stores and asset management for the plant. Work orders are generated through the CMMS and scheduled in conjunction with the production schedule. On a weekly basis, any backlog or incomplete work orders are discussed and prioritized for the future.

Training for today and the future

Leung said the rapid growth and success of the Mother Parkers RealCup plant wouldn’t have been possible without strong training programs and employee engagement. "Our leadership team has met the challenge of training our employees at the same time new machinery was introduced, much of which needed standard operating procedures to be developed. By delegating tasks and priorities accordingly, our leadership has managed to further integrate employees with the machinery into a cohesive working environment for everyone at the plant."

Meffen said the strength of the company’s operators is the pillar of its training program. "Employee integration for new hires sets the standard for future skill acquisitions and knowledge transfers through communication and feedback headed by our unique ‘Train the Trainer’ program. Operators also implement adaptable on-site training, which holistically covers production, quality, safety, and maintenance requirements for the longevity of the equipment. By documenting and creating standard operating procedures, and having an operator based training program, our employees have shown significant engagement and stewardship over the output and status of the equipment they handle."

"With continuous evolution in the single-serve market, our research and development is another training ground where our operators are enriched," said Leung. "Working with the in-house R&D team provides a strong sense of ownership in our new products, but it also allows a smooth transition into full-scale production. Ongoing material and product testing also double as training opportunities to challenge our operators and help entice innovation behind optimizing machines beyond their standard running conditions."

Open communication and new opportunities for growth within the plant engage employees to be proactive. Improvement ideas are collected through an inclusive philosophy and open-door policy. This allows for ideas to formulate easily from all facets of operation. According to Leung, more than 15 unique operator-identified ideas have turned into solutions during the past year. These improvements have saved more than 33,650 man hours.

"In a short time, our operation has grown to 15 times its original size, Leung said. "This of course harbors challenges in itself. Our foundation starts with our people."

– Jack Smith, Content Manager, CFE Media, 

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