Harwood's management and staff have combined to transform the way the mill operates.
Harwood's management and staff have combined to transform the way the mill operates.

Sweet success in sugar milling

THE NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative is transforming the way it operates, with the ideas and the improvements coming from the mill and refinery workers themselves.

The co-op selected its Harwood mill and refinery, on the Clarence River, to test a new approach.

Employees and management were involved in a substantial change process, a brick-by-brick method of continuous improvement.

After receiving some intensive training, workers formed teams to examine particular processes that had been causing problems.

The refined sugar is packaged into retail paper sacks, the kind seen in the baking aisle of every supermarket.

The packing line, though, was struggling to meet production targets.

Harwood operations manager Peter Dibella said operators on the packing line mapped the whole process, looking at every action in detail.

“We used a set of structured inquiry tools to brainstorm the problems. It wasn’t as hard as we thought it might be to come up with some great outcomes,” he said.

“After collecting and analysing the data it was clear immediately where we could make improvements.

“We’ve already substantially increased output on the packing line, and we haven’t finished with the changes yet.

“The operators are very engaged in the process and can see real benefits in working this way.”

CEO Chris Connors said the approach was simple.

“It works, and it will create an improvement culture within NSW Sugar,” he said.

The new approach includes elements from a variety of methodologies, all of them widely used within the manufacturing sector generally.

These include lean thinking with some six sigma, as well as classical improvement tools such as problem solving, cause and effect, and Pareto charts.

NSW Sugar is being assisted by consulting firm ACIG – the Australian Continuous Improvement Group.

ACIG’s managing director, Gerard Colla, said the company’s focus was on excellence.

“We collaborate with the staff to develop a customised approach that best suits NSW Sugar,” Mr Colla said.

The pilot program at Harwood represented a substantial investment by NSW Sugar – in its people, its processes and in its very future as a competitive organisation.

And after less than a year the investment has been recouped many times over.

The change program will now be expanded to the Condong and Broadwater mills.



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