Patrick Phillips, Continuous Improvement Coordinator

Department: Continuous improvement

Learning new skills in different departments


“I joined the ForFarmers team in Exeter eight years ago as a Credit Controller. As time went on I started to become more interested in the production of feed and day to day running of the mill. After learning the ropes I transitioned into the blends department and worked my way up from an admin to a Blends Planner.”

“In 2017 I was promoted to Exeter Mill Planner which I really enjoyed as it involved starting to learn the whole process of the mill, from raw material intake to finished product outloading.”

“To continue learning at ForFarmers I was offered an opportunity to have a secondment in a new department. I jumped at the idea and I’m now a Continuous Improvement Coordinator. Everyone at Exeter has been really supportive of my new role. I have also had a lot of support from colleagues across the country."

"When I started my new role, I went to the Newcastle mill to learn how they work and see if we could align with some of their processes. One of the first things that we thought we could improve at Exeter was our morning meetings. After my visit to Newcastle we decided to use their model of tiered accountability meetings. We now have Tier 1 meetings at 8am in each department and a Tier 2 meeting at 8:45am. The new structure means that we are more focused on our KPI’s. We also have a list of daily actions which we add to if any are below our target.”

The importance of continuous improvement

“Our goal as a department is to improve efficiency, reduce waste and variation and become an important communication route between departments. We are also aligned with the wider ForFarmers group standards and help to standardise procedures that could be utilised at other locations."

"With the current high raw material and electricity prices, all of the ForFarmers sites are carefully trying to navigate the current climate by increasing efficiencies and reducing our expenses. This is where our new Continuous Improvement department can really make a difference.”

“I work closely with colleagues from different departments to ensure we minimise the bumps in the road and embrace change. Recently we have started to apply lean six sigma techniques to help drive continuous improvement. A recent example is that we have carried out a bin utilisation project. We looked and identified the waste streams (LSS has 8 waste streams). In this case, the waste was predominantly due to overproduction which was leading to blocked bins. When this happens we have to shut down production, so as a solution we came up with an upgrade to the DSL system which automatically loads the extra product onto trucks. Now that we aren't holding up production, we are looking at the route cause analysis to full understand the whole process.”

The Exeter feed mill

“Compared to other ForFarmers locations in the UK, Exeter is the most southern so supplies customers in Devon and Cornwall along with the Southern counties such as Dorset, Wiltshire and as far as Kent. Exeter has also undergone significant investment in the last few years. This has involved the installation of 2 new pressing lines, a blends plant, high speed automated loading system which utilises 2 robot weighers and most recently a new compound batch mixer. The upgrade has meant we can now increase our production throughput and load vehicles in a matter of minutes. The team at Exeter continues to work hard to ensure our processes and ways of working are as efficient as possible.”

Afbeelding: Exeter - redevelopment 720

Variety and solutions

“Due to the nature of my role every day is different. For example one day I might be measuring conveyor cleanout times with the aim to increase production speed and the next day I might be reviewing the way we plan raw materials. The variety keeps me on my toes and I have to utilise my knowledge in order to come up new ideas and solutions.”

“In the last couple of months I have worked with the production and planning teams on a new mill running schedule to allow us to have more time for planned maintenance. I have also worked with the transport team on a new procedure for out-loading to reduce wait times.

“Additionally there has been projects off site with the sales department and we are currently reviewing a new procedure for set production days in which we make rolls and pellets.”

 “I really enjoy working on projects which make a difference and seeing the end results which help to improve processes for my colleagues and the mill.”

Overcoming challenges

“The biggest challenge at the start of my new role was finished product bin storage space. With the mill running at full capacity, we were sometimes finding that we needed to slow or stop production as we running out of space. As a team we worked together and found a solution which involved a new manual loading system in DSL. This means that we can drain products from finished product bins into holding bins and free up space for production. We now can run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without having to pause production because we have no finished product bin space.”

“I’m now coming up to my ninth year at ForFarmers and I have learned so much from working in a variety of roles. I’m really grateful to the team at Exeter and in particular Nick Parsons, Operations Manager. They are a fun bunch and we’ve been on such a journey during the last couple of years.”

Exeter mill in the sunshine