Before 2013, bagging feed at Cargill's plant in New Richland, Minnesota, was not the facility's most popular job. It took two to three weeks for employees to learn how to work the complicated machine-and even when workers understood the process, the long hours and repetitive motions led them to seek other positions as soon as they could.
John Jones, a process technology leader who was Cargill's regional operations manager for North America at the time, noticed the problem. "People would get up to speed and then decide they needed to find another job because it was boring," he explained. Jones vowed that, if given the opportunity, he would make changes to the bagging machine.
When Jones was promoted to process technology leader at Cargill, he got his chance. In an effort to improve plant efficiency and employee satisfaction, he and Luke Reynolds, team lead, joined forces with an equipment supplier in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to design an innovative packaging robot to assist baggers. The Economic Robotic Mechanical Assembler (ERMA) was first tested at the New Richland plant.
Running 24 hours a day, five days a week, ERMA eased employees' workloads, allowed them to take breaks from the packing line and made it possible for them to attend plant meetings. The robot significantly improved the plant's productivity, increasing bagging speed from nine to eleven bags per minute and decreasing downtime during packaging from 12 hours each month to just three. The changes boosted employee morale, while increasing the facility's overall equipment effectiveness by 20%.
Beyond improving staff satisfaction, the introduction of ERMA lowered Cargill's feed production costs and inspired Jones and his team to pursue full packaging automation, challenging their equipment suppliers to offer better technologies at competitive pricing.
In light of Cargill's progress in New Richland, the company has installed the robots at three additional facilities across the United States-and two more are on the way. As Cargill works to make this innovation a new production standard, the company proves that advanced technology is key to greater satisfaction for its employees.