At Yakima Chief – Hopunion, we strive to cultivate an environment that inspires ingenuity and participation in our goal of continuous improvement. We encourage every employee to discover new ways to enhance efficiency, quality, and customer service, and openly present their ideas to our managerial staff for implementation. It is our goal to reinforce this environment by acknowledging these efforts and rewarding employees for going above and beyond their daily responsibilities.
For this reason, we have created the Square Watermelon Award, inspired by Japanese farmers that developed and grew square watermelons through creative planning and field testing. By enhancing their product, the farmers were able to continue satisfying consumers’ taste for fresh melons while improving space issues in grocery stores.
Much like the farmers, winners of the YCH Square Watermelon Award are recognized for presenting new innovative and implementable ideas that support our mission, vision and values. Decided upon by our management team, past ideas have led to the development of a recycling program, improvement of separation efficiency and increased dust control. It is one of the highest honors that a YCH employee can receive and is awarded on an annual basis.
This year, Brian Tate, our Maintenance Mechanic, and Pablo Nava, Extract Plant Supervisor, took the initiative to create and install an innovative platform gate within our Sunnyside extraction facility. This custom-designed, swinging gate sits upon a high-elevated platform used for receiving boxes of pellets for the “pellet hopper” that runs to the extract plant. Prior to the gate, a chain was all that lined the opening of the platform. This new addition greatly increased the safety of our employees, consequently increasing efficiency, as employees could move freely atop the platform without having to hook and unhook a chain.
In an interview with Pablo and Brian, they described the process of their development along with the company culture that empowered them to enhance their workspace:
What are your roles at YCH HOPS?
Brian: I am responsible for maintaining and operating boilers, as well as maintenance of extract and packaging facilities.
Pablo: I supervise the extract plant, provide maintenance support and assist with the separation of alpha and beta acids.
What experience did you have prior to your position here?
Brian: I spent nine years performing maintenance at Seneca foods, working on boiler operations, welding, repairs and other responsibilities.
Pablo: I only had general warehouse experience. I learned all of the necessary skills here at YCH HOPS.
Where did you identify an opportunity to make an improvement in operations?
Pablo and Brian: Two boxes, roughly 350lbs each, are transported onto the elevated pellet hopper and there were openings where an employee could potentially fall. We wanted it to safely open for a pallet container coming from the forklift.
How did you address this issue?
Pablo and Brian: At first we discussed an option involving air operated cylinders that allowed the gate to open automatically when receiving a pallet. However, we decided we needed something that was non-mechanical so that there was little possibility of the gate breaking down. We discovered a way to create a gate that pushes open when the forklift driver pushes it through with the pallet container and slowly swings back when the pallet container is removed. We also applied plastic padding on the gate that eliminates any metal rubbing together. Altogether, it was about a 2-week process, including final installation.
How did you both work together as a team to accomplish this goal?
Pablo and Brian: We were running [the extract plant] at the same time, so we had to setup the gate during our busy season. Together, we worked in-between our regular operations, both of us adding and perfecting the design together.
What was the outcome of the change?
Pablo and Brian: Along with the lower safety risk, there is an ease of use as forklift drivers are able to simply drive the pallet onto the platform without someone having to unhook the chain. The chain required double the work and makes a big difference during our busy operating season. And with this design, there was a lower chance of it ever breaking down.
How does YCH HOPS help to create an environment that inspires and allows you to take the initiative to make these improvements?
Pablo and Brian: We were encouraged by our managers Ken Mortensen (Sunnyside Operations Manager) and Art Ortega (Extract Process/Project Engineer) to come up with our own solution that we thought would best fit our operations. We have a maintenance meeting every Monday with both of them where we have the opportunity to provide regular feedback. We have a very open-minded management team.
We are proud of the work that each individual member of our staff contributes and recognize that there is always room for improvement. At YCH, we would not be able to continue improving without the creativity, attentiveness and commitment of our valued employees. We thank Pablo and Brian for working diligently on this project, exemplifying true dedication to YCH, and congratulate them for winning the 2015 Square Watermelon Award.