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Tasting the sweetness of success
FOCUSING on improving productivity has been the recipe for success for home-grown chocolate brand Aalst. The company has spared no cost in upgrading its equipment to boost its research and development (R&D) and manufacturing capabilities.
It is on the constant lookout for new laboratory equipment to upgrade its R&D processes so as to improve its product offerings. For example, the company has shortened the time spent on product analysis from one day to a minute with better machinery. This has allowed the company to better meet the expectations of its customers.
"We are also able to analyse market trends more effectively and efficiently, and tailor our products to match these trends in a shorter timeframe," said Richard Lee, founder and chief executive of Aalst Chocolate. "This makes Aalst Chocolate adaptable and profitable, and allows us to stand out from the competition."
The company has automated its production processes to increase productivity while minimising human errors. For example, it invested in new cost-saving packaging machines which offer customers a range of packaging options. "These machines shortened (packaging) time due to the ease and modifying of the modular unit while providing substantial savings to our manpower and operation process," said Mr Lee. However, productivity boosting measures need to be supported by staff members for them to be successful.
Aalst gets its staff to buy into its vision of improving efficiency by encouraging them to give feedback on ways to improve its operations. For example, operational staff provided input on ways to improve the chip production line. The senior management supported their idea and introduced the changes.
"Ensuring effective communication between our operational staff, process owners and management allows constant feedback on how to better increase productivity. The management also acts upon these suggestions after listening," said Mr Lee.
The company recognises that its workers will have to pick up new skills to operate high-tech production machinery. It has spared no cost and effort in ensuring that its workers have the necessary skills.
"An automated production process requires a high level of skilled labour, most of the time reserved for MNCs (multinational corporations) which have the capital and revenue to do so," added Mr Lee.
"However, the management of Aalst Chocolate has offered more in-depth training to our operational staff. We have to be very patient with them, motivating them and helping them to understand that automation is a requirement for today's business survival."
Mr Lee said that the government can help small and medium-sized businesses gain equal footing with multi-national corporations by offering more grants and training schemes to improve staff competencies.
When asked what are the biggest challenges facing the chocolate manufacturing industry, he pointed to hiring the right workers, expanding within a limit space, maintaining bottom lines and meeting customer requirements at minimum man hours.
However, he believes that Aalst Chocolate's commitment to productivity will allow it to overcome challenges in its business.
"Focusing on improving productivity with automation has been part of our vision since the beginning, and this has helped us to maintain our level of competitiveness and production standard and quality during these years," he said.