Case Study: Companion Baking Company

Enlisting Everyone to Improve Equipment Reliability





Improve process control for an artisan bakery making a vast product range encompassing 320 stockkeeping units (SKUs).


Deployed the QAD Redzone Connected Workforce Solution and worked with a coach to implement all four modules between 2017 and 2022.

  • Achieved a 30% overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) uplift in 60 days
  • Realized an OEE uplift of 60% in six months and 80% moving forward 
  • Achieved a 99.5% fill rate with better data and process control
  • Improved morale with more predictable work schedules
  • Reduced the cost of employee turnover to $10.5K per staff member
  • Decreased customer complaints from 12 to four per month
  • Able to conduct mock recalls in 30 minutes, down from two hours previously
  • Decreased yield losses from 25% to 3%
  • Reduced landfill waste by 91%

Midwestern Bread Company Seeks to Improve Multiple Operational Processes  

Companion Baking Co. is a leading bread producer located in St. Louis, Missouri. The company manufactures bread and pastries in its 45,000-square-foot facility, selling fresh products wholesale, trucking them to area restaurants and artisan grocery stores, and shipping frozen bread to other locales. In addition, the bakery operates a café where it sells its wares. More than 80 employees work for the company, including 65 frontline workers.

Companion Baking differentiates itself by conducting R&D, customizing products, and developing smaller batches to meet customer needs. “We cater to our customers and build what they want,” explains Suman Shekar, Operations Manager. New hires are trained on the company’s breadmaking recipes and processes in a light-filled facility. The baking team uses semi-automated processes, including large mixers, to make dough, working on four bread dividing lines and one pastry line. The breads and pastries are baked in 10 rack ovens and two deck ovens.

Getting Ready to Implement Greater Process Control

Ms. Shekar joined Companion Baking in 2016 with a mandate to improve operational efficiency. She saw the QAD Redzone Connected Workforce Solution in action at a customer event and was excited by the functionality, including communication tools for workers and digital compliance processes. “Why don’t we have this already?” she thought. However, Ms. Shekar realized Companion Baking wasn’t yet ready to deploy the solution: The company needed to streamline the documentation of its processes first.

To lay a solid foundation, Ms. Shekar executed time studies across 320 SKUs. Her goal was to understand how long every project and task took to complete. Ms. Shekar then met with the QAD Redzone team to learn more about its solution and see if there were any synergies. While many manufacturers focus on improving OEE, Ms. Shekar was more concerned about optimizing activities that tied to SKUs. In addition, she wanted to see if QAD Redzone was able to offer key features requested by the baking team.

“Every single one of our bakers said that it would be really nice if we could have some sort of digital communication about the schedule, whether they’re behind, on-time, or doing well for the day,” explained Ms. Shekar. “Our baking team didn’t have insights into each day’s process flow and whether they’d need to make adjustments and stay late to finish work. As a result, they felt blindsided every single day.”

Companion Baking leaders also met with other vendors, but realized that they would be charged for every functionality update. In contrast, the QAD Redzone team was willing to adapt the solution to Companion Baking’s needs.

Ms. Shekar said that she told one vendor, a software development company, about QAD Redzone’s capabilities. “We said that QAD Redzone has communication tools like chats and huddles and digital documentation. And the vendor said, “You should not sign up with us; you need to go with them.” And I think that was good to hear and just confirmed we were headed in the right decision.”

The bakery’s leaders decided to move forward with the QAD Redzone Productivity module in 2017.

Launching QAD Redzone with a 90-Day Sprint

QAD Redzone coaches worked with the Companion Baking team to achieve five standard measurable Lean journey goals during a 90-day sprint:

Companion Baking began by connecting key equipment, such as dividing machines and case packers, with sensors. The next step was to give its frontline workers digital identity and enable them to communicate, track and input data. To this end, QAD Redzone helped the company to acquire and deploy tablets that were specifically upgraded to withstand a harsh factory environment.

The digital transformation journey was not without its challenges. Team members initially were somewhat reluctant to adopt QAD Redzone, because they found it complicated to use. The production team was evolving from an environment with undocumented processes to one where they were supposed to capture data throughout the breadmaking cycle.

Ms. Shekar worked with two of the company’s lead mixers to explain the QAD Redzone data capturing objectives. While meeting with the mixers they provided detail to how to simplify the process to better reflect production conditions.

Team members began using the system and recommending more processes to be captured with it.

Team buy-in helped to drive rapid productivity gains: OEE uplift went up 30% in just two months. By six months, it grew to 60%. “Now, on day-to-day runs, it’s at 80% and above,” says Ms. Shekar.

Developing a Winning Compliance Culture

With greater engagement and significant business results, the Companion Baking Leadership team decided to deploy the remaining QAD Redzone modules: Compliance, Reliability, and Learning.

Compliance was the next challenge. “We weren’t reporting in real time,” says Ms. Shekar. “It felt like our traceability didn’t exist. We knew we should be doing better.”

QAD Redzone’s digital processes transformed compliance procedures at the company. Ms. Shekar said that morale improved with the Compliance module. “Everyone was onboard with using QAD Redzone by the time we launched Compliance and began asking if we could build checks for different processes. That was the best part.” Our sanitation and sales teams both began using it. The sales team would log data sheets as they walked grocery store customers and say, “Thumbs-up, we are at 98% compliance.”

Now, the company conducts monthly walkthroughs of the bakery and performs ongoing dough temperature and barcode checks, to maintain compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). As a result, the Companion Baking team can now perform a mock recall in just 30 minutes, significantly faster than the two hours it took previously.

“Our success really lies in the fact that we’re able to do a lot more checks now, that we never did before,” says Ms. Shekar.

The company has reduced customer complaints from an average of 7 to just four monthly. In addition, these complaints are typically about lower-level issues, about product coloration or how bread is sliced, rather than food safety concerns.

Paperless compliance processes further improved morale, when employees realized that they could now predict when dough would be ready to bake. With data stored in QAD Redzone, employees knew that if dough was in a certain temperature range, they could predict when it would be ready for dividing, secondary proofing, and baking. As a result, bakers could better control their schedules, knowing they could leave in 8.5 hours rather than staying an extra 1.5 hours waiting for dough to rise. That gave bakers the work-life balance that they had long craved.

In addition, the company has leveraged greater transparency into dough temperature data to produce more products and to reduce waste. Companion Baking has boosted its fill rate from 96% to 99.5%, a metric that it shares publicly, and which builds credibility with customers.

Before deploying QAD Redzone, the company would achieve yield losses of 25%. With the data from QAD Redzone and new equipment, Companion Bakery has decreased yield losses down to 3%. In addition, the company has reduced landfill waste by 92%, , improving business sustainability and decreasing costs.

“We realized that trash was our problem,” says Ms. Shekar. “We were remaking dough over and over because we weren’t getting the correct yield. It was causing problems for our waste company. Now, we’ve changed our compactor to a composter, we recycle, and generate just a small amount of trash.”

The company has created a new metric it calls trash efficiency, which means total sales divided by pounds of trash created. The metric has soared from a low of $6 to a high of $26 over the past six years. Ms. Shekar says the metric provides a lens into the company’s product quality and production efficiency and throughput.

Enlisting Everyone to Improve Equipment Reliability

After achieving exceptional compliance results, the team was highly motivated to deploy the QAD Redzone Reliability module.

Previously, Ms. Shekar used a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to manage all work orders for equipment maintenance. While bakers were able to submit requests, few did, because the software was too complicated.

Ms. Shekar took a maintenance technician to a customer site demo to see the QAD Redzone Reliability module in action, but thought it was too costly for her smaller site. Then, at the start of the pandemic, one of the company’s large mixers broke down for three weeks, costing the company 20,000 lost pounds of dough it could have converted into products and sold.

“It was a lot for us to lose,” said Ms. Shekar. “Very quickly, we realized that we could have prevented the breakdown. Our bakers told us they heard a funny noise, but this information didn’t reach the maintenance crew.”

With QAD Redzone, production teams can take a photo or video of a concerning equipment condition and automatically route it to maintenance for review. The reliability coordinator receives all of those “symptoms,” reviews them throughout the day, and sends items to the maintenance team to approve or deny requests.

“Our bakers put in new issues they see, and we check them every single day. If they notice something that’s a little loose, we can fix it and prevent a catastrophic event, like the large mixer that went down,” said Ms. Shekar. “We have avoided a lot of those mistakes, because everyone is picking up their iPads and recording videos.”

Suman Shekar Operations Manager
QAD Redzone has partnered with us in important ways, helping us make improvements that we didn’t even know were possible.
Valentino Lascano Plant Manager, Soft Gel Technologies Inc.
Valentino Lascano
The reduction in turnover was amazing. We used to have an unfavorable turnover of nearly 80% and now that churn is gone.
Mike Cate CEO, Marianna Beauty
We have seen real financial gains — 40% more volume with the same or fewer people. We thought we were lacking talent but now have a full pipeline of emerging leaders.
Todd Erskine Post Consumer Brands
Todd Erskine
Redzone gained momentum and changed behaviors very fast — collaboration happened across all the different sites. It brought people together across the Post Consumer Brands network.

Empowering Workers to Own Their Learning

Companion Baking concluded its QAD Redzone implementation with the Learning module, which was deployed in 2022.

“The Learning module couldn’t have come at a better time,” says Ms. Shekar, who said the company wanted to capture the experience and knowledge of its team and also reduce the costs of hiring and training new staff.

The first thing Companion Baking did was redesign its onboarding program to address employee feedback that learning new processes was intimidating and causing them to question whether they should stay or go.

With the new onboarding program, employees are given a card with their QAD Redzone username and password on day one and are assigned a buddy. They take a tour of the facility, including production areas and break room, and meet other staff. New hires then use QAD Redzone to view an onboarding video, which provides a digital welcome, history of the company, and information on production processes.

In addition, every department has its own digital training program, with videos on how to operate equipment and tips and tricks to know. Workers create their own materials, continually extending the repository of training content. Staff can access training on-demand, refreshing their knowledge on key processes or learning different areas of the bakery.

“My favorite feature of QAD Redzone is the content you can create,” says Ms. Shekar.

Workers are more engaged, using QAD Redzone to capture and share insights. While retention is still a challenge in this ultra-competitive market, Companion Baking has significantly decreased employee turnover costs digital onboarding and learning, thanks to QAD Redzone.

Winning the Day with QAD Redzone

QAD Redzone has helped Companion Baking create a continuous improvement culture with higher OEE and productivity, greater product quality, and a highly engaged workforce.

When asked how she would describe QAD Redzone to another organization, Ms. Shekar says, “Pick the area you most want to focus on and take it to the next level. For our company, it was improving communication, but the bonus was driving productivity.”

“QAD Redzone has partnered with us in important ways, helping us make improvements that we didn’t even know were possible,” Ms. Shekar concludes.

Companion Baking Co. Reliability & Learning Roadshow