Rye Valley Foods, the Enniskillen-based manufacturer of snack foods for European retailers, has already saved over £50,000 with help from an Invest Northern Ireland-backed business improvement programme.

With Invest N I advice and assistance Rye Valley used a US-developed technique known as Six Sigma to measure production processes and pinpoint areas for improvement. This involved setting up employee teams to analyse the problems and to recommend remedial action.

As well as streamlining the production of existing products, mastery of the technique enabled the company to introduce a new range of soft baguette rolls more cost-efficiently.

Peter McCarron, Invest NI Business Improvement Services Executive, commenting on Rye Valley’s Six Sigma successes, said: “Six Sigma is a structured and proven improvement technique that helps companies to develop and deliver near-perfect products and services that will result in more business from existing and potential customers.

“Our Six Sigma scheme seeks to achieve this by helping companies measure the efficiency of a particular production process and then to decide how they can improve the whole process. Companies which have used this technique have found significant benefits in terms of increased productivity from ensuring that existing processes operate at peak efficiency.

“An ongoing focus on continuous improvement also enables companies to innovate in products and processes faster. Business improvement is very much in line with Invest NI’s Principles for Business Support which offer a customised business solution to help companies such as Rye Valley Foods achieve sustainable growth, “ he added.

Declan McKee, Rye Valley’s General Manager at Enniskillen, said Six Sigma had provided a structured approach that enabled the company to focus on the performance of key aspects of the manufacturing operation.

“We found Six Sigma to be an excellent technique for collecting information for more effective management of production processes and this enabled us to make better informed decisions using monitoring data from machinery.

“Another aspect of competitiveness is the ability to innovate by the introduction of new products quickly and cost-effectively. Savings resulting from the Six Sigma process are providing a platform for us to develop our product range and our ability to compete for business,” he added.