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Bumble Bee Derives Employee Engagement from Major Equipment Installation

“We’re Bumble Bee, and this facility is our hive of tuna operations,” Miguel Diaz, the forklift driver on that packaging line who came up with the Queen Bee moniker, said at the machine dedication, over cake. “This is our Queen Bee.”
“We’re Bumble Bee, and this facility is our hive of tuna operations,” Miguel Diaz, the forklift driver on that packaging line who came up with the Queen Bee moniker, said at the machine dedication, over cake. “This is our Queen Bee.”

In a feature article you can read at this link, I take a close look at the selection, installation, use, and impact of a new paperboard multipack cartoning system at iconic brand Bumble Bee Seafood. From a big picture perspective, the story is yet another data point on a trend line pointing toward more major brands—like fellow icons Coca-Cola and Corona joining it on the cover of the September issue of Packaging World—making a sustainability-minded plastic-to-paperboard multipack switch. It’s also an interesting snapshot of how decisions made at the top ripple outward over an organization, and particularly how they reverberate across a company’s operations and engineering. But this story took a long time to tell. Patience can be a virtue in this packaging journalism game. 

I first got wind of this project nearly two years ago, when Jason Stover at R.A Jones floated a vague outline of a possible story, with more details to come. After the project progressed sufficiently, I finally got a look at the equipment in person at PACK EXPO Las Vegas in September of last year in the R.A Jones booth. That’s when Bumble Bee Seafood held a ribbon cutting on what’s called its Meridian XR MPS-300 cartoning equipment, and I recorded a brief machine walk-through video with R.A Jones’ CTO Jeff Wintring (view it by scanning a QR code on page 82 with your phone). I also sat down to interview former Bumble Bee CEO Jan Tharp, former Bumble Bee SVP, Global Corporate Responsibility, Leslie Hushka, and Jonathon Titterton, CEO of Coesia Americas, the parent company of R.A Jones. If I had a quorum of stakeholder viewpoints about the machine a year ago, why wait until now to publish the story?

At that time, the equipment still had a long way to physically go, from the PACK EXPO Las Vegas show floor, back to R.A Jones in Covington, Ky., for further factory acceptance testing (FAT), and finally to the Santa Fe Springs, Calif., Bumble Bee Seafood facility. And once it was finally on-site in January of 2022, it needed to be installed, tested (SAT), commissioned, and eased into its full production capacity. It took some time for operators to train and work their way up to the machine’s promised changeover times, 97% OEE and 99.75% salable product efficiency, as the equipment proved it could handle in the Covington FATs. 

We wanted to wait until the operators knew enough about the machine to be able to tell us about it, relate some real experiences with it, and describe any hurdles they had to overcome in getting the most out of it. Spoiler alert: it grew on them quite a bit, to the point that they affectionately nicknamed it the “Queen Bee” (get it? Bumble Bee?).

   Read this full feature story on the Bumble Bee Tuna cartoner application, with photos and a video by the company. 

That’s why we waited until May of 2022, after the machine had been up and running for a few months and was achieving its promised metrics, for me to regroup with Brett Butler, GM/VP of the Bumble Bee Santa Fe Springs facility; Joe Carney, Bumble Bee’s Engineering Manager on the project; and Patrick Costello, Director, Strategic Systems Engineering. Just as equipment acquisition takes months or years from your initial research until you’re finally packaging your widgets in a machine at speed, so did getting to print with the full story. 

But here’s an angle that I didn’t expect. The whole Bumble Bee enterprise is getting employee engagement mileage out of the new flagship machinery. After installation, commissioning, and four weeks of training with R.A Jones, the supervisory and management groups at Bumble Bee wanted to show the company their engineering feat in the custom Meridian XR MPS-300.

“We realized that we’ve got this nice, Rolls Royce type of unit here on this line, we should make a big deal out of it, and get our employees involved,” Butler says. 

So the management teams surveyed the whole company looking to come up with a name for the equipment. They ended up with quite a few options—including some really strange ones—but landed on Queen Bee as the favorite. The moniker was submitted by Miguel Diaz, the forklift driver on that packaging line. The company held a dedication ceremony with both shifts at hand, and a Queen Bee cake marked the occasion. The submitter of the winning name cut the cake and even made a speech.

“We’re Bumble Bee, and this facility is our hive of tuna operations,” Diaz said at the machine dedication over cake. “This is our Queen Bee.” PW

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