There are few places as sweet as the U.S. city of Long Grove, Illinois, in spring.
Every year, the village hosts a Chocolate Fest weekend where attendees get to buy decadent chocolate delicacies, participate in chocolate crafts and even indulge in a pie-eating contest. If you’ve never visited Long Grove, it’s an elegant town that has a folksy, old-time Americana feel to it.
But chocolate isn’t just a once-a-year indulgence in the village. Within its boundaries sits the Long Grove Confectionery Co., which recently opened its new retail location. Previously, the candy store was housed in a traditional red-schoolhouse building in the village, but as the business grew, the company chose to open a 60,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in nearby Buffalo Grove.
While the Gumpian adage that “Life is like a box of chocolates” seems more than relevant as you pass a 3,000-pound chocolate rendering of the Statute of Liberty, a chocolatey bust of Abraham Lincoln or a giant candy Santa that’s now encased because a curious child once took a nibble, what’s missing from the equation is simple: quality.
As any chocolatier will tell you, quality chocolates take care, time, precision and attention to detail. This is why our Chicago office chose the Long Grove Confectionary for our first Sphera Quality Day. And there was nothing bittersweet about our visit.
While Long Grove Confectionery doesn’t manufacture its own chocolate—it gets its creamy crushed cocoa beans from the nearby Blommer Chocolate Co. in Chicago—it has mastered a quality-controlled approach to making everything from its signature Giant Myrtles (a chocolate, salted nut and caramel concoction) to triple-coat malted milk balls and milk chocolate-covered berries of various types.
To maintain high quality, the confectionery uses large copper cauldrons to make its caramel. The copper ensures better heat conduction. Molded products are made by hand in a highly manual process that is time-consuming and labor-intensive as each is clamped and unclamped by hand, but it also produces beautiful chocolate creations.
Part of any quality initiative with any food product begins with cleanliness, and Long Grove Confectionary takes this seriously as Sphera found out during the tour. Long Grove Confectionary has a strict cleaning protocol that it follows, and it uses phased shutdown procedures to ensure cleanliness along the production line. As with any food-related company, it is visited by food inspectors regularly to ensure quality, but some of its clients have their own inspection protocols to audit the quality of the products they buy as well.
Because it’s a food-related business, it follows a Level 2 Safe Quality Food Institute food safety plan that is benchmarked by the Global Food Safety Initiative.
But that should come as no surprise for this organization that is nothing short of a “candy crusher” when it comes to setting the bar on quality control.
That’s how the Chicago office celebrated Sphera Quality Day. Now, let’s take a look at what other Sphera offices did to learn about quality.
It’s a known fact that productivity improves when quality of life improves.
Quality lies with each individual. Often we refer to quality only with respect to products and services, and never to the quality of life that we can live. Before industrialization, the quality was known by the individual craftsman, and because of mass production, the sense of quality lies in the process for which an industry is established. If an organization has to flourish, it has to improve the employee’s thinking that quality of life lies with an individual.
As Spherions in the Bangalore, India, office learned during a mindfulness exercise for Sphera Quality Day: Quality of life is experienced with quality of health. Health is defined as the sync of mind, body, intellect and enthusiasm. These are abstract concepts, and only the physical body gives the indication something is wrong with the system.
Quality of life can be enhanced with good diet, exercise and sleep. As we learned, when we are able to balance the three, problems in life will not impact our work life or personal life.
Quality of life can also be enhanced with time management as well since “Time is for us to create and manage.”
We also discussed deep breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation and visualization that can enhance the mind’s capacity and the intellect’s optimization and enthusiasm for everyday life while keeping the body active.
The session was designed to educate us about what people can do to maintain quality of life by improving their mind-body-intellect and enthusiasm.
—Lokesh Subramani, director, India operations
Denver Spherions ventured to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) labs in Boulder, Colorado, for Sphera Quality Day. We toured several labs and learned about the intricate procedures and equipment that are used to study the atmosphere.
The High-Resolution Rapid Refresh weather model helps meteorologists understand and view forecasts and make better predictions about weather. This is especially important for severe weather events such as hurricanes. The technology earned the Governor’s Award for High Impact Research. You can learn more about that in this video.
The Global Monitoring Division tracks roughly 20,000 glass bottles around the world from Barrow, Alaska, to Antarctica and hundreds of locations in between to collect air samples. They build their own instruments so that they can measure components of air to levels of parts per trillion. Yes, trillion! The data is used to monitor climate change and air pollution. Data quality is paramount, and we learned about the team’s procedures to calibrate reference data. In the analysis lab itself, they monitor the background concentration of CO2, and we watched as the levels were raised by roughly 100 parts per million during our five-minute visit in the room. (Please, no jokes about Sphera team members being full of hot air.)
We saw a demonstration of the Science on a Sphere exhibit, which is used to visualize global data in 3D on an actual sphere. This allows scientists and the public to observe patterns in ways simply not possible in 2D. Weather patterns, earthquake data and plate tectonics all came to life right before our eyes.
Finally, we learned about the Space Weather Prediction Center, which, not surprisingly, had the distinct look and feel of a space mission control room. Space weather consists of phenomena related to electromagnetic radiation and charged particles released from the sun. The aurora borealis (northern lights) is an example of space weather in action. Space weather events can disrupt aircraft communications, knock out power grids, affect a GPS and damage electronic equipment. As the world becomes increasingly reliant on digital technology, the Space Weather Prediction Center provides critical monitoring and early warnings to keep these systems safe and reliable.
—Brian Payer, Sphera’s strategic operations program manager
In honor of Sphera Quality Day, a group of Houston Spherions visited the only Budweiser plant in Texas, which is located just a few miles from downtown Houston. This plant produces over 32 million barrels of beer a year, and each barrel has 32 gallons of beer in it. That’s over a billion gallons of beer per year produced at this one plant!
It was fun to visit a big brewery, and taking a tour of this plant was a great fit with Sphera Quality Day. Almost everywhere you turned there were signs, dry-erase boards and banners displaying the plant’s latest performance in a number of quality-related key performance indicators, such as Mean Time Between Failures; Mean Time To Repair; Total Extent Lost (we learned that this refers to water, grains and other ingredients that are “lost” through leaks or mistakes throughout the process); Packaging Quality Index; and many other measures.
This level of attention to detail is a solid indicator of how Budweiser achieves quality with its processes and products. And there were several posters with quotes about the company’s belief and attitude toward the importance of quality, such as: “Quality Is Ultimately About Customer Satisfaction” and “Our Dream: To Be the Leading Global Brewing Team Through Quality, Cost Control, and the Creativity of Our People.”
It was a very impressive operation at Budweiser, and all of us will think of this plant and its focus on quality when we see a can of Bud in the future!
—Neal Rosen, Sphera’s vice president of strategy and alliances
San Ramon, California
Sphera’s San Ramon team visited the local Altamont Landfill facility, which is the largest landfill in the Bay Area, for Sphera Quality Day. It accepts waste 24/7, and hosts the world’s most successful landfill gas to liquefied natural gas plant as well as an electricity-generating landfill, gas-powered turbines and windmills.
This facility is internationally recognized for its sustainable practices in quality landfill management using state-of-the-art liners, leachate collection, groundwater monitoring and extensive landfill gas collection and control systems. We were able to go behind the scenes to look at their recycling programs.
To see how much of our waste goes into landfills and the way Waste Management is trying to minimize its impact is eye-opening. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: These are three great concepts that we all should follow to minimize waste and protect our environment!
—Vimala Madapusi, Sphera senior manager, customer care
Toronto Spherions visited Newmarket, Ontario, for Sphera Quality Day to check out Exco Engineering.
Jeff Blackburn, the company’s vice president and general manager, took us for a tour of the facility, and gave a lecture and presentation on quality for Exco Engineering products and systems. Exco Engineering designs and manufactures the molds that create car transmissions and casting for large clients such as General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Magna International. Attention to quality and design is down to the micrometer as there is no room for error when building the mold that will become a key component of 100,000-plus cars.
Exco Engineering operates out of a 130,000-square-foot facility equipped with modern machine tools and leading operational processes. It has designed, built and developed tooling for virtually every large diecast automotive component program there is, including engine blocks (4 cylinder, V6 and V8); transmission cases (front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and continuous variable); transfer cases; oil pans; wheels; instrument panels; engine cradles; and body panels. Its on-site foundry includes a state-of-the-art, 4,000-ton high-pressure diecast machine with FANUC robotics and three furnaces to enable delivery of traditional and low-iron aluminium alloys as well as magnesium.
—Philippe Guillard, Sphera’s director of solution consulting