Custom Kitchen Cabinet Mill
I was once referred to a custom kitchen cabinet mill that was looking for a CFO because they were not happy with their current CFO. Although that is not my current expertise, I did refer them to a competent CFO with Lean Manufacturing experience. As I was talking with the owners of this company, I informed them of my own background and gave them some of the results that are listed on this web site. They agreed to engage me in doing Lean Manufacturing and continuous improvement projects on their premises. They had been in business for over 10 years and were still experiencing some of the flow problems that they had had as a smaller operation, even though they had grown pretty much each year.
Fortunately, we met each other in early November. This is relevant because winter, obviously, happens to be the slow season for custom kitchen cabinets, as well as for much of the construction industry. Note that implementing a continuous improvement project when an operation is running at or near full capacity is actually much more difficult than when an operation has a slow season. The reason for this is that the officers and staff that need to understand new ways of thinking are running so fast that they do not have the capacity to learn or implement new methods. As an aside, some of my client’s sales volumes have picked up so quickly following the initial improvements to their operations that it has become difficult to implement further improvements because everyone is running around trying to achieve the higher production levels that are now possible. Anyway, back to the custom kitchen cabinet mill.
In our first meetings, I introduced them to my client suggested reading library document and asked them to purchase several of those works… independent of me. The object is to get them trained, experienced, and up and running on their own as fast as possible with periodic subsequent coaching, but only if necessary.
This plant took from early November to middle January to
- Cut its order throughput time from 12 days to 6 days,
- Cut its work-in- process inventory by more than 50%,
- Improves its quality, and
- Significantly decrease customer service problems associated with late or incomplete delivery.
Most of the work of “physical re-layout” was done in-house with a little bit of electrical subcontracting that no one in-house had qualifications to accomplish. Many of the pieces of equipment were moved more than once, however, they were fairly small pieces. The three “Monuments” that did not move were the paint booths, the numerically controlled router, and the dust collection equipment. (A “Monument” is any resource that operates in batch-and-queue mode and can’t presently be moved or broken down into smaller, movable, units with the same net capacity.) Although many of the dust collection ducts were moved, the equipment itself was not moved at this time. (However, all of the dust collection equipment was either moved or rotated over the course of the next two years in order to accommodate even further improvements in flow.)
Each of the 3 owners of the company read Learning to See (see the client suggested reading library), and then we began laying out their plant using a scaled drawing of their plant attached to a piece of sheet metal with scaled cutouts of all of their equipment, made from refrigerator magnets. (Please see the Magnet Layout Tool article.)
We went through the standard 4 to 6 iterations as specified in the Helix document in each of a dozen projects. The sequence of these projects followed the model suggested by the Sluice Analogy article: in “visibility” order. This was not a rocket science implementation. The techniques are fairly straightforward and repeatable across industries and across economic sectors: nonprofit, as well as government sectors (for examples, try a Google search on military continuous process improvement).
We did about 12 improvement projects over the course of 2 1/2 months. This is what “Tornado-like-iterations” look like.
Similar to some of my other clients, we did have to separate high-volume processes from low-volume processes at this plant. The actual full-custom components of the kitchen package comprised the low volume production. Lack of information or materials in the full-custom components of the jobs were initially delaying the entire assembled order in the shipping department. This took up a huge amount of space with several orders at a time crowding the final assembly and shipping dock on a routine basis. Or in other words, both the full custom components and the more stock components were released to production at the same time. The stock components would fly through production and sit at the final assembly area awaiting production of the full-custom components… several orders at a time! This really plugged up final assembly and the dock area. And, of course, it also created regular “rework” of damaged finished product!
As part of the transformation, we decided to use the completion of the custom items as the trigger for the large volume of the more stock-cabinet components that would routinely fly through production because they were much better defined and supplied. In addition to the four or five production cells that we installed, as well as some quick changeover and standardized work projects, this change accounted for a large portion of the reduction in throughput time. Probably the biggest change that occurred was smoothing the flow of information that fed the production floor so that the custom production could be executed in about three days and the stock production could be executed and assembled in the next three days. This is what eventually was accomplished to produce a reliable six-day throughput time.