Jul 27, 2006

Richard K. -- More about the Dayton plant

Hurricanes and tornadoes have put the Dayton (TN) La-Z-Boy plant in a catch-up situation. Last year’s hurricane affected the supply of an ingredient in the foam we use in our chairs. It’s made in a plant just outside New Orleans that was destroyed by Katrina. It was under eight feet of water.

Worse, it is one of only two facilities worldwide that produces that chemical. That put us on 50% allocation for foam, and we weren’t able to make all the chairs we had orders for.

Then we had a tornado in Newton (IA) that hit our plywood plant, putting it out of commission for a while. The plant supplies all the plywood to all our plants, adding to our problems at Dayton.

So we’re still churning our way through a huge backlog of orders, just scrambling to get furniture out and satisfy our customers.

Dayton is a small town, and we have about 2,000 employees -- about 2/3 of the local workforce. It’s hard to find people, so the load on our workforce is heavy. If we can increase throughput by 10% without needing any more workers, that will make a big difference.

You’ve got to realize we were very passionately embracing lean prior to this. Two years ago La-Z-Boy embarked on its lean journey, moving from batch and queue to cellular manufacturing. The Dayton (TN) plant is about 25% of the way. To finance the cell conversion, however, the more traditional processes need to be profitable. That is why we're going back to make them more lean.

Having this “extreme plant makeover” in Dayton will give us a forum to train La-Z-Boy 5S champions in one location. Our folks have been playing with the lean tools for awhile now, but they need to get to the next level of professionalism.

Because of our need for throughput, we didn’t want to divert too many resources from daily production. We decided to bring in outside people to help. We asked suppliers to come in and give us some tricks. In addition, there are about 20 sets of volunteer “outside eyes” coming. Two plant managers are coming of their own volition. That alone is sending a huge acknowledgement that they see value in enhancing their own facilities and think this model might work for them.

Getting everyone together can start them sharing ideas and establishing e-mail contacts. We need people to exchange implementation experience so nobody has to reinvent things as we’re going forward. We might use something like this blog if people start using it.

The event will also be accelerating our journey to cellular manufacturing, which is probably going to take another year. We don’t have the resources to go completely cellular throughout all our facilities.

The 5S program will have three tracks – supplier coach clinics, areas for intensive care, and quick projects for the general population. We plan to do one “S” per day, beginning with a simulation to train all the salaried employees and the outside folks. It will create a common datum and understanding of 5S as it relates to La-Z-Boy. In the intensive care processes, we expect a 4 to 1 ROI by increasing throughput through workplace organization.

To me, 5S is not just housekeeping. While it starts with workplace organization, it branches off into most of the lean tools. As we go, it might happen that some folks decide they want to put in a kanban system. We want to be able to immediately teach them how to do it. That’s where the “satellite teaches” come in.

We may or may not hold a contest. We’ll see how the week progresses and decide then. At La-Z-Boy, we don’t use contests for competition between departments or people. They are about recognizing employees and best practices.

It’s more like: “Look at what these guys are doing. This is awesome -- how do we publicize it?” We create the recognition and take pictures and hopefully that starts cross-pollination of a best practice, particularly in these very large plants where employees don’t migrate through the entire facility.

We’re finding that we’ve got to spend a lot of time on the preparatory phase, defining projects we want people to deliver, or it’s not going to happen. Chris White, the on-site event coordinator, has spent nearly 1,100 man hours taking pictures and identifying projects.

Then we want to do everything we can to sustain the progress. That’s why we’re training the supervisors with the simulation. The TPM (total productive maintenance) teach is another way to sustain. It gives us a checklist to ensure that once we have made the changes, we know how we are keep them in place?

It’s pretty exciting stuff. We’re just going to roll with it and see what happens. If this model works, we’re definitely going to look at deploying it in other plants.
-- Richard Kunst

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