Aug 3, 2006

The La-Z-Boy extreme plant makeover - the poly room

What follows is a draft of a report based on interviews with participants in almost real-time. There are missing details, and some facts in need of correction, but I am posting it now to make it accessible quickly. So don’t quote me, and don’t hesitate to use “comments” to point out necessary changes. KW

The La-Z-Boy Extreme Makeover 5S Blitz opened July 31, with 22 people at the Dayton, TN, plant. They came from six La-Z-Boy plants – and a couple more from AME and SME.

Over the weekend, in preparation, a walkthrough by Richard Kunst, Richard Evans, Mariela CastaƱo, Chris White, and the Dayton plant’s CI manager, Patrick Hart, revealed that 5S’ing the whole of Plant 06 would be too large a task, so the scope there changed from the whole plant to just the poly room.

Plant 19, the other location slated for work, was in better shape than the team expected. There, teams will get into the later stages of 5S – set-in-order, shine and standardize – a little ahead of schedule.

The poly room
The poly room in Plant 06 is where polyurethane foam – used to stuff the chairs – is cut. Parts are made for a couple of hundred different furniture styles from a half dozen different types of foam. A petroleum-based foam, its price went up about 50% last year, when Hurricane Rita damaged a supplier’s facilities. It’s the most expensive material in the chairs, making the poly room a good area to focus on.

After training on Monday, Tuesday was spent getting rid of a lot of scrap, getting FIFO lanes in place for all the groups of saws, getting the workstations clean, and getting the machines clean so it’s easy to identify when there’s something wrong with them.

By the end of the day, teams had removed:

Four tractor-trailer-loads of remnant poly.
Seven 3-cu. meter hoppers full of garbage,
94 red-tagged items, including
metal rails,
toolboxes,
extra rolls of material,
vacuum pumps, and
one “metal thingamajig.”

They wrote up 23 maintenance work orders, and identified four major safety issues.

The “foot soldiers” found the day very labor-intensive. While they may have thought they’d be observers, they liked that it was not what they expected.

The improvement work in the poly room was divided over four areas:
1. The receiving area where the polyurethane pieces, called bunts, come in
2. The main blocking saws that cut them up into smaller pieces
3. The baumer saws and the glue booths where poly pieces are assembled
4. The storage areas.

Super-clean
Karen Van Den Bloomer, Productivity Specialist at Plexus in Neenah, WI, worked in the storage area, and where fiber bats are wrapped around the poly and cut. Her team first went through and picked up the obvious garbage laying around, things that even the workers couldn’t identify. When something’s been just sitting somewhere for a long time, there’s a tendency to just leave it there. So the team just red-tagged them and got them out of the way.

Then they started cleaning. During the cleaning they found a lot of opportunities for making things easier for the workers—hanging tools up, for example. They put in some requests to get pegboards and containers for necessary items.

Then the “super-clean” started. As Chris White explained, between the first S – Sort, and the second - Set-in-order, La-Z-Boy sees a hidden S - Super-clean. That means before you put things where they’re going to go, everything is in a clean state, so you don’t have to sweep it up afterward. Karen said there was about a half-inch of dust on top of light fixtures and vents, so they got ladders and started scrubbing.

She said the employees were happy there were people actually wanting to make things better. They pitched in and helped clean when they could, although they had to keep production moving.

Employees told Karen they’d been trying to do something for a while, but every time they tried, they just didn’t get the support. So to see something established made them feel good. It gave them a standard they were expected to keep.

With all the accumulated junk gone from under the tables, it was going to be much easier just to sweep up at the end of the day.

Baumers and blades
Jennifer Noble, from the La-Z-Boy Tremonton, UT, plant, worked in zone two, the saws and the baumers, going through similar steps. The first day they red-tagged 68 items, plus five the next day. She said there was just stuff everywhere. Because it was just easier, employees put things under the machines, including things like blades that were safety hazards. It wasn’t that they were lazy. They just didn’t have the resources. Jennifer said they borrowed her gloves just to take the blades away from under the machines.

The blades were supposed to be discarded in covered container in a relatively distant location, so Jen’s team got some tubs to put under the machines. The used blades could then be easily stowed in a safe container that could be emptied regularly.

They also did a super-clean in the baumer area. There were a few storage bins there, so they emptied them and swept them out. One of the team members suggested that they put small racks there that that they could clean more easily. Jen said the people on the floor were awesome. They helped whenever they were needed.

The glue booth
The glue booth is where slabs of remnant poly of similar density, not big enough to make a complete bunt, are glued together to make another bunt. It can then be cut up into more parts.

The booth is a 10- or 12-foot cube. A person works within it applying glue. It was completely covered in glue -- pieces of it hanging everywhere. Pieces of poly hanging everywhere as well.

The workers tried to protect the walls of the booth with cardboard, but it was difficult to fasten there and to remove. The proposed solution is to put Velcro all along the outside edges of each wall and ceiling, then to tack a sort of matting to the walls with the Velcro. The matting is very cheap stuff. To clean up, workers will just tear the matting off and throw it away. It will be much easier to maintain the cleanliness of the booth.

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