Aug 8, 2006

Plant 19 forges ahead

When Richard Evans, Richard Kunst, Mariela Castaño, Patrick Hart, and Chris White did the walkthrough in Plant 19, they could see they were ahead of Plant 06. So Plant 06 got more of La-Z-Boy’s outside resources, while Plant 19 relied a little more on their own ingenuity to make improvements.

Charlotte Swafford, Cutting and Sewing Interim Manager, and Kathy Webb, Cutting Supervisor, concentrated on the cutting department and the sewing department.

The cutting department has automatic cutters, and the operators have kept their tools in a cabinet for years. Chris White took a picture that showed this was one thing that needed to be 5S-ed. Charlotte and Kathy decided to make that their project.

With the plant’s order backlog, Raymond had to run production at the same time as the team tackled his tool cabinet. Charlotte said the team spoke with Raymond about the plan Monday before they touched anything, giving him a day’s notice.

They let him know what they wanted to do – pull out the things in the cabinet, see how important they were, and get rid of the rest so he’d have visibility to his tools. Then he’d be able to go right to them, and not have to go through all the other things to look for what he needs.

Raymond’s been in cutting department for 32 years, running the automatic cutter since there was one. That’s given him time to accumulate quite a few things. Charlotte and Kathy found 25 standard Bostich staplers that probably had cost about $10 apiece. When a stapler quit working, the operators just threw them in the cabinet and got another.

Over the years, when maintenance worked on his machines and walked off and left things, he didn’t want to throw them away, so he just kept them. Kathy estimated that 85% of the stuff there belonged to maintenance. When all was said and done, a whole lot was given back to maintenance.

Once the cabinet was emptied Raymond only needed about five minutes to decide what he actually needed to do his job. Those items were laid aside, and the team made sure there was nothing else he needed.

When the tool cabinet project was done, he ended up with about 20 items, including a drop cord, a knife blade, and the tools he needed for changeout. The old wooden cabinet’s empty so it’s going away. A new creform cabinet was designed to take its place.

The team thought Raymond appreciated their work after they were finished, and expected him to especially like the new cabinet.

Not everything went so well. The new creform cabinet had been expected at 9:30 that morning. By 1:45 that afternoon, it still hadn’t arrived.

The new cabinet would have “shadows” for the required tools. This is an aspect of transforming Plant 19 into a visual workplace. Kathy and Charlotte, went through training led by Rhonda Kovera of the Visual Factory company, so they were ready to spec out pegboards and shadows.

While sorting through the cutting workstations, Charlotte and Kathy found a number of cutting machine blades, worth $120 apiece. The blades should last 20 hours on the machine. The operators said some of them do, but many don’t. The defective blades can be returned to the supplier for credit, so a kanban system will be set up to identify them and start claiming the money due. The blades are used on several cutters, so the money due could be considerable.

In the sewing area, sets of pillows are cut, sewn, stuffed, and shipped. That work is done in a mini-cell. The team cleaned up around it, and planned to make a couple of creform cabinets to replace the old wood ones there.

One employee caught the spirit and built a broom holder. That might sound like a small thing, but it would never happen in most traditionally-managed plants. Everyone would now know where to find the broom, and whether it was missing. The employee had the satisfaction of making a device that would eliminate the waste of searching for a broom from then on.

Ronnie Angel is in charge of the traditional upholstery line in the plant. He’s been there 19 years, so he knows what things were like before lean practices began to be implemented. He’s also been part of making lean changes and improvements happen.

The upholstery line must handle a complex product mix. With about 1,400 different fabrics and 47 different styles, that means 65,800 different configurations must be managed to meet the customer’s expectations.

Ronnie’s team was attacking some of the areas that were creating defects, sorting and standardizing. They had decided to make Lines 11 and 12 pilot lines, where they would make initial improvements before implementing change all the way across the other upholstery lines. It’s culture change, in Ronnie’s words. He was preparing the operators, getting them to break old habits.

For example, aisle ways had been cleared, but ensuring that they stayed that way was going to take enforcement, backed up by management commitment.

Jason Smith was putting his main focus on Plant 19’s poly department. After the first class, they came through the department with a trash bin. By the time they finished, the load reached six feet high.

Then they started red-tagging equipment, with a total of 13 unneeded items sent to the boneyard by the end of the day. That might not seem like a remarkable number, but it followed a red-tagging sweep held about two months before.

Next, Jason’s team would go back to different operators’ workstations to start adding the tool pegboards and other devices. As in the other parts of the facility, the operators were working the entire time the 5S activities had been taking place.

Jason said they had a lot of buy-in from the operators. They liked the tool stations. But Jason agreed with Ronnie that management was going to have to enforce rules like the shadows, and see that the operators put all items in place before they leave at the end of each shift.

Sustaining gains made in blitz events is tough in any company. One thing La-Z-Boy is doing is to implement total productive maintenance (TPM). At the cutting, poly and sewing machines, operators have TPM checklists, which include 5S tasks, that they fill out daily. Some of this equipment represents a large dollar investment, and they need the general maintenance done by the employee every day.

All four of the 5S champions agreed that sorting out the old, unused, and excess stuff -- anything not used in the last six months -- was the highlight of the blitz. Across all the areas of Plant 19, the red-tag total was up to 60 to 70 items.

Richard Kunst reflected on the progress made by the folks in plant 19. “From my perspective, I think that this particular facility has turned the corner, they get it, they’re engaged. I think by the end of the week that we won’t recognize it, so I’m just hoping that – I honestly believe this activity is not going to stop now.”

By being on-site, Richard learned that the tools and materials for making toolboards, labels and other things needed for the visual workplace in Plant19 were in Plant 06, some distance away. Now each plant has its own label-making machine and will soon have its own workshop.

Not having the ability to build their own things had been holding back improvement. Ronnie had come up with the concept of having a cart with a unit’s components follow it down the line. But he was still waiting after seven months for the creform carts to be built. Ronnie was frustrated because he wasn’t meeting his production plan, and he wasn’t able to implement an improvement that would have increased throughput. It showed Richard that management had to provide the tools to make people less dependent on others when they want to go and make change. La-Z-Boy is doing it improve production and to make our employees happier too.

Being empowered to create an improvement does affect the way people feel about their jobs. Charlotte said the guy from cutting who went to the creform class was really excited about making the broom holder. He’d said to Kathy and Charlotte, “Come let me show you what I made you.” He was proud.

Ronnie talked about how that would have happened in the past. The employee would have had to create a drawing, submit it -- it might even be outsourced somewhere else to have it made. Now, he said, you could easily go to your own materials. You’re limited only by your imagination. You can create something. You can solve the problem. You’ve got the power.

Through its continuous improvement program, La-Z-Boy was freeing people up so they could make the improvements they’d only thought about before. They’d learned they can get things just by asking. But they have to ask. And they have to ask the right people. La-Z-Boy knows it still has to improve and remove more barriers to change.

Richard Kunst commented further about the preparation for the week’s improvement. A student intern, Chris White, and been working on site for almost a month to lay the groundwork. Chris had spent two terms learning about 5S and other lean principles from Mariela Castaño at Nestle in Canada. As Richard said, that means he knows what 5S has to look like.

Chris had identified a lot of the problem areas, taken a lot of photos, and made assignment sheets. The employees said the assignment sheets gave them something they could understand and implement instead of having to trying to figure out what to do. It was a good jump point. The coaches and the employees appreciated the effort Chris had made to get them ready.

Another key player was Rhonda Kovera, who was teaching how to make the factory visual. Passionate about the technique, she brings her idea book with her, and shows employees how to generate labels, how to scan pictures in. Her video of what had been done at La-Z-Boy’s Tremonton facility energized everyone about what they could do.

The learning and excitement at Plant 19 wasn’t limited to the folks on the day shift. Yancy Allen, the second shift supervisor, showed up hours before the start of work that day. He said that three second-shift supervisors had been taking part in the blitz that week. The folks on the later shift wanted to make sure they got the knowledge to take back with them to help sustain the efforts they had also been making.

As Richard saw it, people were now getting past the dirty jobs of pulling out junk and cleaning equipment and starting to have fun.

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