The Bottom Line: Lean Times
For the past four years, FPInnovations’ Forintek Division has introduced over 250 solid wood product manufacturers to Lean manufacturing concepts. About 35 have made a commitment to continuous improvement through Lean implementation, and many more are preparing to begin the journey. Western Lean champion, Phil Ginter, says based on the results of companies that have implemented Lean manufacturing so far, there’s no doubt that the process continues to be an unqualified success.
Lean manufacturing, simply defined, is a method of doing more with less. Specifically, Lean can produce high quality products with half the effort, space, inventory and product development time compared with traditional mass production. The Lean approach is more comprehensive than other current popular production management improvement initiatives because it simultaneously addresses customers, product, process and human resource-related issues in the production system.
Lux Windows and Glass in Calgary is just one company that experienced immediate dividends by adopting Lean manufacturing. The company produces wood and PVC windows and doors. Founded in 1969, it operates from a 100,000-square-foot facility with 120 employees.
Alberta-based Forintek industry advisor, Gilbert Steinke, began working with Lux Windows and Glass, helping to ensure that the Lean implementation process advanced in a manageable and sustainable fashion, producing tangible results along the way. To aid the implementation of the concepts to Lux’s diverse workforce, Lean principles were translated into Vietnamese.
During the early stages of applying Lean principles to the company’s window wood/clad production area, lead time to customers was cut from 14 to 8 weeks, production time dropped from over five days to two days, and real estate occupied by revamping the production line shrunk from 14,000 to 10,000 square feet. It took about a $10,000 investment in time and equipment to implement these changes, but the return on investment through productivity gains was under two weeks.
The cornerstone of the Lean program over the past four years has been the Forintek Lean Organizational Workshop (FLOW) – a 16-week, eight-module session, with follow-up on site support. However, Ginter says program delivery has evolved so that rather than the 16-week series being offered at various locations as an open session, industry can now find out more about Lean manufacturing by attending an intensive, one-day open session offered regularly throughout Western Canada.
If companies want to pursue Lean implementation, a Forintek industry advisor will then conduct a technical assessment of their operation “at the 50,000 foot level” and then offer a customized implementation strategy and timeline that caters to the company’s needs at that moment. It could still mean delivery of the eight module series, but it is done in house, generally over a four-month period, with clearly defined improvement projects and performance targets. Ginter says those companies that are serious about implementing Lean often make their program investment back by the end of the course in productivity improvements.
“Lean is a long-term process,” says Ginter. “When I start with a company, I envision working with them for at least five years.”
Over the years, the FLOW series has attracted a variety of participants from a large cross-section of the solid wood product manufacturing industry. These have included millwork and custom cabinet manufacturers, window and door component manufacturers, pallet and pre-cut component manufacturers, solid wood furniture exporters, log homebuilders, roof truss manufacturers, and treated post producers. The series also attracted senior management and employees from a few sawmills.
Frequently, Lean program participants are progressively minded companies wanting to improve their established production methods, while creating interest and excitement among employees. Many have plans to replace older equipment and to expand the size of their operations.
The initial concepts of the Lean philosophy shared with participants focus heavily on a review of current operations, reduction of wasted material and time, as well as developing more efficient production flow systems.
Implementing Lean principles
has given Kelowna-based, Norelco Cabinets Ltd., a whole new perspective on where the company is headed in the short to medium term. Owner Peter Raja says the company put relocation plans on hold because the company has now disposed of a lot of waste to free up floor space. It has asked Forintek to help with new plant layout designs for Norelco Cabinets, as well as for its high-end cabinet company, Cucina Del Re.
“By implementing Lean manufacturing principles, we can probably stay at the same locations for a couple more years,” he says. “We would prefer not to move at all.”
For information on other Lean success stories, upcoming introductory Lean sessions, or to contact a Forintek industry advisor, phone 604-224-3221 or visit www.solutionsforwood.ca.