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Successful Implementations in Lean

National Millwork – Custom Crafting their Lean Processes

National Millwork freed up 59 hours – and reduced quoting time by 40%

By Karen Myhaver, Program Support Coordinator, MassMEP

National Millwork provides customized door, window, stair and millwork solutions for the building industry. In 2006, in an effort to market themselves in the "millwork" arena, they moved from their 40,000 sq ft space at National Lumber into a 127,000 sq ft facility on Norfolk Street in Mansfield, Massachusetts which houses a custom shop, offices, the warehouse and shipping. By doing this, they hoped to change the perception that they were simply a department of a big lumber company that carried some millwork. With the new location came a new logo and a separate identity – National Millwork, a Division of National Lumber, specializing in custom millwork. Fifty-five people are employed at the Mansfield facility.

The Brockway Smith Company (BROSCO) believes in Lean.  They are a primary local vendor for National Millwork products and invited Michael Murphy, the company’s Vice President, to their facility to show how Lean implementation has improved their processes and their bottom line.

After being impressed by the results he saw at BROSCO, Michael felt that Lean was definitely something that National Millwork should look in to. He and Maisie Raftery, the company’s Administrative Manager, began working with the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP) soon afterwards. MassMEP Project manager James Gusha provided the company with assistance on a Workforce Training Fund Grant to aid with training costs. Then Project Manager Charles DaRosa facilitated and oversaw the Lean training. Initially groups of National Millwork employees were taught about Basic Lean tools and terminology so that everyone would understand the changes that were being made and why. Next, employee teams learned to use Value Stream Mapping to follow processes and “value streams” throughout the company to identify wastes and help determine what their ideal future state would look like. Finally, Kaizen events were held to remove the wastes that had been identified.

Quoting– the quoting process at National Millwork used to involve ten employees walking back and forth between trays of quotes and their desks and their offices and fax machines and other desks in other offices etc. The process began with one person who went through the tray of quotes to try to prequalify and give some order to the process and then change the orders status. Then the employees would make trips back and forth to the quote tray to pick up orders to process.  The system was supposed to be FIFO (first in first out) but often became a cherry picking scenario. Excess conversation and lots of walking took up a large amount of time. The area was very chaotic! Calculations from a spaghetti diagram that was done of the process during a value stream found that each quote represented 1600 ft. of travel. Conservatively if they were doing about 30 quotes a day or one hundred and fifty quotes per week, this represented forty-five miles of travel per week or 15 hours of people time.

The improvements in Quoting came in two phases. The first phase identified one person to handle controlled distribution of the quotes. That person would use quote metric tables and would zero in on which person would be best qualified to handle a particular quote. He would deliver the quote to that individual. This process eliminated a great deal of wasted travel since just one person was now doing some walking back and forth instead of ten.

Phase two of the Quoting improvement process involved making the process paperless. Now all the employees in the department have their own folders online and work is distributed by the person who assigns quotes by placing them in the appropriate folder. This has shortened the quoting process significantly and increased their capacity. In fact, they have freed up 59 hours – and reduced quoting time by 40%. In going to paperless quotes they have also saved an additional $14,000 annually on printer ink and paper!

“We got control of a situation that had been controlling us!” said Mike Murphy. "We can plan ahead when someone is on vacation or for capacity increases. We can also use the system to track various things for us."

This was a really big investment for our employees – a leap of faith!” says Maisie. “We had many naysayers who saw how well this ultimately worked and ended up saying “Wow”. One employee admitted that he was not at all convinced that the paperless system would work.  Now says he would never want to go back to the old way. The group has been able to increase their speed and continues to standardize to make the procedure even more efficient. Kaizen events are ongoing. Currently they are in the process of trying to convert to a similar paperless system in Purchasing.

From the experience in Quoting the team got the idea to convert one person at a time in Purchasing and do it gradually so they still have the old system as a backup for support while they adjust. They are teaming some employees from Quoting with some in Purchasing to help reassure them. The group from Quoting is happy to help with the conversion because they know how well it can work.

Plywood Stair Treads– The problem in this area was that they were always running out of plywood stair treads. This is a situation where National Millwork is their own internal supplier and people were not watching as carefully as they should have been. Often they would be down to the last stair tread before letting anyone know that they needed more. There was a MINMAX system in place but nobody was watching it. Two areas are involved with this department- and the one which provides the treads was located way at the back of the plant. There was always chaos when they ran out of treads because of course, they always needed them immediately.

During a Kaizen event in the area the team created a Plywood Tread Cell- The cell has three bins of treads – each for a different size. As a bin gets low this is a visual signal for a new bin of material to be brought up to the cell. 

Initially when the department moved to this facility the employees had decided how to lay out the area themselves. They spread things out nicely and made sure that everyone and everything had plenty of room – but they actually had too much room. This resulted in too much unnecessary movement of materials and people in the area. It was difficult to get the employees on the floor to buy in to the cell idea at first. They liked having lots of space and all their own tools and things around them. However, once they saw how much easier their jobs would become due to the cellular layout they were believers.

Lean has made things more transparent to the employees. They feel like a part of the organization and they understand that they are a team. Now the area has flow and people enjoy a friendlier atmosphere. There is sharing between departments. With the new cellular layout travel in this department was reduced dramatically.  As an example, travel distance for a single task for one employee dropped from 1168 ft. to 45 ft.  

Prebuilt Stairs/Gluing Operation-National Millwork used to have a gluing station located in the Prebuilt Stairs area. The Custom operation also had to utilize this station but the location was very inconvenient for them and resulted in a lot of wasted time and travel moving materials to and from the gluing station.

A gluing operation and gluing cell was created and located centrally to both the Prebuilt Stairs shop and the Custom shop. Now there is material flow in and out of gluing as well as flow of material to the CNC machine for cutting .There is a sense of teamwork and communication that the shops never had before. “Everyone is working together and helping out. Lead time here has decreased from 10-12 weeks to 3-4 weeks. Stair volume has doubled this year and with the increase in capacity they could easily add another 50%, which in effect, would triple their original capacity."

“As we continue to fine tune the process it will allow us to think bigger and go after bigger jobs.” added Murphy. “We want the ideas to come from the floor- they (employees) are the experts at what they do.” Team projects like Value Stream Mapping and Kaizens have given National Millwork employees ownership of the ideas and changes. “It is gratifying to see people working together as team,” adds Murphy.  “These folks give a lot of credit to Maisie because she has been the leader in all of this- especially on the (quoting) work upstairs.” 

The improvements have helped get everyone involved.  Now they can see how their actions impact the others who are also part of the process. People are thrilled with the improvements and eager to make more!

Mike Murpy explained that he doesn’t expect any problems sustaining the improvements their company has made since it would be very difficult to go backwards and take apart cells and stop using the paperless system. “The most difficult thing," says Murphy, “was getting the initial buy in- this is where Charlie (Charles DaRosa) really earned his money. Having an outside voice to facilitate and help people come to consensus is something we never could have done on our own. The thing that concerns us now is not so much of how to keep up the changes we have made but how to continue going forward faster!”

“I feel that we have gone through the beginning of our transformation into Lean,” says Raftery. “We have lots more to do like the warehouse and shipping-it has really been a transformation. The mental state of this division (National Millwork) has improved dramatically. The hardest part is to get people to come up with new ideas and ways to improve,” she added. “People are always pretty quick to point out where improvements can be made by others but they always need to be thinking “What can I do “?

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