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Successful Implementations in Lean

W S Packaging Learns to See the Cow!

You are shown a blurred black and white image with the following headline above it, “Can You See the Cow?” You struggle for a while looking for t familiar shape of a cow’s torso or the random black and white “cow print” that would lead you to the prize. It should be easy, but no…you admit, “I can’t see the cow”. However, once someone points out the shape of the muzzle and the wide forehead, the two eyes and an ear you can easily recognize the bovine’s face staring at you. From then on whenever you look at that image, you see the cow!  

Similarly, we are often unable to see the waste in our processes. Through Lean training we learn what wastes are and how to identify them. Just like the cow, once you find the wastes, you will always be able to see them and then work to drive them out.

Company Background
W S Packaging employs one hundred and fifty people at their facility in Wilton, New Hampshire. They are part of the W S Packaging Group which was formed in 2000 and includes sixteen manufacturing facilities in the United States and Mexico. The Wilton location has been producing high quality printed and packaging products, labels and supplies for over four decades. The Group’s mergers with other printing and packaging companies have provided them extensive and diverse product offerings and a ranking as of one of the top privately-owned label and tag manufacturers in North America.

Nobody Sees the Cow
In Wilton, W S Packaging is still viewed as a small company and enjoys a lot of small town history and local culture. As they became accustomed to being part of a larger organization, they could certainly see the merit in the corporate continuous improvement goals. Ray Fangmeyer, W S Packaging’s Wilton General Manager and Bruce Blay, Regional Lean Manager for the East Region, had been learning about and talking about Lean and knew that they needed to bring Lean methodology into the New Hampshire plant.  They had done some Lean events over the past year which included a little awareness training as part of the first day of the event, but Ray and Bruce just weren’t getting the traction they expected and needed from the efforts.  Something was lacking.  They knew Lean would make the company more efficient and because they had profit sharing, the employees were interested in participating and making the company more profitable.  Maybe they needed some assistance from outside, a local resource to help jump start their initiative?

In spring of 2007, Bruce attended a public Lean training event put on by the New Hampshire Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NH MEP). This day-long training event combines classroom learning with hands-on simulation and role playing. The simulation and facilitator skills really help participants learn about and apply Lean tools and concepts. Bruce felt that the TimeWise LE102 Principles of Lean Manufacturing for Job Shops materials that NH MEP used at the event were just the thing they needed to get results from their Lean program.  Corporate gave approval for the site to train all their employees.  Bruce contacted NH MEP Project Manager Jane T. Ely to get things underway.

Help Seeing the Cow
To kick off each LE102 workshop, either Bruce or Ray would show the “Can You See the Cow?” picture to emphasize the importance of learning to recognize Lean opportunities.  Jeff Nyman, Executive VP Strategic Development & Lean from Corporate Headquarters in Wisconsin, participated in one of the workshops that Jane facilitated. Before reaching the half way point in the training, he had decided that this was the tool they should use to roll out Lean in all seventeen W S Packaging facilities. This corporate-wide initiative began with a train the trainer session where the Lean Leaders from the various W S Packaging locations came to Wilton to learn to facilitate the program at their own facilities.

The Lean awareness training was the key factor in improving the knowledge among employees. Once they understood the benefits and desired outcomes of the Lean work, their participation stepped up a notch.  The employees also learned and embraced the use of Value Stream Mapping (VSM) and Kaizens.  VSM is a tool where a process is followed and “mapped” from start to finish illustrating the way it exists now.  With new awareness of Lean, participants could see the waste in how something was currently being done and could visualize the way it should ideally be done in the future.  Then during the Kaizens, you “take the process apart and put it back together in a better way”. The Kaizen implements the necessary changes to achieve the ideal future state. According to Mr. Blay, the company carries out a major Kaizen and a few mini Kaizens every month. These events have become valuable preventative action and problem solving tools as well as the company’s Lean activity of choice.  Educating their employees has been instrumental in the positive results the company now sees from their Kaizen efforts.

Successful Sightings
The Wilton plant makes its home in an 1890’s textile mill. It has steep stairs and narrow hallways. The heavy presses are located on the lower floor because of their weight. As with many older businesses that deal with large machinery, when new equipment was purchased, often it was put where it fit and not necessarily where it made the most sense. As a result, the Finishing Department was located down a narrow hallway in another part of the building away from the presses.  After materials were printed, they had to be put on pallets to be carried by fork truck or pump jack down the hallway to be folded and stapled in the Finishing Department. Pallets of work in process (WIP) materials waiting for one process or another surrounded the presses and congested the walkway and the Finishing Department as well.

The team had a vision to combine the Press and Finishing Departments into several individual cells and ultimately strive for one piece flow. A Plant Layout Kaizen was done to plan and organize the reconfiguration of the entire area as well as to include some new machinery. Twenty- five of the twenty-eight presses were moved along with all the associated finishing equipment in order to achieve a dramatically different and more efficient lay out.  Later, the teams did some mini Kaizens to address point of use storage as well as raw materials and packing supplies. “This was a tremendous amount of work,” says Blay, “but, our employees really understood the need for the change because of the (Lean) training they received. None of the large equipment has had to be moved again so it was certainly successful.”

“All employees on both shifts as well as in the office were trained in basic Lean,” says Jane T. Ely. ”Sharing that awareness with all employees enabled W S Packaging to take on monumental projects like the plant layout because they had the employee support and understanding. The employees had always trusted what their leadership was doing but were following blindly, without real understanding, so their projects had never taken on a life of their own. Now 100% of the workforce is energized and has the knowledge to work toward the shared vision.”

The most noticeable result from the work done at W S Packaging was seen in work-in-process dollars. The monthly WIP average used to be $600,000-$700,000. Over the past two years they have maintained a reduction of between $90,000 and $120,000 per month. This is a reduction of approximately 85% of WIP dollars per month. They have also seen significant improvements in their quality dollars metric which is the amount of returns and allowances as a percent of sales. This used to be approximately 1.2% and has currently decreased to 0.66%.

“Although we had already started our Lean journey, Jane really allowed us to take our work to the next level. It had a direct effect on improving employee morale and helped with the culture change. We made more progress in just a few months after training with her than we had during the entire year before.”  Bruce Blay

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