We like to say things work like a well-oiled machine, but one Huntsville company is taking that adage to a much higher level. Wilson Lumber recently hired a lean manufacturing expert to come in and assess their millwork facility for efficiency.
Now, they’re making big changes that affect the company, the employees, morale and the bottom line.
John Marshall, Chief Operating Officer for Wilson Lumber, brought in an expert in lean manufacturing, techniques used to optimize efficiency, to help Wilson Lumber make the most of what they have. It took about six months to complete the lean manufacturing initiative on the millwork facility, and now they’re looking into ways the techniques can help other parts of the company.
“(In) lean manufacturing, you’re trying to be as efficient as possible, make workflow better, cleaner environment, more organized environment, helping employees take fewer steps….You’re just trying to become as efficient as you possibly can to improve your productivity,” John said.
The overhaul paid off. The door-making facility— they get blank doors from manufacturers and retrofit them to be ready to go into homes—is close to 40 percent more efficient after they moved machines around and went through a deep-cleaning process.
Here’s how it works: They put like machines together, so the machine that trims the door frame is next to the machine that assembles the door frames. It sounds like common sense, but when you’re talking about machines that cost millions, weigh tons and are constantly developing as technology advances, it can get complicated.
“One of our biggest issues, because of growth, has been space,” John said. “So this has given us more space within the same footprint and created a better environment for the employees.”
Lean manufacturing techniques also help consumers. Since these companies are able to produce more with the same number of employees, it means cost increases on items like Wilson Lumber doors will be minimal or remain unchanged.
The reorganization paid off in more than productivity. At Wilson Lumber, employee compensation is partially based on efficiency and organization.
“The bottom line to employees is that they’re in a cleaner environment, they’re in a more organized environment, and they’re making more money,” John said.
In a world that is slowly being dominated by FitBits, activity trackers and the need to get those 10,000 steps in each day, it seems counterproductive to reduce the number of steps employees take each day. That’s not the case with millworkers, though. Their job is so physically demanding, they actually need to reduce the amount of labor they do each day.
Lean manufacturing also works with employees to help them get a little relief. Instead of taking 20 steps to get from machine A to machine B, the overhaul made it possible for them to only take 10 steps, John said.
“Health-wise, it’s a cleaner environment,” John said. “There’s less dust in the air, less hazards for them to trip over. From a steps standpoint, it’s just not as hard on them.”
If everything is getting more and more efficient, then it stands to reason the scrap materials ending up in the landfills would decrease. After all, that’s just wasted money for the company, right?
“We’ve found other ways…used pallets, used materials, we’re being more efficient in getting rid of those,” John said. “We’re trying to send as little to the dumpster as we can. Reuse product as much as we can. Obviously, if you’re cleaner and more organized, then you’ll do a better job of that.”
John estimates they have reduced waste by 10 to 15 percent since they started practicing lean manufacturing techniques.