Phoenix Woodworking lost much of its residential business during the recession of 2009-10 and was hampered by rising costs and debts. After a tour of the manufacturing facility, IMEC suggested Phoenix Woodworking might benefit from implementing lean manufacturing concepts.
IMEC first presented an overview of lean concepts to Phoenix Woodworking’s management team, then in subsequent meetings helped leaders identify problems, improvements and implementation plans. Eventually, IMEC brought all employees together for a lean training session and assigned responsibilities. Once employees realized they were a part of the process, they became enthusiastic and verbal about opportunities for improvement – bringing the entire organization closer together.
- Overtime reduced from 19 weeks in 2013 to zero in 2014 with no drop-off in sales
- Staff reduced by two due to attrition with money reinvested in new equipment, technology and training
- Material costs dropped by about 3% thanks to a major focus on reducing scrap
- Tools put in place to track and analyze payroll, material costs, rework, etc.
Woodworking shop cuts overtime, material costs, scrap, and rework with Lean
As the president of a 15-employee custom woodworking shop, Sandra Pierce wears many hats – manager of of accounts payable, director of HR, even truck driver. But she also knows she’s not an expert at everything, which is why she turned to IMEC for help on her company’s lean journey.
“As manufacturers, we sometimes get a false sense of security that we always know the right way to do the job,” Pierce says. “IMEC showed us other opportunities. They brought us expertise and resources, trained us in methods we never would have known, taught us how to be more efficient and made a real difference in our business.”
Pierce’s first exposure to IMEC came when the organization made a presentation to a McHenry County workforce board. Her interest piqued, she invited IMEC to tour her Woodstock-based company. A manufacturer of architectural millwork, casework and cabinetry, Phoenix Woodworking had lost much of its residential business during the recession of 2009-10 and was hampered by rising costs and debts. IMEC suggested the company might benefit from implementing lean, and Pierce agreed.
The project kicked off with IMEC presenting an overview of lean concepts to the company’s management team. In subsequent meetings, leaders began to bring problems to the forefront, with IMEC suggesting opportunities for improvement and helping develop a plan for implementation. Eventually, Pierce stopped production in the shop and brought all employees together for a lean training session. At first, she says, no one was interested. But IMEC made a point to assign each individual a responsibility and promised to return in a month to check on progress – a strategy that paid off.
“Once our employees realized they were a part of the process and a part of our successes, they became a lot more enthusiastic and verbal about opportunities for improvement in their work areas,” Pierce says. “It really brought our entire organization together.”
It made a huge difference in efficiency as well. Phoenix Woodworking cut overtime from 19 weeks in 2013 to zero in 2014, with no drop-off in sales. Staff was reduced by two due to attrition, and the company was able to reinvest money previously earmarked for salaries and benefits into new equipment, technology and training for current employees. In addition, material costs dropped by about 3% thanks to a major focus on reducing scrap.
Pierce admits she sometimes balked at getting rid of material, but describes IMEC as “relentless” in making her and her team rethink why they were keeping certain items. She also credits IMEC with the suggestion to donate excess materials to the local Habitat for Humanity – “a win-win for everyone.”
In addition to improvements on the shop floor, IMEC also helped Phoenix Woodworking put tools in place to track everything from payroll to material costs to rework. A recent analysis, for example, revealed that a great deal of rework was being caused by incorrect measurements in the field. The company’s since purchased a laser measuring tool to increase accuracy.
“IMEC really pushed us to measure, analyze and compare,” Pierce says. “We have vehicles now to tell us when we’re going off track.”
Having worked in the past with management consultants who merely handed off a report at the end of a project, Pierce appreciates IMEC’s hands-on approach – and the efforts the organization made to help her acquire grant funding to pay for a percentage of the project costs.
“What a difference an outstanding facilitator can make,” she says. “By teaching us how to do the work ourselves, IMEC gave us the ability to produce more and be more profitable with the same number of people. Their expertise and resources are so valuable for small companies like ours.”
“By teaching us how to do the work ourselves, IMEC gave us the ability to produce more and be more profitable with the same number of people. Their expertise and resources are so valuable for small companies like ours.”
– Sandra Pierce, President