IKEA Supplier Gets Lean
Shaw Wood implements big and small improvements to curb production costs and become more globally competitive.
When the first units of ready-to-assemble pine furniture rolled off the packaging line at Shaw Woodâs Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, plant in December 1998, the company became North Americaâs first independent furniture manufacturer dedicated to supplying IKEA.
Ever since, Shaw Wood has striven to improve quality, reduce lead times, cut costs and meet other stringent demands set by one of the worldâs largest furniture retailers.
To achieve these goals, Shaw Wood has embarked on a plant-wide initiative to identify and eliminate as many nonessential activities as possible through the use of lean manufacturing and continuous improvement concepts. General Manager Dean Robertson says the successful long-term culmination of these efforts will result in Shaw Wood becoming a âworld-class furniture manufacturer.â
Faster, Better, Cheaper
To offset the major labor-cost advantages of its Eastern European and Chinese competitors, Robertson says Shaw Wood is trying to leave no stone unturned to reduce product costs and speed throughput without sacrificing product quality. The company is especially bent on capitalizing on its close proximity to IKEAâs 23 North American stores and its distribution centers in Montreal, Trenton, NJ, and Orange County, CA.
âOur goal is to make quantum leaps in all departments by identifying and correcting the most glaring problems and then putting in place a process for making continuous improvements,â Robertson says. âBy eliminating non-valued-added activities in all departments and increasing response times throughout our plant, we can become more reactive to customer orders and reduce our lead times.
âWe are completing phase one of our program and already have substantially lowered our production costs and reduced manufacturing lead times from eight to 12 weeks to four to eight weeks,â Robertson continues. âIn phase two, weâll try to reduce turn-around to a few weeks.â
Looking further down the road, Robertson says Shaw Woodâs penultimate goal is to reduce manufacturing batch sizes and lead times to the point where it can ship products directly to any of IKEAâs North American stores, which will save IKEA warehouse and distribution costs.
Learning to Run Leaner
Robertson says he views the implementation of lean manufacturing and continuous improvement programs as vital steps in Shaw Woodâs evolution. He adds that getting employees to understand how the sometimes-dramatic procedural changes required by the programs will benefit the company and their livelihoods was of paramount importance.
âWe started our lean manufacturing program in the last week of
March by hiring a consultant who has expertise in lean concepts,â Robertson explains. âThe consultant came in and helped us train everyone in the organization with a one-day session on what lean manufacturing is and how it may work at Shaw Wood.â (The company later hired an in-house lean manufacturer to pick up where the consultant left off.)
The next step, Robertson says, was choosing a department and creating a âlean teamâ to initiate a pilot program.
âWe picked the packaging department because we thought it would be the easiest to implement. Then we selected a team made up of nine employees pulled from various departments, making sure that we had some people who we thought were against lean as well as some of our better team players. We thought if we could convince them (the naysayers) that this was a legitimate project that they would become our salespeople for selling changes throughout the other departments.â
Robertson says the lean team worked with the consultant to audit the packaging departmentâs processes and procedures. The team scrutinized every detail in developing a laundry list of non-value-added activities. Then the team broke up into three groups to develop ideas for improving the packaging departmentâs operations before coming together once more to develop a prioritized list of improvements.
âI was extremely impressed with what they came up with,â Robertson says. âWe had an industrial engineer working on the packaging department for almost eight months prior to that. His solutions ranged anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000 for purchasing automated material handling equipment. I thought the team came up with much better solutions at the end of the day and we may have spent $20,000 to $40,000 total to implement them.â
Workcells Are a âQuantum Leapâ
Another of the quantum leaps that the lean manufacturing team helped propagate was the implementation of production workcells, Robertson says.
âWe were constantly moving around pallets of parts from one machine to another. Now with the workcells we have more of a continuous flow. Weâre controlling the amount of material that is being processed at a given time better and have a lot less inventory,â Robertson says. âWeâre doing a better job of making sure that the right parts show up at the right time.â
To illustrate his point, Robertson explains how legs were made before and after the production workcell concept was implemented.
âBefore, one of our legs would probably have gone through three or four different machining steps. The legs were profiled on the Weinig moulder then put on pallets and transported to the Friulmac double-end machine. They would be carted to another station to have a cleat added to it and then taken to another station to add a little notch to the top,â Robertson says.
Because the parts were often left to languish on pallets between each operation, a leg may have taken five days to complete, and that might not even include the time for repairs and finishing.
âNow that these machining operations are grouped together as a workcell, a leg can go through the entire process and be ready for lacquer in as little as half an hour after exiting the moulder,â Robertson says.
As a side benefit of this streamlining, he says employees can more quickly identify and resolve any machining problems. âIf we have a problem creating a high rate of repair, weâre going to know it right away during the process and not two or three days later,â he says.
While the manufacturing workcell for making legs did not require any capital investments, Robertson says Shaw Wood is looking to upgrade some of its processes. It recently installed a Busellato feed-through drill for machining panels, while awaiting delivery of a Cantek moulder.
âThe Cantek moulder will be dedicated to producing rails,â Robertson says. âRight now the Weinig moulder is used for rails and legs, so itâs not a true workcell yet. By having two moulders weâll be able to dedicate one to each cell so part production will flow in line.â
âThe workcells are a quantum leap because they have reduced manual material handling dramatically,â Robertson says. âThey have made the scheduling of the machining department go from being complex to something that is simple.â
Fine Tuning Is Ongoing
Once one of the workcells is implemented and initial improvements are made, Robertson says the next step is to continuously improve its operation and flow. Some of the improvements that Shaw Wood has implemented are little, such as reorganizing stations to neatly house basic hand tools, brooms, etc., and posting daily production quotas and the progress toward meeting them where all employees can see.
A more substantial component of the continuous improvement program has been the use of SMED â Single Minute Exchange of Dye â to reduce the time required to changeover tooling.
âSMED involves videotaping changeovers and documenting every step,â Robertson says. âWe look for changeover steps that can be done while the machine is still running.
âTypically what happens for a new setup is the operator shuts down the machine and then goes to get his tools or a rag or to find instructions for what to do next. All of these steps could have been done in advance before the machine was turned off.â
By employing SMED, Robertson says changing over the Friulmac double-end machine has been reduced from one hour to 35 minutes, âbecause we found that 40 percent of those activities could be done while the machine was running.â
The use of workcells and reduction of set-up times has given Shaw Wood the ability to reduce batch sizes, Robertson says. âIn the past, production wanted big batch sizes of say 3,000 chest of drawers. Now weâre pretty much down to one or two days of packing so a batch of 1,000 makes sense.â
Next in Line
During Wood & Wood Products visit, Robertson and his lean team were contemplating major changes related to the manufacture of edge-glued panels that will improve flow, eliminate material handling steps and streamline grading procedures.
An important goal of this project is to reduce the amount of finger-jointed wood that is used in panels, which currently makes up about 5 percent of Shaw Woodâs products. âSometimes itâs just a matter of putting a ripped board with a knot in its side in the middle of a panel where it canât be seen. By putting the panel maker in charge of making these decisions we can avoid a lot of unnecessary grading, reduce our reject rate and finger jointing and put out more higher-valued products.â
Eight months after embarking on lean manufacturing there is no going back, Robertson says. âLean is here to stay and I think our people are beginning to understand that. They have seen a lot of dramatic changes but I think they appreciate that they can contribute and that their suggestions will be listened to.â
After the workcells are all in place, Robertson says the company will look at creating a second shift so that it can nearly double the plantâs production capacity.
âWhile we are in the process of eliminating a lot of material handling-type jobs, I donât think weâre going to eliminate many people. The second shift will provide advancement opportunities for some very smart and capable people. I think these changes are going to be mostly positive for our employees.â
IKEA Imposes Tough Standards on Suppliers
If Shaw Wood has learned anything during its five-year relationship with IKEA, itâs that the global retailer has little tolerance for suppliers that do not push themselves to live up to its exacting standards.
âPrice of course is important,â says Robert Shaw, president of the Shaw Group, âbut quality is one area where IKEA is relatively unforgiving. It also has environmental, working condition and quality system policies that must be met. IKEAâs quality people are in our factory constantly, as they are everywhere (its furniture is made).â
âIKEA is a good customer but tough and very demanding on quality,â echoes Dean Robertson, general manager of Shaw Wood. âYou donât even get in the door if you donât measure up to their quality.â
Robertson says IKEA auditors have graded Shaw Wood at level three of its four-level quality program. To reach level four requires having ISO 9002 certification, a goal Shaw Wood is actively pursuing.
Robertson adds that Shaw Wood is also in compliance with IKEAâs forestry practices program. âWe have a long paper trail between all of our lumber mills and harvesters to show IKEA that our lumber did not come from any old-growth forests or national parks, and that it was harvested in the right way,â Robertsons says.
IKEA has also established rules for environmental and working conditions. âThey inspect all of their supplier plants around the world in these areas and apply the toughest laws set by any one nation as their standard,â Robertson says. âThey do this to level the playing field among competing suppliers.
âItâs a bit of a pain to meet all of these things but it sets us up to be more competitive and a better supplier down the road.â
â Rich Christianson
Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.