Cabinetmaker Goes from Batch Flow to Lean Operation

With help from research group Forintek, Regina, Saskatchewan-based Cabtec Mfg. has made the successful transition to lean manufacturing.

Cabtec manufactures custom frameless cabinetry for residential and commercial applications.

The basic mindset of most companies is that if something works, you should stick with it.

Or should you?

Although successful, Regina, Saskatchewan-based Cabtec Mfg. was looking for a more efficient method of manufacturing frameless-style kitchen and bath cabinetry for the residential and commercial markets. While the batch method of production was effective, it did not allow the 10-year-old company to reach its full production potential.

Cabtec derives its name from a combination of the words "cabinet" and "technology." According to co-owner Ken Kowalchuk, technology - specifically, efficient operation - is important if the company is to compete in a market where competitors are often much larger and, as a result, have built-in competitive advantages. He adds that while employees become accustomed to hearing management speak about reducing costs and raising production, having someone else deliver that message often results in faster acceptance. That is why, when the company decided to switch to a lean production method, it consulted with an outside source for help with the transition, which included training the company's 50 employees.

"It's definitely important to have a lean champion," says Kowalchuk. "Someone with the drive and motivation to communicate the concepts to employees, establish projects, and work toward a deadline to see that implementation is successful, according to management's business objectives."

When Kowalchuk decided to move to a lean production method at the 19,000-square-foot facility, one of the first things he did was to hire a production manager with lean manufacturing experience. According to Kowalchuk, the new production manager imbued the shop employees with the concept of "continuous improvement," representing many of the same concepts reflected in the lean manufacturing approach.


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