Hodges Millwork's journey to lean manufacturing
November 18, 2014 | 9:00 am CST
As you may know from my last article, another cabinet manufacturer is beginning the lean journey. Hodges Millwork of Royse City, Texas, is the quintessence of custom cabinet manufacturing. I’m certain that the owners and managers of a majority of custom cabinet shops around the United States will be able to relate to the current state at Hodges and, hopefully, will learn how to make their own transformations through the examples I will be sharing over the next few articles.
There are eight seasoned cabinet makers at Hodges with an average of 15 years of experience. The shop manager, Jesse, has 30 years of experience augmented by the opportunity to have worked in various other shops, which has broadened his view of alternative manufacturing processes. All of the employees are open to change, and the owners, Chris and Joan Bond, are committed to supporting the lean transformation.


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Immediate improvement

After just one week of introduction to lean thinking there has already been a marked improvement in productivity, teamwork, and throughput. Units are being handled fewer times, there is more awareness of internal customer/supplier relationships, and production is more synchronized so parts come together at assembly more in the order that they are needed rather than randomly. That last point is important because the better synchronized production is, the less work-in-progress accumulates, which eliminates extra handling and increases throughput.
Jesse said that one of the jobs they did while I was there typically would have taken 112 man-hours to produce, but by applying some lean thinking to the process the job was produced in 84 man-hours. That is a huge accomplishment. That means the team had 28 man-hours to devote to the next job, and so on, and so on. 
Continually improving the processes will perpetuate the rewards of increased productivity and throughput, and subsequently result in an improved bottom line. They have only scratched the surface at Hodges, but the results have been encouraging and reinforcing. As we wrap up the first two weeks of training and implementation, the team is launching into Workplace Organization with an objective of not only cleaning up the workplace, but of better connecting the internal customer/supply chain, reducing manufacturing space, and creating flow. I am looking forward to returning to Hodges in a couple of weeks for another week of coaching and watching the metamorphosis take place.

Competitive market

Dustin Hunter, of Hunter Trim and Cabinets (HTC) in Fort Worth, told me that there are over 1000 cabinet shops in the Dallas/Ft Worth metro area. That seems a bit over-the-top, but since DFW metro is one of the top growth areas in the United States with a population approaching 7,000,000 and a 2012 GDP of $420 billion, I guess there is a market there to support that many shops. 
I don’t know how many of those shops are transforming to the lean business model, but I know HTC and Hodges are embracing it and that will undoubtedly have a negative impact on their competitor’s ability to remain viable. As both of those shops grow in capacity and revenue, non-lean shops may fall by the wayside. HTC has already doubled their business with virtually the same staff and Hodges will likely do the same thing. It’s hard for me to understand why more managers and owners aren’t embracing lean. It’s simple, easy, and non-threatening; and lean delivers results that business owners might not even dare to dream of. Lean makes the seeming impossible, possible.

Following up

If you attended Wood Pro Expo in Baltimore in October you had the opportunity to meet Dustin, Brad Cairns of Signature Wood Systems, and Scott Pfaff of Busby Cabinets. Each of them shared some of the results they have experienced since beginning their respective lean journeys. Brad, who initially contacted me to help him develop a new facility plan because he felt he needed more space, has since reduced his manufacturing space by half and increased throughput four times. Now he is starting a new business in the space that has been freed up through the lean initiative. That undertaking wasn’t even on his radar three years ago, but now it is reality.
I recently received an email from the factory manager at Busby that reinforced the testimony that Scott shared at the conference. Daryl, the factory manager, said that they are creating 30 percent more revenue with the same staff, a feat that he didn’t think was possible earlier in 2014. His comment to me was, “The numbers are getting better and we still see much to improve upon. It is amazing when you take some time to observe the process just how much time is wasted and how much we can improve on.”
Every business owner and manager who successfully makes the transformation to lean discovers the same thing that Daryl has – the more you apply lean thinking to every aspect of the business, the more opportunities you discover. 

More productivity, less overtime

Although the improvements in manufacturing productivity at Busby are impressive, the productivity improvement in the Engineering Value Stream has been even more so. As I mentioned in previous articles, a small team of engineers evaluated and documented the current process, brainstormed alternatives, and then developed and implemented a new process that has improved the team’s productivity by 50 percent. 
The improvements in productivity at Busby haven’t required anyone to work harder or work more hours. In fact people are enjoying their work more because they are active participants in the change process, and overtime has become a rare occurrence rather than the norm, which had been the case before lean.
Don’t you think it is about time for you to make the decision to pursue lean before you find yourself looking at an empty building that was once your pride and joy? Your company could be the next HTC, or Signature Wood Systems, or Busby, or Hodges. The transformation is simple, painless, and rewarding. All it takes is a commitment on your part to make your company all that you dream it can be.

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About the author
Jim Lewis

Jim Lewis has worked in the furniture industry for 40 years with a special emphasis on facilitating the transformation process for businesses embracing the Lean Business Model.  Jim’s company, The Center for Lean Learning, is headquartered in Grand Rapids, MI, with an office in St. Thomas, ON, Canada.  He is a consultant, author, and writer.  Jim’s books include, “The Journey to Excellence – Successfully Applying Lean Thinking in Your Business,” “A Testament to Lean Thinking – Cases for Change,” and a series of ebooklets under the main title “Applying Lean Thinking.”  The books are in ebook format and are available through all major ebook retailers and through smashwords.com.