How companies implement lean manufacturing
July 1, 2016 | 9:00 am CDT
The answer to the title of this article centers around how committed you are to leading the transformation process at your company. If you are currently enjoying the blessings of your lean journey, you are likely to say that the answer is, "We don't know how lean we can be because we keep finding ways to improve." I know one company that believes that to be true for them. They have been on the lean journey for 10 years and still feel like the improvements haven't been sufficient enough to boast about. That company is Hallagan Manufacturing in Newark, NY.

Family business

Hallagan is a fourth-generation, family-owned business that has been providing high-end, quality upholstered product to discerning customers for 117 years. Not only are they multi-generational, but many of their customers are as well. When you become the owner of a Hallagan piece, you will own no other. That is not meant to be a commercial for their product. The intention is to dispel the notion that some business owners have that their product and processes are so unique and custom that lean can't possibly be applied there. Steve and Walt Hallagan, the current generation of leadership, had a similar feeling 10 years ago.
I have wanted to write about the transformation at Hallagan for several years, but Steve didn't feel comfortable having the spotlight shining on his company when there was still so much more to do in applying lean thinking. However, they must be getting comfortable with some level of notoriety because there are several videos of their products and processes on YouTube. One in particular is a time-lapse of their traditional and cellular manufacturing processes. It is a fun video to watch because they set it to the music of the William Tell Overture.


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Challenging environment

Hallagan has been in the same location for more than 100 years. The factory is multi-story with nooks and additions everywhere. Creating flow in that environment is challenging, but they did it. On my first visit to their factory I told Steve and Walt that they could do everything they were currently doing in half the space. Of course, they thought I was crazy. Well, they have since found out that I was right.
They now have a beautiful showroom in what used to be the cutting and sewing departments. Traditional upholstery is on one floor while the majority of their product flows through a one-piece-flow cell that is supported by automated cutting, centralized sewing inside the U-shaped cell, spring-up and 8-way hand-tie lead the process, cushion stuffing is also incorporated, as is all of the upholstery steps. The cell has transformed the manufacturing cycle time from days to hours.
Steve and Walt have learned that lean is a business philosophy that continually challenges leaders and staff to improve processes across the entire enterprise. They haven't arrived where they know they can be and they probably never will get there. That is a good thing. Meanwhile, they and their staff endeavor to be all they can be and are driven by a passion to see Hallagan passed along to future generations. Unfortunately, I don't have any before pictures to share with you, but here are some pictures of the cell process that handles most of their upholstery work.

Lean survives

Another long time lean practitioner is Pacific Manufacturing in Phoenix, Arizona. Pacific has been on the journey for 11 years, and they continue to reap the benefits of lean thinking. Pacific manufacturers high-end upholstered product, which is a challenging market due to the lackluster economy. Both Steve Hallagan and Mark Erwin, CEO of Pacific, have stated that they would not have survived the economic downturn if they had continued with the business practices in place prior to embarking on lean. Lean created flexibility that allowed them both to adapt, improvise, and overcome.
A couple of before and after pictures show the discipline that remains in place at Pacific long after the pressure of the poor economy subsided for them. The pictures show furniture frame work-in-process. The before picture shows 70 frames stored in such a manner that no one could get to the frames in the middle so no one tried. The resulting inventory not only exceeded current demand, but there were frames in the mix that had been made multiple times because the original ones couldn't be found in the mass of confusion and chaos.
The after picture shows an inventory of five frames which has been the ongoing WIP level for the past 10 years.  Even as demand increases, the five frame buffer is sufficient to ensure continuous, uninterrupted flow. Like Steve, Mark Erwin sees no end in sight for Pacific's growth and profitability, which is a direct result of their focus on Lean.

Cart design

I have written several articles on the Lean journey at Hunter Trim and Cabinet. The people at HTC continue to impress and amaze me with their quest to discover how lean they can be. Dustin Hunter, the CEO, shared some pictures recently of a cart design the shop people developed for implementing a true one-piece-flow process for cabinet fabrication and assembly.
Every part required at assembly is delivered to that final process step on one cart. The assembly person doesn't have to leave the station for anything, and they like it that way. All of the waste of transportation, waste of motion, waste of waiting, and waste of overproduction have been eliminated through this innovative cart design. The new design came about because of the passion HTC staff has for becoming the best they can, and lean thinking is taking them toward that objective. Achieving true one-piece-flow in a custom cabinet shop is a rare feat, but it isn't the end of the journey at HTC. They will never become as Lean as they can be.
As you may have gathered by the snapshot of the transformation process at Hallagan, Pacific, and HTC, the only limitation on how Lean your business can become is your passion for tapping into the collective innovative and creative genius of your staff.  When you master that capability all barriers to success will be broken.
I am very pleased to share with you another lean journey that is getting underway. SCM has partnered with The Center for Lean Learning to become a lean resource to all of the customers they serve. The president of SCM North America recognizes that technology and automation are not the only solutions for productivity gains for their customers. He has the desire and passion to offer customers the ultimate solution in a combination of equipment that has been enhanced through lean thinking. I want to invite all my readers to join us at IWF 2016 at the FDMC booth and at the SCM booth as well. Brad Cairns and I will be offering mini-lean presentations right on the shop floor at the SCM booth complex. Come and witness innovation and creativity at their best. In the meantime, make sure you subscribe to the YouTube site for The Center for Lean Learning to keep abreast of how lean is transforming businesses just like yours and then give us a call to see how lean you can become.

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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