La-Z-Boy’s Dayton, Tenn., manufacturing plant has a commitment to lean and continuous improvement. The operation was named one of the “10 Best Plants in North America for 2012” by IndustryWeek magazine.
“We demonstrated a successful and strong continuous improvement path, along the areas of quality, customer service, productivity, safety and sustainability,” Darrell Edwards, La-Z-Boy’s senior vice president of operations, told CabinetMaker+FDM. “Typically those are the categories Industry Week looks at when (ranking) facilities for best in class and manufacturing. We’ve had a consistent trend of improvement over the last few years along those metrics and categories.
“When you’re in manufacturing, there are metrics that vary from industry to industry but there are also some recognized metrics many of us look at: safety, improving scrap reduction, materials costs, maintenance costs, production lead time and productivity.”

Integrated manufacturing
The Dayton plant has about 1,500 employees that make a wide product assortment, including recliners, stationary chairs, ottomans, sofas, love seats, motion sofas and love seats, and power sofas, love seats and chairs.
Manufacturing in this large operation is fairly integrated. Frames are made from solid lumber and plywood. Coils of steel are stamped and fabricated to make the La-Z-Boy mechanisms, which they consider to be one of their core competencies. (A separate cutting and sewing facility provides fabric pieces to Dayton.)
A manufacturing cell may be dedicated to a product family, not a single product. One cell can make certain chairs, another makes reclining sofas. What the cells make is also flexible.
“Materials typically flow in sub-parts to the sub-assembly process, and are ultimately batched and moved to the cellular process,” Edwards said. “We have a cellular process (that is) a mini-factory within a factory.
“The cells are configured to manufacture specific product categories. We assemble the products (in the cell) and they’re transported by a tug or a train that runs a bus route around the plant picking up finished goods. As the units are being built an electronic data signal indicates that the unit is ready to be picked up and then transported to the warehouse to await shipment to the customer.”
Edwards said that going to cellular manufacturing has enabled La-Z-Boy to be more flexible in responding to changing consumer demands. In the past, a traditional production line made long runs of a particular style or fabric.
“Generally, when you have long production lines you have pockets of inventory throughout the factory,” he said. “The cellular process is very lean model. You build on consumer demand and you have quick changeover. It’s much more agile.
“We’ve employed a lot of lean tools, improved our material flows through value stream mapping, improved equipment performance through OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) metrics, improved conservation, and employed lean principals to improve our safety program.”
In Dayton, La-Z-Boy has a centralized scheduling system. They know their specific requirements for each cell every day, and that is measured in a database and with various pulse checks throughout the day.
“Every time a unit’s built we get an update,” Edwards said. “That gives us a signal to replenish certain parts of the cell more rapidly than others depending how the business is running.”

Employment involvement
Edwards credits Dayton’s employees with the improvements. “Our employees are very engaged and understand the significance of the parts and what they build,” he said. “They’re constantly challenging the status quo. They can reconfigure a pattern or a die to get more product through.”
“We believe we have the best employees in the business, and we consider them to be business partners. They do a terrific job. They’re highly engaged and take pride in making a quality product and improving productivity. They offer us a lot of suggestions.
“We believe it is building that culture where our employees are partners in the business and we’re all aligned toward a common goal of building the highest quality La-Z-Boy product we can possibly build and something we’re all very proud of.”
“We want to continue to challenge ourselves by benchmarking best-in-class companies. We’d like to transcend the furniture industry and go into best-in-class companies and might benchmark another company in customer service, or inventory turns, or scrap reduction. We aspire to build action plans to join those companies. We want to be in that elite top manufacturing group and we believe we’re on a path to do that.”

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