Vanguard Furniture is growing and improving itsmanufacturing efficiency by employing lean manufacturing methods and newproduction software. The company makes sofas, loveseats, sectionals, chairs,beds, recliners and tables in operations in North Carolina and Virginia.Vanguard is a family-owned, fashion-driven company that provides custom-craftedhome furnishings to its customers.


The company’s overall goals were to shift to just-in-timeproduction and to improve their broader manufacturing performance. In order toimprove performance, it needed to automate a multi-format and multi-processcut-planning workflow, where each decision was made separately, and to convertit into a single automated process, eliminating manual errors.


Vanguard used to manually create nests and cut by staticnests. Prior to implementation of Plataine’s TPO Wood Optimizer, Scheduler& Shopfloor, the cutting process was sequential.

The static nest library contained files of nests that hadbeen pre-nested by the CAD department before an actual production order forthese parts. Once an order was received and scheduled for production, themachine operator had to choose and retrieve the static nests, forward them tothe cutting room, choose a cutting machine and then individually cut them.


Managing design and engineering changes also presented achallenge when dealing with static nests. In parts where changes had been made,the static nests were cut first followed by another nest containing the updatedparts. This resulted in increased material consumption and labor. Such a manualprocess lacked prioritization and could be wasteful, resulting in overcuts andexcess WIP, and denied Vanguard's ability to produce JIT.


Lean journey

Kevin Holshouser, vicepresident of operations at Vanguard, said the company’s lean journeygoes back a number of years.  “We arevery interested in employee involvement,” he said. “We have a full-time leancoordinator on our staff, and she has an assistant.


“We actively engage our employees in what we call Lean 101,which is a one-day orientation in what lean is about. We’ll also give them aproject in the plant to encourage team building.


Holshouser said that he is especially interested in gettingdifferent views of their operation, such as when a new plant manager is hired.“I want to know what a fresh sets of eyes sees, and I want them to askquestions. ‘Why do you do that this way?’ That’s one side of what we’re doingwith lean.


“We’re also implementing what we call the lean brown paperexercise, which encourages employees to brainstorm and give ideas. We‘re interestedin projects that employees can actually do themselves, and be part of the solutionto fix a problem.”


“We know we always have opportunity for improvement, so we’reconstantly looking for new ideas. As a company, we feel we’re the most complexin the industry with 50,000 SKUs and 2,000 fabrics. We have a lot of variety inour product line. With that there are opportunities for folks to give us ideashow to be better and how to be more efficient.”


Lean first came into play as Vanguard Furniture tried to moveaway from the traditional departments in some areas.

“We were spread out over several facilities,” Holshouser said.“We could become better if we combined operations, and tried to get things astight as possible. We wanted to keep our work in process at a minimum, so wewant work to flow through our facility in the shortest amount of time possible,and not have work waiting days or even hours. We want one employee to pass iton to the next employee and then to our packaging facility and off to shippingas quick as possible.


“As we’ve looked at that we’ve continually worked to combineplants together. Working closely together, so they can resolve problems asquickly as possible.


New Virginia location

Vanguard Furniture has grown rapidly over the past five years.The company purchased a 120,000 square foot building in Hillsville, Virginia,last year, and now has 60 people working there. They are planning to have morethan 200 people employed over next 18 months. The new building features an openfloor plan, all on one floor, which allows them to be more efficient and havethe product travel less.


They have five buildings in Conover, North Carolina, and allhave two floors. There are two frame operations in Conover. Vanguard’sCraftwork frame building has two Shoda CNC routers, and the regular Vanguardframe shop has one Shoda CNC router. In the Vanguard main operation they have afull machine room. The sheet is optimized and cut on the router. Other stepsare involved if the frame has what is called a hybrid frame with hardwoodpieces that are combined with the plywood.


Vanguard is looking at saving material, being as efficient asthey can when cutting a plywood frame for a sofa.

“In the past, we used to throw half a sheet of plywood away foreach half sheet cut,” Holshouser said. “Now, if we need eight pieces that needto be cut, we can cut all of those together, and get the best yield from theplywood.”

Overall, Vanguard’s primary goal was to shift to JITmanufacturing. After implementing Plataine’s TPO Wood Optimizer, Scheduler& Shopfloor applications, Vanguard was also able to increase materialutilization resulting in 12 percent material savings.


Machine throughput also improved as a result of TPOautomating routine manual tasks by automatically generating a streamlined workprocess that considers production process as a whole. Production Scheduler,integrated with WoodOptimizer, provides end-to-end automatic schedulingoptimization for the frame production process.


The software is coupled with dedicated shop-floor terminals,providing manufacturing information to station operators and collectingprogress reports in real time to allow for continuous monitoring and updates tothe schedule. Work orders created in WoodOptimizer are integrated into the TPOScheduler, allowing users to schedule the orders to different machines, givenan estimated cutting duration for each work order.


The move from a sequential step-by-step process to TPO’sapproach takes into account and analyzes all the production factors at once. Iteliminates multiple manual processes and leads to both raw material savings andlabor savings while increasing the router's efficiency and throughput.


“TPO helped us change the way we were operating, from designthrough the nesting and cutting stages, up to the finished product,” Holshousersaid. “We no longer use static nests but nest according to the actual inventoryand thus avoid overcuts. The half sheets of plywood that we used to scrap arenow being utilized, resulting in 12 percent material savings.


“With routine manual tasks now automated, we have freed up aCAD person that previously nested plywood to assist with new frame productdesign. TPO’s dynamic and automated workflows helped us shift to JITmanufacturing, which helped increase machine throughput.


“Today's process is streamlined; work orders come fromWoodOptimizer and are optimally scheduled by Production Scheduler withreal-time view of the production floor"


“We’re looking at our savings of plywood and how we have done itin the past,” Holshouser told FDMC. “We’re averaging about 12 percent savingsof plywood in a year’s time, versus the past when we were manually nestingthese products. With Plataine we are having that savings.”

“We are continuously looking for new ideas, and are alwaystrying to get better. We want to do things right every time.”

Holshouser says the company has 560 employees in its sixlocations. Holshouser also said that a major plus for the company was havingowners on site and available every day. That permits the ability to makedecisions quickly without having to get approval from a distant city. The operationscommittee can meet at lunch and make decisions.

“We continue to grow,” he said. “We’re proud of where we’ve beenand where we’re going. Our owner, John Bray, says, ‘If you don’t like change,you won’t like Vanguard.’”


Plataine  Production software


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