Merillat's Quest for Optimal Manufacturing

Merillat Industries combines Six Sigma, lean manufacturing and Kaizen events in its quest to achieve optimum quality and efficiency in its production and business processes.

Executives at The Masco Builder Cabinet Group (MBCG) will tell you there's a good reason the company sells more cabinetry for the home than any other manufacturer. It is due, in part, to the implementation of what it calls a “total” manufacturing
philosophy — the Masco Production System.

What makes this production system unique is that it combines three highly regarded principles — Six Sigma, lean manufacturing and Kaizen events — into a single system which promotes waste elimination, improved productivity and quality, and process controls. (For a brief explanation of these principles, look below)

“It's our core manufacturing strategy that helps us be more competitive in the marketplace,” says Steve Wittig, vice president-Six Sigma. “The whole purpose is to always work toward reducing the number of defects by half,” he says. “Any process can be improved upon — it just takes time, people and effort.”

Merillat implemented Six Sigma in 2002, approximately four years after converting its plant production to lean manufacturing. While lean manufacturing focuses on the production process, Six Sigma goes a step further and applies many of the same principles to business services, such as billing and customer relations. MBCG works with third-party certifier Juran Institute to oversee the certification for its Six Sigma Black, Green and Orange Belts.

Six Sigma works best when “driven from the top down,” says Wittig. At MBCG, the top 50 leaders in the company are certified as Green or Black Belts and have developed the necessary skills for problem solving, people selection and project execution. MBCG also
makes certification available to others employed with the company, as well as to customers and suppliers.

In becoming Black Belt certified, participants undergo 128 hours of training, pass two 2.5-hour written exams, and complete and defend a minimum of two projects during the year. An example of a Black Belt project would be comparing quotes to actual billing to see where improvements can be made in the system.

The next level of certification is Green Belt. Green Belts are required to complete 64 hours of training, pass a 2.5-hour written exam and complete and defend a project. An example of a Green Belt project would be proofing/editing the product specification book.

Relatively new to MBCG is the Orange Belt designation, which involves 48 hours of training and one project completion. An
example of an Orange Belt project would be to find a better method of removing exposed glue lines during assembly.

“We encourage involvement and suggestions from people on the shop floor. We want them to be part of the process, so they can [see] how they themselves are impacting the business,” says James Green, MPS/Quality manager at the Adrian facility. “Their recognition [and participation] in this is just incredible.”

MBCG has 17 Black Belts, more than 100 Green Belts and 80 Orange Belts, with more employees undergoing the process. Current plans call for employees in the company to undertake 80 projects this year, Wittig says.

“These projects build on other projects,” he adds. “We have limitless opportunities to build upon and grow. We're always targeting for 50 percent improvement.” Without quoting exact figures, Wittig says the company consistently sees a return on its
investment through Six Sigma. “We anticipate continuing this trend,” he adds.

“Our goal would be to have everyone participating. We want to give everybody the ability to be able to contribute to the company — to get their ideas heard and implemented.

“We emphasize the method more than the tools — structured problem solving. We want to make sure we've changed the process so the problem doesn't reoccur,” Wittig says.

Each of MBCG's manufacturing facilities has a full-time Continuous Improvement team leader who reports to the plant manager. In addition, supervisors and team leaders meet daily at the beginning of each shift to discuss the previous day's performance level, as well as any issues that may have occurred.

In addition to producing kitchens for Merillat’s Classic and Essential lines, the Adrian, MI, plant manufactures the white and bisque cabinet doors for all of Merillat’s plants.
Merillat Industries

Adrian, MI

Since its founding in 1946, Merillat Industries has grown to become one of the largest manufacturer of residential cabinetry. A subsidiary of Masco Corp. since 1985, Merillat has manufacturing plants in seven states and employs more than 4,200 people. The Adrian, MI, facility is 485,000 square feet and serves as the corporate headquarters. The company is ISO 1401 and KCMA ESP certified.

Three Keys

1. Corporate-wide, the company utilizes the concepts of Six Sigma and lean manufacturing to improve production and consistently reduce defects in all areas by half.

2. Merillat’s production is based on “kitchen-at-a-time” manufacturing, with a five-day turnaround. The company’s supply chain is also on a just-in-time basis.

3. Employees are empowered to participate in the Six Sigma process and get their ideas heard and implemented. It offers certification for Black, Green and Orange Belts.

“At these cross-functional meetings, we'll also go through metrics with each leader, in a roundtable discussion, to allow everyone to communicate without constraints and to share information,” explains Green. “This process is a continual one.”

Streamlining the Production Process
Although Merillat tracks its transition to lean manufacturing to the late 1990s, the basic techniques have been implemented in the company since founder Orville Merillat's days, says Wittig. “Orville was doing a lot of things we now consider lean manufacturing, even back in 1946.”

Along with its transition to lean manuf


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