W&WP May 2000



Zap Waste -- Before It Zaps You!


By Tom Dossenbach




Waste -- what does that word mean to you? Webster's dictionary defines the verb: "to spend or use carelessly; to squander; to allow to be used inefficiently or become dissipated." The noun is defined in part as: "damaged, defective, or superfluous material produced by a manufacturing process; scrap." My short definition of waste is: "the mismanagement of resources."

Whatever the definition, we know waste is bad and that it can rob us of the profits we work so hard to produce. We know it causes us major headaches when it pops up -- making our jobs as plant managers and supervisors difficult at best. We all agree that waste is something that needs to be eliminated.

However, the central question is: Do we recognize waste when we see it, or are we so used to it that we overlook it every day? My experience is that the latter is prevalent in the woodworking industry. Is this the case with you?

To answer that question, I invite you to join me today on a plant tour of the Timber City Furniture Company. Before you continue reading, pick up a pen and have it ready to circle any waste that you see during our plant tour.

The Plant Tour Begins
It is a beautiful spring day as we arrive at Timber City Plant B at 7 a.m.; the plant is just starting up. As we swing into the parking lot, the old steam whistle blows. I check my watch and sure enough it is 7:00 on the dot. Several employees frantically take a last drag or two on a cigarette as they head to the side entrance of the plant to begin the day.

Bill Smoot, the plant superintendent, walks out the door and greets us. "Glad you could make it, Tom," he says. "Who is this with you?"

"Oh, this is one of my readers who is interested in identifying and eliminating waste and wanted to join me in the walk-through of your plant that you requested. That is, if it is OK with you, Bill."

"Sure, I can use all the help I can get. Sorry for the mess in the plant but it is only temporary. We are just about ready to break ground on a 40,000-square-foot expansion. You know your way around. Just check with me before you leave and let me know what you found."

The Machine Department
As we walk inside the door we find ourselves in the machine department. It is a typical layout with like machines grouped together. Between the rows of machines are banks of roller conveyors filled with parts stacked on them. Each pile has eight to 10 different parts (some of different species). Frank, the department supervisor, says these are overruns and will be used on the next cutting.

We pass by a band saw on the way to the cutting department and see the operator arriving at her saw to cut curved pieces, which have been marked on glued up panels. We notice several cracks in the glue joints and that the panels seem to be longer and wider than necessary for these parts.

We walk over to the chop saws and watch for a minute or two. There seems to be a lot of pieces that are being cut up for the hog because they are too short for the shortest length on the cutting list. We note that they aren't using back gauges.

Bill shows up and shouts, "Now if you want to see waste, follow me." Just then a worker walks up and asks Bill, "Where is my four-spindle boring head?"

"I don't know," Bill says. "Check with Lonnie."

Conducting a Waste Audit

Eliminating waste in your operation is not only a worthy goal, but is essential if you are going to maintain a profitable company. This column tries to whet your appetite to audit your own company for signs of waste. You should look at your entire organization if you have overall responsibilities. However, just looking at your own department carefully can serve as a tool of improvement and serve as an example to others in your company.


Look for waste in:


  • Labor
  • Materials
  • Space
  • Time
  • Money

On the way to the sanding department we pass a new CNC router that is not running, so Bill cuts off a leaking air line. We stop at the polish sander and he shows us a stack of 40 panels with walnut veneer faces -- all sanded through on the edges.

"This is serious money!" he exclaims.

The Assembly Department
As we leave Bill and head toward the assembly department, we notice how busy everyone is, either moving things or on the way somewhere.

Over at the cabinet line there are about a dozen four-drawer chests sitting on the floor with drawers missing. Sarah tells us that they ran out of drawers yesterday before switching over to a new group.

As we turn toward the finishing room, we stumble over a pile of drawers on the floor.

"I'll bet these are the missing drawers, Tom!"

"I don't think so. These drawers are oak. The chests are maple and they are running walnut down the line now."

The Finishing Room
Next, we find ourselves marveling at a brand new finishing line with all the trimmings. However, the line has temporally stopped and there are people cleaning up all over the place.

We ask where the drum storage room is and go in and count about 30 drums of various materials with a February 1998 date on them.

The packing line is stopped since the finishing line is down, but everyone is busy in the repair area.

We walk into a huge warehouse with product stacked high. We find the supervisor and ask him the typical lead time for their products.

"We try to keep everything in stock," he says.

"So your lead times are only a day or two?" I ask.

"Well, not exactly," he counters. "We are always running out of something!"

We noticed stacks of cartons with yellow tags on them.

"What are these?" I ask.

"Oh, just discontinued and damaged goods," the supervisor replies.

The Lumberyard
We continue out into the lumberyard and see a crew cutting weeds and brush from between the stacks of lumber. As we circle by the boiler room we notice a big pipe venting a lot of steam out of the roof. Between that and the hog, we can hardly hear ourselves talk, so we head back into the plant. As we do, we pass a truck picking up a 40-foot dumpster filled with sanding belts, wood scrap, cardboard, and just plain trash.

"Well, what do you think? Have you seen enough? Okay, let's go find Bill and give him our report."

What Did You See?
What did you learn during this quick plant tour of Timber City Plant B? Did you see any sources of waste that can be found in your plant or in your department? Are you ignoring them or are you working every day to eliminate these sources of waste?

How many items did you circle during the tour? If you circled less than 12, you are not aware of what constitutes waste. If you got more than 40 you really know how to identify waste. If you are in-between, read through the article again and look more closely. Remember, waste can be found in labor, materials, space, time and money -- you just need to recognize it for what it is and zap it before it zaps you! Put a team on it and take a tour of your plant today.


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