Archive for the Publications Category

The Four Parts of Lean 201 plus the key terms.

Lean 201, Part 1: How to Make Lean Management Principles Stick

Lean 201, Part 2: How Curtis Lumber Embraced Lean Principles to Boost Its Operations

Lean 201, Part 3: Using Lean Principles to Make Big Changes.

Lean 201, Part 4: Four Obstacles to Crossing the Finish Line

Here Are Key Terms in Lean Management That You Need to Know



Fueling the Farm-To-Table Movement, with Lessons from Toyota

Fueling the Farm-To-Table Movement, with Lessons from Toyota

From the Boston Globe

Sarah Voiland weeds at Red Fire Farm, which she runs with her husband. They are employing lean farming techniques that help farmers expand efficiently.

On a quiet February afternoon, Ryan Voiland wandered through the mid-winter muck on his farm, pushed open the door to his barn, and found himself awash in a bounty of lettuce. All around him, farmhands scooped and sprayed leafy greens just plucked from his greenhouses, before drying and stuffing them into plastic baggies.

The scene was anything but efficient. The washing bins were too far apart, the farmhands forced to walk the produce from one bin to the next, switching out washing bins as they went.

But for Voiland, there was opportunity in the chaos.

He set out to answer one critical question: “How can we set up the area to be as efficient as possible?”

Since he first began selling produce from his family’s garden in a roadside stand at age 12, Voiland has strived to make a living growing organic food. He’s spent the last 27 years poring over books and trade magazines to build his Red Fire Farm into a 200-acre operation that employs more than 60 people in Granby and Montague. But those small farm principles were also preventing him from growing.
After decades of intentionally operating outside of the industrialized food system, independent organic farmers such as Voiland are being squeezed by large corporate growers that have jumped into the market, putting pressure on prices. And that’s led a crop of small growers to begin adopting efficiency principles from an unlikely source: Toyota factories.

Dubbed “lean farming,” these techniques seek to increase production while removing muda, the excess waste, effort, and overproduction that breed inefficiencies. Farmers hope it will help them cut costs, while letting them compete in an increasingly crowded market.

That starts with trimming the time it takes to get from field to farmstand.

“If the turnaround takes a long time, then we’re not making money. You want to be in here like a NASCAR pit crew,” said Scott Morrison, a consultant who has begun working to train farmers in lean principles.

The concept of lean manufacturing was first introduced to America in the ’70s, after a team of MIT scientists was dispatched to Japan to sort out why US automakers were losing market share to foreign imports. MIT had a stake in the industry — its business school’s founder, Alfred P. Sloan, had run General Motors during four decades of remarkable growth. And so they went in asking, “How come the home team can’t play this game anymore?” Jim Womack, who led the group, recalled.

The researchers quickly learned that Toyota’s factories were constantly striving to reach peak efficiency. Every step in the manufacturing cycle had been measured and ergonomically designed so workers would expend as little effort as possible. And the Toyota employees, many of whom were former rice farmers, were given a degree of latitude within the factory to help identify inefficiencies whenever possible.

Womack brought these lean manufacturing ideas back to the United States and in 1990 coauthored a book, “The Machine that Changed the World.” Since then, he’s led the Lean Enterprise Institute in Cambridge, helping to streamline industries like health care and law enforcement. But he’d never looked at agriculture.

“From our standpoint, it wasn’t very interesting,” he said, bemoaning the homogeneity involved in processing endless rows of corn or wheat. And the disorganization that plagues a typical barn gave him hives. “If you’ve been on farms, one of the things that really strikes you is that farms are just a complete, utter mess.”

But that changed when he received a copy of the book “The Lean Farm” in the mail last spring. It was written by Ben Hartman, a farmer in Goshen, Ind., who had applied Womack’s research to his 7-acre vegetable farm, winnowing his workload such that he is now able to sustain his entire operation by farming just a half-acre of land.

Scott Morrison, a “lean consultant” who has begun to focus on farms, paid a visit to Red Fire Farm and asked its operators to walk him through the production cycle to help them make improvements.

Today, Hartman serves seven or eight high-end restaurants, between 40 to 50 community-supported agriculture, or CSA, programs, and one farmer’s market. He works with his customers to determine exactly what they want and grows nothing more than what they ask for. In the peak summer months, when large farms’ crop yields are highest, pushing prices down, he differentiates himself by catering to chefs and planting hard-to-find vegetables.

Hartman has begun giving lectures on his techniques and is developing a following among small farmers. “The reality in US agriculture is that we’re addicted to producing a few commodity crops,” Hartman said. Instead, he tells growers to “find a niche and focus.”

“The thing about lean is that the principles are universal, so they can apply to any size and type of farm,” Hartman said. And those farms seem to be responding: In the year-and-a-half since it was published, the book has gone into its third printing. Hartman is now writing a follow-up.

Ryan Voiland of Red Fire Farm had read Hartman’s book and began researching lean techniques after last year’s harvest, the worst on record since he first started farming. “It was like a double whammy with the terrible drought in 2016 plus increasing wage rates,” he said.

Through a grant program funded by the Mass Growth Capital Corporation — one of several initiatives now working to connect New England growers with productivity specialists — Voiland hired Morrison, the consultant who has begun to focus on farms.

In late February, Morrison paid a visit to Red Fire and asked the team to walk him through its entire farming production cycle, using Post-it notes to break down every step. Each time they saw an opportunity for improvement — or a Kaizen Burst in lean parlance — he slapped a bright red Post-it on the wall. They told him about the daily scramble to get to farmers’ markets because the tables and signage were scattered throughout the barn. Morrison suggested the simple idea of stashing the items together.

“If you have to spend time looking for it, it’s wasted motion,” he said.

In all, they identified 17 bursts in just an hour.

“A lot of farmers are feeling the squeeze,” Morrison said. “There’s a lot of competition, and they’re saying, ‘I’m not making a lot of money from farmers markets anymore, and my CSAs aren’t growing as much as they used to.’ And the reason for that is there’s now five CSAs you can choose from. The market is saturated.”

The all-too-common circumstance, says Daniel Keeney, business adviser for the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick, Vt., is farmers “working in their business, not on it.” Most farmers undervalue their own work, working 18-hour days and paying themselves as little as $3.50 an hour, he said. And after subscribing to an ethos of working harder, rather than smarter, many experience burnout.

Keeney typically helps small farms to secure grants or bring in consultants to help balance their books. But in early March, Keeney hosted Hartman, “The Lean Farm” author, for a series of discussions with local growers about production efficiency. He said he grew interested in lean principles after reading Hartman’s book and began interviewing veteran farmers about the lessons they’ve gleaned about streamlining production.

He tiptoes around the phrasing, opting not to rely on the “lean” moniker so as not to evoke images of big business. “We don’t want to turn people off in a visceral way, who might say, ‘That’s not for me, that’s not the farming that I do,’ ” Keeney said.

But he says the message is resonating.

“All the case study farmers were sort of jealous,” he said, telling him, “ ‘I wish I had someone to sort of talk me through these aspects of the farm business five or 10 years ago.’ ”

Growing concerns

Ben Hartman, author of “The Lean Farm,” offers these tips for improving small-farm efficiency:

■ Put every tool in its place: Better organization saves time.

■ Farm for your customers: Only grow what they’ll buy.

■ Cut production waste: Minimize manual labor and movement, reduce produce packaging, and use equipment that can do more than one thing.

■ Reduce management waste: Replace low-profit crops with high-profit ones, don’t overbuy supplies, and spread the workload and sales throughout the year.

■ Simplify farmers market sales: Don’t bring too much produce and replace weighed items with ‘buy by the bag’ or ‘grab and go’ options.

A Leaner Bean: CDC Helps Montague Farm Cut Costs

A Leaner Bean: CDC  Helps Montague Farm Cut Costs

From the Recorder.

The same cutting-edge efficiencies that helped Toyota retool its
manufacturing are taking root on the farm.

With labor costs rising, as they are for other businesses affected by the minimum wage increase, Red Fire Farm is getting help from a consultant through a Franklin County Community Development Corp. program.

A $2,500 grant from Massachusetts Growth Capital Corp., a state-funded technical assistance program aimed at farms affected by last summer’s drought, brought the Community Development Corp. to look for ways to help the farm in Montague and Granby address what farmer Ryan Voiland says have been dramatically increasing labor costs that hit his operation as a double-whammy with lost income because of the drought.

“We’ve been financially on a shoestring as long as I can remember,” Voiland said. “But it’s gotten worse in the last two or three years, particularly as the minimum wage has increased, pushing up our floor (pay) for entry-level workers. We’ve seen our labor bill go up more dramatically, 10 to 20 percent a year, even though we’ve been able to maintain our hours and remain as efficient as we used to be.”

Amy Shapiro, the CDC’s business development director, said, “By becoming more efficient, that helps (Red Fire) control their costs.” Shapiro helped identify Concord, N.H. “lean-manufacturing” consultant Scott Morrison who was brought in to help. Red Fire will match the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corp. grant with its own funds, said Shapiro, who hopes to work with Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) to help other farms make use of the same efficiency approach.

Morrison visited the Montague farm for two days last week, offering an overview on how to reduce and eliminate various kinds of waste, which he said can result in a 25 to 30 percent savings for the operation.

“Thinking about the waste that happens on a farm, from the produce that doesn’t get harvested because you’re unable to sell it, to all of the wasted time and effort,” Voiland said. “A lot of these principles can be applied all over our farm, if we can get everybody thinking in that way.”

The first tasks examined at Red Fire, though, were the processing and packing of salad greens at the Montague farm’s packing barn. Using sticky notes, the examination looked at each step from taking orders to how they are tracked and communicated to the packing staff and then delivered. Each of the roughly 15 management staff members were asked to identify where they saw any potential for improvement.

A second round was following how eight to 10 workers packing greens set up pallets, various pieces of equipment, bagging stations, washing tubs and other stations, and how they moved through the process to see where things or people in the way were slowing the process.

“Salad greens are one of the most time-consuming processes we have,” Voiland said. “He really tried to help us hone in on that as a starting point, and see if we could figure out improvements in our process. We mapped that out and talked about future ideas,” so that by rearranging the layout, Voiland and the staff were able the following day to reconfigure the space for what would work best.

“Just by being really conscientious about trying to reduce wasted steps as we move back and forth carrying everything, so that we make as few wasted motions as possible and the ergonomics involved. If everybody’s thinking about how we can make two seconds of improvements in just their process, for tasks we’re doing every day, on a regular basis, there are incremental improvements like having the right supply in the right place and not having the wrong supply in the way, we can help get our staff thinking about these efficiencies in a more serious way.”

Time-motion studies may seem incongruous with Franklin County farms, but Voiland said, “If we’re going to remain in business, we have to figure out how we do what we do, doing more with less labor. We’re trying to think if there’s machinery we can use to replace some labor in some places, if there are changes in methods or anything else we can do to make our labor go further, so we can get more done with the same amount of labor.

Voiland would like to see if it’s possible to shave as much as 90 minutes from each four-hour process, so that he can trim 80 to 90 workers at the peak of harvest between the Montague and Granby farms to 70 to 80 workers.

Unlike lean manufacturing, Morrison said, “I can’t just pull a carrot out of the ground and drive it to the store. Every time that product changes hands, it’s put down and stored and picked up and put down, that’s adding cost and time … to the process. My role with the farm is to help them find the fastest, most efficient, safest, cleanest method of getting the produce out of the ground and into containers to go to the store. All I’m trying to do is say, ‘How many steps do you really need to accomplish this process?’ If you spend 10 or 15 minutes setting up the packing area, and five times over the course of the day I have to move my packing area so someone can get into and out of the warehouse, that’s waste.”

Phil Korman, executive director of CISA, said that for farmers, who are unable to control everything from the cost of their raw materials and labor costs to the weather itself, looking carefully at ways they can cut wasteful parts of their operations can be a way of making their farmers succeed.

“We’ve heard from a lot of farmers that it’s an ongoing challenge” to pay for rising labor costs, said Korman, adding that many of them have always wanted to pay more. “A farmer may say that my fuel costs have gone up, my labor costs have gone up, seed costs have gone up, I have unpredictable weather,” he said. “It’s another challenge that keeps seemingly to make it a little bit harder to be a small local farmer in a global market. It makes sense for farmers to think about lean agriculture, something they have control of, making increased efficiencies in their operations to lower their costs.”

One of Voiland’s hopes at Red Fire Farm, which has a lot of turnover for entry-level jobs, is to improve its standard operating procedures and develop training materials using pictures to show exactly how to set up areas for different processes, with floor markings to show exactly where certain equipment need to be placed for peak-efficiency operations.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “There’s great potential. There’s a lot of work in the short term to think through all these processes and get our things organized, but the hope is if we do a good job at it, we’ll really save time.”

For the Love of a Business

For the Love of a Business

From the Central Penn Business Journal.

Barbara Costik, left, administrator at Middletown Lumber, jokes with Pat Carney, who runs the company’s woodworking shop

Barbara Costik grew up with Middletown Lumber Co., a business that has been in her family since her late father, Edward, bought it in 1955. She’s not about to let it down.

During the 2008 recession, which fell particularly hard on construction-related companies, the team at Middletown Lumber tightened expenses, shopped around for insurance, added new products and kept a close watch on overtime. They also had to lay off a delivery driver.

These days, they are looking for a formula that will boost sales and ensure the company’s future. That search has led Middletown Lumber to reach out more aggressively to potential customers while sticking to the niche it knows best, wood, and remaining open to other business possibilities.

“I think we do have a lot to offer, and I want to share that with people,” said Costik, who serves as the company’s administrator.

Her mother, Jeannie Zelda Costik, known affectionately as Jay Z, is the owner. Her older brother, Eddie, worked in the business, but retired in 2011, leaving something of a hole.

“He was the spokesperson,” Barbara Costik said.

Success won’t come easy. Big-box chain stores dominate the building materials industry, selling to both contractors and handy homeowners, the same customers served by Middletown Lumber. Amazon and other online retailers also take a growing share of business.

Family-owned lumberyards, meanwhile, have become a rare breed. And there is no guarantee of survival, no matter how deep their roots. Nearly two years ago, the family-owned Eberly Lumber Co. in Mechanicsburg shut down after 155 years in business.

Costik and her colleagues are confident there is enough business out there for Middletown Lumber, which does between $1.5 million and $2 million in annual sales. But they aren’t waiting for it to walk through the door.

Over the last year, they have been seeking it out, combing through lists of customers they haven’t heard from in a while and reaching out to win them back. They also are dialing up new contractors whose online reviews catch their attention.

Middletown Lumber is especially interested in small remodeling businesses that can appreciate the higher-grade wood products sold by the company, said Chris Nagle, Middletown Lumber’s manager.

“I think that’s where our future is,” said Nagle, who has worked at Middletown Lumber since 1994 after being laid off from Hechinger’s.

Nagle spends a portion of his time on the road visiting contractors and rekindling relationships. “These guys don’t have time to come here,” he said.

It is a formula that has worked for other family-owned lumber yards, said Scott Morrison, a New Hampshire-based consultant in the lumber and building materials industry. His clients are primarily family-owned companies, and they are in an expansionary mood following the retrenchment of the recession.

But growth takes work. “You can’t sit back. You’ve got to get people pounding the pavement and making the phone calls,” Morrison said.

It makes sense to start with contractors who have been customers in the past, he added. But it also is vital to ensure product quality and customer service remain strong.

“This is a very high-touch industry,” Morrison said. “You’ve got to work extremely hard to earn the client and earn their business and then to maintain it.”

Knowing the job

Chris Nagle, top right, is manager at Middletown Lumber. Clockwise from bottom right: Hardwood samples on display at the company; the warehouse office; exotic woods, including leopardwood and purpleheart wood. – (Joel Berg)

It’s not the kind of warning that would seem to put off the seven-person crew at Middletown Lumber. When I visited one morning in January, they left little doubt about their willingness to go the extra mile for customers.

“Everybody knows their job and does it well,” Nagle said.

Their operation, a block off the main drag in downtown Middletown, consists of four basic parts.

There is a retail storefront, where customers can find displays of hardwood flooring and contractor-quality, German-made Festool power tools, among other items.

Along one wall are planks of more exotic woods, including leopardwood and purpleheart wood, which is truly purple. Costik said she is considering adding an antiques section to the sales floor.

Behind the retail front are sheds stocked with two-by-fours, plywood sheets and other materials. Across the street is the warehouse, laid out so that delivery trucks can pull in one door, load up, and then pull out another.

In a separate building sits the company’s woodworking shop, overseen by Pat Carney, who takes pride in tackling the many challenges that customers throw at him. They have included requests to make replacement table leafs and fireplace mantles.

About 60 percent of customers these days are do-it-yourself homeowners, Nagle said. They select the wood and Middletown Lumber cuts it to requested dimensions – using equipment that is decades old but lovingly maintained.

Most customers are within driving distance, but many come from farther afield thanks to the internet, Costik and Nagle said. Middletown Lumber is known for its cedar products, and has gotten calls from as far away as California from people Googling the term.

For the last 20 years, the company also has delivered wood to Connecticut-based World Wrestling Entertainment, which uses the limber to make support structures for wrestling rings. The work came courtesy of a WWE employee who lived in Middletown, Nagle said.

Business also comes from contractors who occasionally descend to do work on the nuclear power plant at nearby Three Mile Island, Nagle said. The contractors call for supplies and Middletown Lumber tracks down the goods, even if the company doesn’t carry them itself.

The challenge, of course, is to keep the phone ringing. Nagle acknowledges that he still often talks to people locally who have never heard of Middletown Lumber.

But it is a situation Costik, Nagle and their colleagues are working to change – not because they want to be the biggest business on the block, but because they love the business they have made their own.

“It’s my family legacy,” Costik said, “and I want to see it succeed.”

Empowered by Efficiencies

Empowered by Efficiencies

From Fair Food Network’s Back to From the Field Blog.

How a consultant’s streamlining helped an organic farm tidy up its business (and its barn).

When Luke Mahoney and his wife, Catarina, took over a former sod farm in central New Hampshire five years ago, they were excited to restore the abused soil using biodynamic techniques.

There was so much potential: 300 acres of tillable Merrimack River valley soil for their highly diversified organic dairy, meat (beef, pork and poultry), and vegetable farm. Almost every farm nearby was a conventional dairy operation, so the Mahoneys knew that their Brookford Farm would offer the community something unique.

Brookford Farm_pic1

There were definite quirks though. The physical layout of the place was a mess. There didn’t seem to be enough barn space. And there was so much to manage, including the organic dairy and a bigger staff (and payroll) than they’d ever had before.

Furthermore, the Mahoneys, who had leased their previous farm near New Hampshire’s seacoast at what Luke called a “friendly rent,” were facing big debt. They had bought Brookford Farm in 2012 with a $900,000 loan from Stonyfield Farm founder Gary Hirshberg. Since then, they were achingly conscious of all they owed and all that needed to be spent to fix the inefficiencies around them. Such as 100 tillable acres that were taken over by nursery trees intended for landscaping but abandoned by the previous owners. “I felt overwhelmed every time I went there,” Mahoney said. “Talk about efficiency. Pay loan debt on a resource that we are only using a third of?”

Enter consultant Scott Morrison, an expert in lean principles developed from years in manufacturing. “Lean principles” is an approach inspired by Japanese auto manufacturers that identifies and eliminates wasted actions within an organization to increase profits. In recent years, it’s been applied to farming; there’s even a book called “The Lean Farm.”

Thanks to support from Fair Food Network’s Fair Food Fund program as well as the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, Morrison was able to spend 18 months streamlining Brookford Farm’s operation and organizing its production flow into a smarter system. Connecting good food entrepreneurs with consultants for targeted one-on-one support is a core offering of Fair Food Fund.

“One of the things that was hurting them was, just like any business going through growing pains, you get to a point where in order to grow, you need to invest some time and effort into operational controls,” Morrison says.

That meant understanding exactly how much money went into raising, processing, and marketing a pig. Or a tomato. Especially on a farm where biodynamic principles are at play—the pig feeds the tomatoes and vice versa.

“Scott went in there and used his lean principles to say, ‘Yeah, I see lots of low-hanging fruit here,’” said Charlene Andersen, manager of business education for the Community Loan Fund.

An early focus was on the crowded barn they were using for vegetable processing and packing for its CSA, which stands for community supported agriculture, a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from area farmers. As Mahoney admits, “there was a lot of junk lying around.”

Morrison watched the workers. Then he got his own hands dirty. “He would go right out on the floor and help,” Mahoney says. Morrison sorted everything in the barn into three categories, with the highest priority going to items that got used not just every day, but every hour. Then he restructured where items, such as the folding conveyor belt, were kept. “We marked the floor with bright pink duct tape,” Morrison says. “Just to show them were to put everything.” Brookford ultimately didn’t need a second barn; it just needed to use the first more efficiently.

Morrison also developed better driving routes for deliveries to increase efficiencies, spreadsheets to clarify costs, and management tools for the dairy herd and milk production to allow cheesemakers to plan production three months ahead. “That has been super helpful,” Mahoney said.

Another key benefit was the way Morrison awakened a deeper understanding among the staff of 15 that time really is money, and not just to the owner but to them as well. “When the bottom line improves, then your life can improve,” Mahoney said. “That was a pretty important message that he got across effectively.”

Brookford Farm_pic2

With that message and the planning tools (even things as simple as employee handbooks that spell out daily duties) came a better partnership. Mahoney is directing his energies where his presence is most valuable, for example at the Boston-area farmers market, where sales increase when the farmer himself is on hand.

Perhaps the most powerful tool of all had less to do with data than drive. “He empowered certain key people,” Mahoney says of Morrison. “And gave them the opportunity to manage better and take some of that management off our plate.”

Take those 100 acres crowded with unsellable nursery trees, the ones that overwhelmed the farmer. Recently the staff pulled up the irrigation tape and brought in a logger to get rid of the trees so that come spring, there’s more space to grow food to feed a community eager for it.

Mary Pols is an award-winning journalist who covers sustainability issues for the Portland Press Herald in Maine.

Federal funding for Fair Food Fund Consulting Corps work was provided by Local Food Promotion Program of the Agricultural Marketing Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Photos by Kate & Keith Photography, courtesy of NH Community Loan Fund.

How and Why to Improve Your Business Using Lean Principles

How and Why to Improve Your Business Using Lean Principles

From ProSales Magazine.

The LBM industry has been slower than some others to embrace a lean culture. Here’s why Scott Morrison says that should change, and how to make it happen.

The last three winners of the ProSales Dealer of the Year (Jackson Lumber and Millwork, 2014; US LBM, 2015; and Franklin Building Supply, 2016) all were cited, among many attributes of operational excellence, for their emphasis on implementing lean principles.

Although the LBM industry has been a little slower than other industries in embracing lean, these last three winners indicate that lean has finally grabbed a toehold in the industry. If you are a dealer president, owner, or operations executive, and you want to begin your own lean journey, how should you start?

Definition of Lean

To begin the journey, you need to understand what lean is: the systematic elimination of waste in all of your processes. Processes may be product-related (such as the distribution of products by your truck fleet, or the production of doors, window frames, trusses, and millwork), or they may be service-related (invoicing, sales order entry, purchasing). There are up to eight types of waste evident in any process, all of which lose time and therefore increase your costs.

  1. Inefficient motion: Taking extra steps to complete a task, such as walking over to a bench several times per day to get a tool that should be stationed within the immediate work area.
  2. Overproduction: Manufacturing items or processing services in large batches not in tune with the most immediate needs of your customers.
  3. Over-processing: Adding extra, unnecessary process steps, such as double-handling of a sales order or reworking a door or truss before shipment.
  4. Defects/Errors: Any product or service item that the customer cannot or will not use, requiring rework or a credit against an account.
  5. Waiting: Delays in the processing of products or services, causing your resources to sit idle.
  6. Incorrect inventory: Having too much or too little stock on hand, causing a cash flow crunch or delays in shipments.
  7. Inefficient transportation: Moving products more times than necessary to process them through your production facility or your yard.
  8. Loss of creativity: Not tapping into the knowledge and skill set of your employees to help you identify and solve productivity, efficiency, and quality problems.

Setting the Culture for Lean

The word “journey” is chosen on purpose—because although you will arrive at lean milestones, you never stop. Lean is highly dependent on continuous improvement of your products and services. Whenever you reach a goal, you set a new one and work hard (many times even harder) to achieve it. From a company culture standpoint, there is both a top-down and a bottom-up commitment necessary to successfully embark on the journey.

First, dealer ownership needs to foster the environment to let everyone in the organization participate in lean. Second, but just as important, the dealer’s employees need to drive improvement through the use of a variety of lean tools.

If a dealer’s ownership doesn’t encourage employees to try changes, fail many times, and keep trying until a breakthrough is achieved, lean won’t work. On the other hand, if the dealer’s employees don’t freely provide feedback to management, lean won’t work. You really need both sides to cooperate.

The Lean Toolbox

As part of its lean efforts, Jackson Lumber & Millwork has improved tool organization in its door shop and established clear tasks for different stations.

Once you’ve identified the sources of waste, there are a variety of tools that can be used to eliminate waste and improve the processes. Most of the time it takes a combination of tools to adequately address the problem; the key is to observe and collect information before prescribing solutions. The most common lean tools are easy to understand and can be implemented with a concentrated effort:

  • 5S (sort, stabilize, shine, standardize, sustain): A disciplined approach to daily/weekly cleaning and housekeeping that involves all layers and all locations of an organization.
  • Visual Management: Organizing work areas so that everything is easy to see, easy to find, and any out-of-place items are easy to identify.
  • Single-Piece Flow: Reducing batch-processing as much as possible, with the ultimate goal of handling only one product or one service function at a time.
  • Production Smoothing: Minimizing lead time for all product lines and services by carefully balancing sales, purchasing, and production requirements.
  • Set-up Time Reduction: Reducing downtime between production jobs, between truck deliveries, and, if office staff has multiple responsibilities, between office functions.
  • Error-Proofing: Developing methods of identifying and preventing errors from occurring in your process.
  • Versatile Operators: Cross-training all employees to do a variety of job functions in order to balance work schedules and handle surges by redeployment.

Success Stories

In my experiences with LBM dealers, no two dealers have been alike on their journey. The journey for Jackson Lumber and Millwork began in 2005 in the interior door shop in Raymond, N.H. The initial focus was lead time reduction for interior doors, a process that dropped to three days from two weeks. Soon afterward, 5S and visual management strategies were rolled out to the door shop and eventually to the three lumber yards. All operators in the door shop have at least two sets of production duties (versatile operators), which allows for changing assignments at mid-day if necessary to meet all customer shipments for that day.

Jackson Lumber vice president Joe Torrisi has the perfect attitude for implementing lean: Be relentless in the elimination of waste. “To be successful with a lean initiative, ownership and management need to be actively involved with the process,” he says. “Lead by example, and let everyone in the organization know this is not a passing whim. This is the new way of running our business.”

Franklin Building Supply has been on its lean journey for several years, focusing on 5S, which it categorizes as “spring cleaning every day” (sort); “a place for everything, and everything in its place” (stabilize); “cleaning every day” (shine); “clarity” (standardize); and “employee involvement” (sustain).

Franklin Building Supply relies on kanban cards to help manage its inventory efficiently.

Another program in place at FBS is a Kanban card system; a sample is shown to the left. Kanban cards are small, laminated cards containing information about the stocked product (name/description, part number/SKU, and order quantity). These cards are placed toward the bottom of pallets of product, which indicate to yard personnel that the stock is almost depleted, triggering a reorder (or “pull”) for a new order of replacement stock.

“To be successful, lean must involve employees at all levels in a fundamental way,” says Rick Lierz, president of Franklin Building Supply. “Our goal is to be a company filled with problem solvers, and the first three S’s are easy to get people involved in the daily journey.” Lierz continues, “Kanban cards have helped us reduce inventory in some areas by introducing a visual tool that is easy to operate.”

Other dealers that have taken significant first steps on the lean journey include Tague Lumber (Philadelphia) implementing 5S and production smoothing in its door and millwork shops; the distribution centers of Mathew Hall Lumber (St. Cloud, Minn.) and Shepley Wood Products (Hyannis, Mass.) optimizing layout and product flow (truck turnaround time reduction); and 5S and visual management rollouts in the Northern Division of Curtis Lumber (Plattsburgh and Ray Brook, N.Y., and Burlington-Williston, Vt.), in McCray Lumber and Millwork’s interior and exterior door shops (Kansas City, Kan.), and at the lumberyard of The Building Center of Essex (Mass.).

For dealers who haven’t yet taken that first step on the lean journey, what are you waiting for? Get started!

Shepley Wood Products Improves Yard Productivity by 30%

Shepley Wood Products Improves Yard Productivity by 30%

Lean principles can be applied to improving lumber yard productivity by significantly reducing fork truck travel time for staging delivery loads…Shepley Wood Products - QuikBoards Customer

Shepley Wood Products was founded in 1978 by Tony Shepley and is headquartered in Hyannis, MA.  Shepley serves all of Cape Cod and the island of Nantucket with daily deliveries of lumber and building materials to the professional builder industry.  They also have a number of loyal customers who frequently visit the yard to pick up small quantities of materials.

The challenge facing Tony’s team was to improve the productivity of the fork truck drivers to quickly and accurately pick and stage deliveries, while safely improving the flow of drive-through visitor traffic.  I facilitated the project and started by training the team in the principles of lean, primarily in identifying and eliminating sources of wasted time, space, and travel.

All of the major product families that are stored in the yard and warehouses were mapped and measured by physical distance from the center of the truck loading area.Shepley Wood Products - QuikBoards Customer - Aerial View

Each product family was weighted in importance by the frequency in which those products are picked for shipment.  The goal of the team was to reorganize the yard layout so the most-frequent product families were located closest to the center of the truck loading area.  This way, fork truck drivers were moving high-volume products over much shorter distances, saving time and travel costs.Shepley Wood Products - QuikBoards Customer - Custom Work

When combining volume and distance, the layout showed which product families were the best candidates for movement.

In this layout, it was desirable to move the GREEN areas closer to the center of the loading area, while moving the RED areas farther away.  To enhance the drive-through customer experience, we also outlined the parameters for an automated racking and storage system, which was designed by Krauter Auto-Stak engineer Mark Ritz.Shepley Wood Products - QuikBoards Customer - Custom Work - Consulting
The Auto-Stak was constructed between the millwork warehouse and the lumber warehouse, immediately across the main driveway from the delivery truck loading area.  The racks were filled with open single-unit pallets of all of the major lumber dimensions, plus decking, trim, and finer-quality wood pieces.Shepley Wood Products - QuikBoards Customer - Drive-Through 

Now drive-through customers can move up and down the aisles around the Auto-Stak and then through the Lumber Warehouse to pick their items without interfering with staging and loading operations across the main driveway.

Other relocations included the engineered wood (up to 60-ft in length) moving to a long, wide zone where full lengths plus custom-cut lengths could be stored together, all hardware moved to a shed at the head of the Auto-Stak (toward the truck loading area), and large-volume storage of roofing shingles consolidated to one area.  Finally, an off-site warehouse was closed with all overstock items moving to storage locations in the yard, primarily in the Lumber Warehouse.  The Lumber Warehouse gained space by installing a smaller Auto-Stak, which rotated 4’ x 8’ plywood and other building material sheets to conserve width plus allow stacking of open pallets.Shepley Wood Products - QuikBoards Customer - Lean - Savings

What were the overall savings?  With the re-layout of the yard plus installation of the two Auto-Stak systems, distance traveled for the major product families was reduced by 30% (nearly 3,000 miles of collective fork truck driving per year).  The other main benefit was the improvement in safety for drive-through customers, who no longer needed to drive their vehicles through the same aisles as fork trucks staging deliveries.

Want to learn more? Check out the following video that captures all of the details of the project, including a walking tour of the Auto-Stak and affiliated storage locations.

A longer YouTube video can viewed by following the link.

Jackson Lumber and ProSales Magazine: Dealer of the Year

Jackson Lumber and ProSales Magazine: Dealer of the Year

Congratulations to one of our clients, Jackson Lumber!

Jackson Lumber - Scott Morrison ClientJackson Lumber and Millwork of Lawrence, MA, Raymond, NH, and Amesbury, MA was chosen from a field of 7,500 lumber and building materials dealers nationwide by ProSales Magazine as the 2014 Dealer of the Year. Jackson Lumber was recognized for its commitment to lean manufacturing practices and the acknowledgement that the continuous improvement journey never stops. I’ve worked with Jackson Lumber on several of their lean projects over the past eight years and am proud to be a part of their success. We’re eager to talk to you about your lean transformation… let’s get started!