Chad Vander Wilt, manager of transportation and logistics at Vermeer, participated in one of the company’s first kaizen events as the Iowa manufacturer moved from batch to lean production. Twenty-two years later, he’s helping the dealer network trasition from batch ordering to a lean model. We talked to him about lean in distribution and sustaining lean gains. (Read how Vermeer extended lean principles from the plant to dealers in this Lean Management Case Study.)
You’ve been with Vermeer for more than 22 years and participated in one of the company’s first kaizen events. What’s different about Vermeer today?
We were of a batch mentality. If we were building a hundred balers a week, we would cut the steel for those 100 balers four weeks prior to needing it in assembly; those 100 pieces would go to welding three weeks prior, then go to paint two weeks prior, and then go to assembly. So if there were mistakes in one or all hundred pieces, it wouldn’t be found sometimes until assembly. You would see mountains of inventory. Now, the majority of what we are cutting today will be used within a week, and some that same day.
How has Vermeer been able to sustain and expand lean gains?
It takes the leadership of the company to make it happen. You can have the greatest CI team in the world, but if you don’t have an executive team that believes in it, supports it, and participates in it, you have nothing. Our CEO participates in events. I remember one week where we had two events for dealers—one on replenishment and one on their service operation, and Mary [Andringa] was there in the shop running a power washer with oil and grease all over her. She’s committed to it. She shows her people every day by her actions why it’s important, and that’s why it’s successful here.
What are your short-term goals?
I always keep in mind what our company founder often said: There’s got be a better way. We need that to be the mentality of all of our employees and partners.
Where do you think Vermeer could most benefit from lean next?
Business processes and the way we transfer information: We shuffle way too much paper. Mary has said it too, and she’s absolutely right. Becoming lean is a journey; it’s never ending. Continuous improvement has to become part of your culture.
What behaviors have you found that are important to drive the lean transformation?
People need to understand that things are going to change. And if you’re one of those people who say things like, “We’ve always done it that way,” then lean will be tough for you (initially). It is so important to get your entire team involved in the process. Document reality and identify value-add and non-value-add steps.
You don’t have “CI” in your title. Is this because “CI” is an implied part of everyone’s title at Vermeer?
Yes, I would say that is true. I can’t think of any job description at Vermeer that doesn’t have continuous improvement as part of the tasks. It’s certainly part of our employee evaluations. We do have people who have “CI” as part of their title, though, and they are a great resource for helping plan events, co-lead events, and keep the company on track for meeting our overall continuous improvement goals.