Consortium idea and progress sharing sessions net significant benefits, according to Ryan Friesen, general manager at Steel Tech in Winkler, Manitoba, a maker of outdoor wood- and coal-burning furnaces and a member of the Southern Manitoba Lean Consortium (SMLC).
“We had been looking into the purchase of a 30,000 sq. ft. shop; we were cramped in our present 14,000 sq. ft. space,” Friesen said. “We realized that with lean, we could use the space we had more effectively by making changes in material flow, batch sizes, inventory levels, etc.” Steel Tech hosted a consortium meeting, with the new plant layout as the problem-solving exercise. After touring the plant, attendees met in two smaller groups to brainstorm layout suggestions.
“We took their ideas and combined them with ours to form our new plant layout, maximizing our space for production and efficiency,” Friesen said. “We can now produce twice as many units in the same amount of space and our inventory levels are much lower than they were before.”
A key suggestion garnered from the consortium members: moving assembly and welding departments for continuous flow of material through the process. “It eliminated travel, which saves time, effort, and use of forklifts,” Friesen said. “We’ve sold two forklifts since we did this because we didn’t need them. The idea of placing machinery on the floor in order of use to optimize flow, which helped us, also came out of the meeting. Extra space from the new layout let us put more of the parts at the point of use instead of outside or on a shelf.”
Steel Tech used to call on contractors for cutting and assembly during its peak season. The new lean layout enables the facility to handle demand spikes without contractor work. “We make more money on every unit and undertake marketing and R&D projects that may not have been possible doing things the way we used to,” said Friesen.
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