Business associates reviewing notes together in a meeting.

The Woodcraft Story

February 14, 2019

Pictured: John Gledhill

John Gledhill, VP of Continuous Improvement at Woodcraft, speaks about his team’s implementation of Lean principles to achieve significant productivity improvements over a six-month time period.

QUESTION:
Can you summarize the recent history of the Woodcraft / Quanex relationship?

ANSWER:
Yes, in November 2015 Quanex acquired Woodcraft as an operating investor. As Vice President of Continuous Improvement, my job was to figure out how to add value to the business and make more money through continuous improvement across 13 plants in the USA, Canada, and Mexico — with the St. Cloud, Minnesota, plant being the flagship. More specifically, we focused on the custom business — Kitchen-At- A-Time (or KAAT) which delivers just-in-time mixed model sets of doors for home kitchens.

QUESTION:
What were the main operational challenges?

ANSWER:
The delivery requirements were less than 24 hours in many cases —  in best case 2 days. For example, we have 40 species of wood and hundreds of styles of molding, so operationally it was an extremely complex challenge. Over 15 years it had been a huge business success, but had started to struggle due in part to aging equipment and a lack of capital expenditures for such equipment  — we were making over 1,000 doors a day!

QUESTION:
So, you ordered a complete reboot?

ANSWER:
No, it was not a complete turnaround, nor was it especially broken. Woodcraft had been very successful, and the team was talented, but there was a lot of unfulfilled opportunity out there. We needed to (1) inprove quality (2) reduce labor and (3) improve velocity to meet extraordinarily short lead times.

QUESTION:
Was there push back from the original team?

ANSWER:
There was definitely a feeling of  “it ain‘t broke, we don‘t need to fix it.“ The team had always done it a certain way with success, but there was pressure to meet customer demands and they had not done a lot of things we would like to do as an operator. So yes, there was some resistance.

QUESTION:
So, it was not broken — were you just going for improvements overall?

ANSWER:
Good to great!  From January through March 2016 we identified some problems as a result of a Value Stream Map, but it took us a long time. We struggled to make sense of it — no one really had time for it. That said, the exercise did confirm more rigorously our original observations about velocity and inventory, and we identified a bottleneck operation.

QUESTION:
How did SBTI get involved?

ANSWER:
We could not really generate a future state vision. We also did not have the horsepower to do anything with the anaylsis. It was just a massive project that required a lot of skills, resources and insights. We just weren‘t gonna get it done by ourselves, so I reached out to SBTI for help and asked VP Bob Jeske to write a proposal,  focusing on 3 things:

    1. Quality
    2. Cost
    3. A new management system

We noticed as operators some of the best Lean practices were not being followed, so the third part of the engagement was to help install a Lean Management System. We had a cost reduction opportunity through productivity improvement.

QUESTION:
Where did you start?

ANSWER:
We focused on the bottleneck found in the Stile and Rail (S&R) department and expanded operations there.

QUESTION:
And the root causes of that bottleneck?

ANSWER:
Well, part of that was determined by the work that we did, but we had a lot of operational difficulties in the Lean sense of the word:

  1. Poor layout — there was a lot of walking around
  2. OEE – overall equipment effectiveness – the machines just weren‘t running

We had a lot of machines and the people just weren‘t keeping the machines running. People were walking around, carrying parts, looking for parts, picking parts, moving parts from one machine to another.  There were a number of old crummy machines and again a bad layout. So, we focused on improving operations at the bottleneck and did a lot of short-term improvement projects, including a Kaizen event where we changed the layout to improve flow and bought in some new equipment which certainly helped a lot.

QUESTION:
So what affected the greatest change?

ANSWER:
Well, we moved the machines together and improved the layout.  We redesigned the staffing so that we could keep people at the machines running them rather than walking around, we made some changes in the computer scheduling system so we could make it eaiser to group and pick orders, and we got new equipment. SBTI also showed us how to conduct a DMAIC project which helped with quality issues and arrive at a higher level of analysis. We just looked at things differently, thought outside the box. The SBTI work really opened the window into a whole new vista of opportunity that we never would have thought of.

QUESTION:
And people eventually bought in?

ANSWER:
Well, we ended up more productive… it just took time for people to realize that we were genuinely interested in helping and weren‘t blaming or criticizing. After we got some tangible improvements then they realized “Wow! we can be better!“ One of the most powerful things is the team is excited and engaged, now asking “what are we going to do next?“ and bubbling over with ideas.

QUESTION:
And the most surprising, tangible results?

ANSWER:
I am not sure about the most surprising but over a six-month period, we achieved 33% production improvement within the stile and rail department, 10% productivity improvement at the pin-clamp assembly area and 15% productivity improvement in the inspection area. We also eliminated overtime and Saturday work hours.

QUESTION:
What can you say you learned from this?

ANSWER:
We were able to communicate to a successful group of people at Woodcraft a vision of what the future could be by bringing in a fresh set of eyes with skills and methodologies that they did not have and leveraging their strengths into improvements in productivity and much more.

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