This Pennsylvania-based remanufacturing company, employing nearly three hundred people, had just been warned by its new ownership group: improve production by 20% within four to six months, or face permanent shutdown. The president, a member of the ownership group, believed that this ambitious goal was attainable, but only with a comprehensive Lean Line redesign. He called on Leonardo Group Americas.
The plant, located in southeast Pennsylvania, held a leading market position in remanufacturing sports equipment, primarily football helmets. Their customer base ranged from youth and high school leagues through top-ranked NCAA teams to a large share of the NFL. They completely sanitized, rebuilt and refinished equipment, frequently with high-gloss custom paint finishes, to exacting technical and safety standards. Annual helmet volume was several hundred thousand units. Originally a family-owned business, the company never formally designed its production system, which had evolved into a fragmented and convoluted process with frequent delays and and huge piles of excess work-in-process inventory. Manufacturing cycle time (door-to-door) was over twelve days, even though “touch labor” time for any one unit was just 35 minutes, plus two hours for paint cure.
The challenge was to design and deploy a Lean Line Design very quickly with a team of supervisors who had no previous Lean or engineering experience. The plant was overloaded and working a heavy schedule of mandatory overtime. Furthermore, it would be a challenge to implement consistent work procedures: half the hourly workforce spoke only Spanish, and another large share was Vietnamese.
Following a quick and intense Lean training process, the team developed the current state Value Stream Map, showing far too many separate processes and product moves for such a small amount of value-add labor time. We built a resource calculation spreadsheet, regrouped work activities into fewer locations, and designed a hybrid sequencing system for final assembly. This gave us the benefits of repetitive, single-piece flow for the helmets in each order group along with robust mixed-model capabilities. Throughout the project we assigned hourly operators, team leaders and managers to work together, sharing ideas and expertise. Team leaders were key in bridging the language barriers and building buy-in throughout the plant. Finally, we trained team leaders and supervisors in managing product flow with IPKs (In-Process Kanbans) between locations – the key to maintain smooth and uninterrupted product flow through the building.
Within days of going “Live” we began to see results: piles of Work in Process (WIP) dwindled, orders moved more promptly from process to process, and Final Assembly’s daily counts increased steadily. Communication was now horizontal – each supervisor looking up and down the line to maintain tempo and flex resources as required. Two weeks later the line began to hit its new production goals – first occasionally, then reliably, day by day. We reduced and largely eliminated the overtime. Production cycle time dropped from 12 days to three days, and productivity improved, eventually by a full 20%. By the end of the fiscal year, the plant had become the most profitable unit in the holding company’s portfolio, and was taking on new, in-season business at premium margins. Best of all, the region retained nearly 300 manufacturing jobs that might otherwise have been lost.