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Manufacturing Simulation Game 

Improving Customer Lead Times
Part 1 of 2

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Lean Manufacturing, Basics, Principles, Techniques

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Understanding that the definition of lead time itself can cause confu­sion. For the purpose of this paper lead time will be referred to as the amount of time elapsed between the introduction of raw materials to the gateway process to the shipment of product to the customer (exter­nal from the processing plant). While the techniques discussed are ap­plicable to numerous manufacturing environments, the actual benefits may vary from case to case. The benefits shown in this presentation are actual improvement numbers derived from the incorporation of these techniques by Henredon Furniture Industries, Frame Plant.


Like so many plants, our case study plant was laid out in a departmen­tal logical layout. Each department was a grouping of equipment and people organized by a specialized function. In this type of layout, all variety saws are grouped in the variety saw department, all drills are grouped in the drilling department, all band saws are grouped in the band saw department, and so on. This logic was also followed for the assembly of finished product in the assembly department.

Much of the rationale behind this typical functional layout stems from the belief that a group of common equipment staffed by special­ists on that equipment will provide the most productive environment. While this may appear correct on the surface, it originated when ex­tremely large batches of material were creeping through our plants with little emphasis placed on total lead time, inventory levels, elimination of non-value-adding activities, and customer service.

The alternative approach to a functional layout is a cellular layout by families of parts or product types. Using this approach, large, spe­cialized departments are broken down into cells where a team of cross-trained employees produce a completely machined component part ready to assemble (RTA). This type of layout results in a significant reduction of travel distance and material handling. Additionally, it elimi­nates finger pointing from one department to the next. This aspect will be discussed later when we talk about quality at the source.

There may be some obstacles in converting from functional depart­ments to cellular layouts. Often in the past, equipment was purchased based on speed and total output capabilities. In a cellular layout, we are more interested in smaller, more mobile flexibility. The output of each piece of equipment or process in a cell only needs to equal the customer demand rate for that particular type of part. Another obstacle may be a process that due to its nature cannot be distributed into mul­tiple cells. This could include large heat treating ovens or finishing equipment. Here we can only try to locate the using cells as closely as possible, making the large, commonly used process centrally located.

In furniture manufacturing, there is a unique problem, which is the reconfiguration of a complex overhead dust collection system that is tied into each piece of equipment. While this does add an extra ex­pense into the reconfiguration, a time-phased plan of implementation will allow for the budgeting of this expense and ensure the availability of the professionals required to retrofit the dust collection system.


This process can begin immediately. Regardless of the plant layout, employee flexibility has numerous benefits. In a cellularlayout by part type, you may find that one or two operators can provide the output

required to satisfy customer demand from a cell with four or five dif­ferent machine processing steps. In this scenario, you could not start up the cell until each of the two operators knew at least half of the equipment. The goal would be for each operator to be capable of oper­ating all equipment. In this manner a cell can increase or decrease out­put to satisfy fluctuating demand by simply adding or subtracting the number of operators.

The benefits for the employees are equally important. Across-trained employee is less likely to become bored with his or her job. Due to this, turnover rates will drop, as will training expenses. The employee has a greater feeling of self worth and will generally stretch to new levels. Under these conditions new leaders emerge. An operator who can run several pieces of equipment is more valuable than one who cannot. Therefore they have greater earning potential. The company, while paying higher average wages, is benefiting from the elimination of lost production and sales due to absenteeism. This is due to the fact that it is much easier to balance production with a cross-trained staff.

To Be Continued


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